Western Digital has been sitting on the sidelines of the hard drive technology race for the past year, quietly petting its Raptor, watching the competition ratchet up both capacity and buffer sizes to unheard of levels. And now that every one of its competitors has released a next-gen drive (Maxtor released its new drives more than a year ago, then Seagate, followed by Hitachi), WD has finally laid its cards on the table with its new SE 16 400GB drive.
Granted, the drive’s 7,200rpm spindle speed and 16MB cache seem kind of ho-hum these days, but its record-breaking benchmarks and surprisingly low price have made it our new favorite hard drive in the 7,200rpm category.
It’s odd that Western Digital specifically referred to this drive as “next gen” when the company sent it to us for review, because nothing about the Caviar SE 16 400 fits that definition. For example, it boasts a last-gen SATA 150 interface, offers no support for SATA II features, and doesn’t include native command queuing (NCQ). Western Digital says it’s saving these features for its “RAID Edition” drives, which cost about $20 more. We don’t mind, because such features are only useful in a multi-user environment; as the benchmarks show, this drive’s “real world,” single-user performance is incredible.
We pitted the Caviar SE against the current 7,200rpm champ—Hitachi’s 7K500 Deskstar—and the WD drive beat it in nearly every benchmark, the lone exception was the NCQ-dependent file-server test. The Caviar’s sequential read speed of 57MB/s is the fastest we’ve ever seen from a 7,200rpm drive, and its application-index score is also record-breaking. As a bonus, the Caviar ran a surprising 5 C cooler than the Deskstar at idle and was impressively quiet in operation.
This drive kicks all kinds of ass, and the fact that it costs about half as much as Hitachi’s drive just seals the deal.
— Josh Norem