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Maxtor Diamondmax 10/300 & Hitachi 7K250 Hard Drives

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Maxtor’s top desktop offering (300 Gb) and one of Hitachi’s former top-of-lines (250 Gb), now relegated to middling status, are featured in this review. Both acoustic noise and vibration are examined, along with power & thermal related issues. They represent reasonable alternatives to our perennial quiet HDD recommendations.

May 12, 2005 by Devon
Cooke
and Mike Chin

Product
Maxtor DiamondMax 10 6B300S0
300GB, 7200 RPM Hard drive
Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 HDS722525VLSA80
250GB, 7200 RPM Hard drive
Manufacturer
Maxtor
Corporation
Hitachi
Global Storage Technology
Market Price
~US$220 ~US$130

SPCR has been recommending notebook drives to those who
seek the quietest hard drives for about a year. However, notebook drives are expensive,
lower capacity, and cannot be easily mounted in most cases. For most people,
3.5" drives are still the most feasible compromise between cost, size and
noise level.

We recently unveiled a
comprehensive improved methodology for assessing hard drive noise
. Two of the first drives to be
tested with this methodology are Maxtor’s DiamondMax 10 and the Deskstar
7K250
from Hitachi Global Storage Technology. These products reflect recent
trends in the hard drive market, including Fluid Dynamic Bearing motors, SATA
interface, and ever-increasing capacity.

DiamondMax 10 is Maxtor’s latest and greatest desktop line. It features
a large 16MB cache on higher capacity models and supports some features
of the newer SATA-II standard, including native command queuing (NCQ). Our sample
is the flagship of the line, the triple platter, 300GB model with SATA interface.

MAXTOR DIAMONDMAX 10 (quoted from Maxtor’s web site)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT

Serial ATA/150 and Ultra ATA/133 interfaces

NCQ is not available on the PATA model.

Native command queuing for enhanced efficiency

Most useful
for server applications; can reduce desktop performance.

Quiet Drive Technology for acoustics-sensitive applications

No other
details given.

Whisper-quiet fluid dynamic bearing motors

Now standard
on most drives.
Maxtor Shock
Protection
and Data Protection Systems for greater reliability
Again, no
details given.

RoHS compliant version available

RoHS is a
European environmental standard. We’re not sure why they bother making a
non-RoHS version.

The Deskstar 7K250 series has been on the market for longer than the DiamondMax and
is no longer Hitachi’s top line, which now offers up to half a terabyte of storage capacity. Even though the largest model in the 7K250 series comes
close to the capacity of the DiamondMax 10, its price reflects its position
in Hitachi’s lineup. It is sold on noise, power consumption and reliability
instead of state-of-the-art performance, although in our experience, Hitachi (and previously IBM) drives have always been speedy. As with the Maxtor, we are testing the flagship of the
line, which is three platters, 250GB and also uses SATA.

HITACHI GLOBAL STORAGE TECHNOLOGY 7K250 (quoted from
Hitachi’s web site)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT

Award-winning, 7200 RPM performance for better throughput in a
variety of applications, backed by industry-leading benchmark performance

The standard we-make-fast-drives feature.

Serial ATA and parallel ATA interfaces available

Performance
(and noise) are close to identical.

Capacities up to 250GB

Useful for
large video files or databases.

Low power design reduces system costs and drives high reliability
in ATA-RAID and other multiple drive systems

Also allows
the drive to run cooler.
Quiet operating
modes
for easy integration
into noise-sensitive environments
A fancy way
of saying it supports AAM.

SPECIFICATIONS

The specifications below are specific to models that we examined. Capacity, cache size, platter number, interface, and even performance vary from
model to model even within a single product line. Acoustics and power dissipation also vary depending on the number of platters
in the drive; smaller capacity drives tend to have fewer platters, and
tend to produce less noise and use less power.


Manufacturers’ Specifications
HDD Model
Maxtor DiamondMax 10 6B300S0
Hitachi 7K250 HDS722525VLSA80
Capacity
300 GB
250 GB
Cache
16 MB
8 MB
Platters
3
3
Rotation Speed
7,200 RPM
7,200 RPM
Interface
SATA
SATA
Latency
4.17 ms
4.17 ms
Average Seek
<9.0 ms
8.5 ms
Start/Stop cycles
50,000
50,000
Operating Temperature
0 – 60°C
5 – 55°C
Acoustics: Idle / AAM seek / normal seek
2.9 / 3.0 / 3.8 Bel
3.0 / 3.1 / 3.4 Bel (Idle)

MAXTOR DIAMONDMAX 10

The logic board on the DiamondMax 10 uses a native SATA interface rather than
a SATA to PATA bridge. This has the advantage of allowing the drive to support
features peculiar to the SATA-II standard, notably Native Command Queuing (NCQ)
and staggered spin-up detection.

The disadvantage of this design is that it is no longer compatible with the
standard IDE power connector found on most power supplies. Most modern power
supplies do provide the required SATA connector, but older power supplies may
require an adaptor. A PATA version of the DiamondMax 10 is available for the
higher capacity drives.


No legacy Molex connector here; you need a true SATA power connector to
power the drive.

According to Maxtor’s spec sheet, the acoustic difference between idle and
seek is 0.9 Bels, a substantial difference that will be clearly audible. When
"Quiet Seek" (AAM) is activated, the difference drops to only 0.1
Bels, suggesting that AAM is very effective on this drive. We shall see if our
testing confirms this…

Maxtor prominently lists NCQ as a new and exciting feature that its competitors
do not yet have. NCQ is a feature of the SATA-II interface that improves seek
time by ordering the seeks efficiently rather than simply performing them in
the order they are asked for. In single user configuration, however, the performance
benefit is either marginal or even detrimental.

More of interest is the large 16 MB cache, which reduces the number of seeks
that must be made when accessing frequently used data. Depending on how the
drive is used, there could be an acoustic benefit here, since fewer seeks means
less mechanical noise.

HITACHI DESKSTAR 7K250

As mentioned, the 7K250 series is not at the leading edge of Hitachi’s offerings,
so it makes sense that it is not sold on performance. Instead, it has low power
dissipation and a low price point going for it. Like most of its contemporary
competitors, its interface is a SATA to PATA bridge rather than a native SATA
controller. In practical terms, this has no impact on drive performance, although
it does draw slightly more power than the equivalent PATA interface.

The 7K250 features Advanced Power Management, which appears
to be something like Cool ‘n’ Quiet for drives. Like AAM, it is disabled by
default and must be enabled using Hitachi’s Feature Tool. Unfortunately, this
tool is not Windows compatible and must be run from a bootable diskette or CD.
Nevertheless, it may be worth the trouble enabling the feature, as Hitachi claims
that the lower power dissipation leads to drives that are more reliable and
cooler.


Hitachi’s Feature Tool lets the user choose what degree of performance
they are willing to sacrifice for low power consumption.

Two low power states are available: Low Power Idle and Low RPM Standby.
Whether these power states are enabled is controllable via the Feature Tool.
The drive is supposed to enter these stages progressively according to an internal
timer that detects idle. This all happens within the drive itself, independent
of the motherboard or operating system.

Low Power Idle reduces power by parking the heads and disabling the power circuit
that controls them.

We are particularly interested in the acoustic potential of the Low RPM Standby.
Spinning the disc at a lower speed (~60% of normal) is a good way of reducing
power draw without halting the drive entirely, but it may also have the secondary
benefit of producing less noise.

One final mode, Full Standby, is mentioned in Hitachi’s documentation, but
does not appear to be supported by their Feature Tool. This mode spins the disc
down entirely (thus completely silencing the drive). Since it is already possible
to do this via Power Management in Windows (or the equivalent ACPI feature in
other operating systems), Hitachi may just be referring to this feature.

A Normal Idle mode is selectable in the Feature Tool, but it is not documented
anywhere that we could find. Presumably, this mode is simply an alias for disabling
APM entirely.

TEST RESULTS

Our two samples were tested according to our standard
hard drive testing methodology
. Our methodology focuses specifically on
noise, and great effort is taken to ensure it is comprehensively measured
and described. Performance is not tested, for reasons discussed in detail in the methodology article. For comprehensive performance testing about HDDs, we recommend Storage Review, who have established a strong reputation as the specialist in this field, doing nothing but testing HDD performance. We refer to Storage Review as a reference for many aspects of HDD performance.

The DiamondMax and Deskstar will be compared against our reference
drives, the Seagate Barracuda IV and Samsung Spinpoint P80, that are profiled
in our methodology article. To get a good idea of where the drives in this review
stand, it is important to read this article thoroughly.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise.

These two types of noise impact the subjective
perception of hard drive noise differently depending on how and where the drive
is mounted.

Both forms of noise are evaluated objectively and
subjectively. Both the subjective and objective analyses are essential to understanding
the acoustics of the drives. Airborne acoustics are measured using a professional
caliber SLM with absolute sensitivity below 0 dB. Measurements are taken at
a distance of one meter above the top of the drive using an A-weighted filter.
Vibration noise is rated on a scale of 1-10 by comparing against our standard
reference drives.

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

DIAMONDMAX 10 & DESKSTAR 7K250 NOISE EVALUATION
Drive
Mfg date – firmware

Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)

Activity State


Airborne Acoustics


Measured Power

Maxtor DiamondMax 10 (6B300S0)

Jan 05 –
firmware BANC1BY0
2-3
Idle


23 dBA/1m


8.1 W

Seek (AAM)


24-25 dBA/1m


10.7 W

Seek (Normal)


27-28 dBA/1m


13.6 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250GB)
Aug 03
firmware V360A60A
4
Idle


23 dBA/1m


6.9 W

Seek (AAM)


25 dBA/1m


9.8 W

Seek (Normal)


26 dBA/1m


13.1 W

DiamondMax 10

While not quite in the same league as our single platter reference drives,
the triple platter DiamondMax is nevertheless impressive when compared to
the previous Maxtors we’ve heard. At 23 dBA/1m, this drive is quite at home
in a quiet system if not a completely silent one. Its noise character is
a bit harsh, as though there are several sharp peaks, but the total volume
is quiet enough that it would not be intrusive in most systems. There is
a very slight high frequency ringing that is audible within a foot or two
of the drive.

The DiamondMax’s seek noise is loud and disruptive. Like the Barracuda
IV, seeks are sharp and are much louder than the idle noise. Enabling AAM
makes a dramatic difference. Both volume and sharpness are reduced immensely;
AAM seeks are barely audible above the idle noise. Of all the drives we’ve
tested, the DiamondMax’s implementation of AAM is the most effective.

Low vibration is not a strong suit of the DiamondMax 10. Our first sample
of the drive had the most vibration of any drive in the lab by a large margin.
In fact, we requested a second sample to confirm that the problem was not
simply a result of sample variance. The second sample did indeed soften
our initial verdict, improving our vibration evaluation by a single grade.
Even the second sample still had more vibration than any other drive in
the lab, although the difference was not as marked as in the first sample.

Deskstar 7K250

The idle noise of the 7K250 is very smooth; it is similar in quality to
the Seagate Barracuda IV (our favorite reference drive), albeit a bit louder.
The difference in volume is at least partially caused by the higher number
of platters in the Deskstar. Close up, the idle noise sounded amazingly
like the airflow from a fan. The noise has very little high frequency content,
and constitutes a broadband whoosh or hiss depending on the angle you hear
it from.

Seek noise is average; it is not especially bad, nor is it particularly
good. Most of the noise is a high-frequency clicking, but, unlike the Barracuda
and the DiamondMax, they are not particularly sharp. AAM has virtually no
effect on the seek noise, although there is a touch of rumble when it is
not enabled.

Vibration is better than the DiamondMax, but not particularly impressive.
It’s at roughly the same level as a Nidec motor Spinpoint, which leaves
room for improvement. Suspension would certainly benefit this drive.

One of the general complaints about the Deskstar line in the past is the
intermittent "head reset" noise that it makes every ten minutes
or so when idling, and the 7K250 also exhibits this noise. It’s been characterized
as a "chirping" or "meowing" sound that
lasts two or three seconds. Personally, I think the closest comparison is
the sound a camcorder makes when loading a tape. The volume of the noise
is slightly higher than the seek noise; I’d guesstimate it at ~30 dBA/1m.

Advanced Power Management

When APM is enabled via the Hitachi Feature Tool, the drive enters Low Power Idle
after 3-5 minutes of inactivity. This occurs with a sharp click as the heads are unloaded to reduce power consumption . The same noise occurs when the heads are loaded. It’s roughly the
same volume as the head reset noise.

Despite the minor annoyance that unloading the heads causes, it is worth
enabling APM for the other feature it provides: Low RPM Standby, which occurs after 10-15 minutes of drive activity. Low RPM Standby lowers the spindle speed. This effects
a substantial drop in both airborne acoustics and vibration-induced noise.
Although this feature will not be that useful if the drive is used as
a boot or system drive, we highly recommend enabling it if the drive is
used primarily for data storage or backup.

ADVANCED POWER MANAGEMENT


SPL


Normal / Low Power Idle

23 dBA/1m

Low RPM Standby

19
dBA/1m


Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)

Normal / Low Power Idle

4

Low RPM Standby

7


Measured Power


Normal Idle

6.9
W

Low Power Idle

4.8
W

Low RPM Standby

2.6
W

The noise characteristics of this drive in Low RPM Standby are comparable
to many notebook drives. At 60% of full speed, the spindle speed is approximately
4,200 RPM and its first harmonic occurs at ~70 Hz; most people are less
sensitive to this frequency than the 120 Hz that the drive produces at full
speed. Power draw also drops dramatically, down to notebook drive levels.

The volume is so low that noise character is almost irrelevant, but there
is a slight squeal that is reminiscent of a muted television. From a distance
of one meter, the squeal was barely audible over the ambient noise; inside
a case it would disappear entirely.

Vibration was comparable or slightly better than the lowest vibration 3.5"
drive in our lab — almost notebook level. The lower frequency of resonance
at this level made it difficult to hear even on our resonance-amplifying
test box. Only the pickiest silencers need worry about vibration at this
level.

NOTE: There appeared to be some odd interaction between Windows power management and the Hitachi APM. We’d suggest you use one of the other but not both.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here in MP3 format. The first two recordings below
contains ten seconds of idle noise, followed by ten seconds of seek noise with
AAM enabled and ten seconds more with AAM disabled. The Hitachi Low RPM Standby recording is a continuous 12 seconds. Keep in mind that the audio recordings
paint only part of the acoustic picture; vibration noise is not recorded, and
drives often sound different depending on the angle from which they are heard.

Maxtor
DiamondMax 10 6B300S0 (Idle: 23 / AAM: 24-25 / Seek: 27-28 dBA/1m)

Hitachi
Deskstar 7K250 HDS722525VLSA80 (Idle: 23 / AAM: 25 / Seek: 26 dBA/1m)

Hitachi
Deskstar 7K250 HDS722525VLSA80 (Low RPM Standby: 19 dBA/1m)

Reference Comparatives:

Seagate
Barracuda IV ST340016A (Idle: 21 / AAM: 23 / Seek: 25-26 dBA/1m)

Samsung
Spinpoint P80 SP0802N, Nidec Motor (Idle: 21 / AAM: 23-24 / Seek: 25-26 dBA/1m)

Samsung
Spinpoint P80 SP0802N, JVC Motor (Idle: 21 / AAM: 25 / Seek: 27 dBA/1m)

Nexus 92mm
case fan @ 5V (17 dBA/1m) Reference

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made
with a high resolution studio quality digital recording system. The hard
drive was placed on soft foam to isolate the airborne noise that it produces;
recordings do not take into account the vibration noise that hard drives
produce. The microphone was centered 3″ above the top face of the hard
drive. The ambient noise during most recordings is 18 dBA or lower.

To set the volume to a realistic level (similar to the
original), try playing the Nexus 92 fan reference recording and
setting the volume so that it is barely audible. Then don’t reset the
volume and play the other sound files. Of course, tone controls or other
effects should all be turned off or set to neutral. For full details on
how to calibrate your sound system to get the most valid listening comparison,
please see the yellow text box entitled Listen to the Fans
on page four of the article
SPCR’s Test / Sound Lab: A Short Tour.

CONCLUSIONS

Although neither of the drives we tested managed to reach the
noise standards set by our perennial favorites, the Barracuda IV and the Spinpoint
P80, this is due at least in part to the higher number of platters (and thus
capacity) of our samples. The single platter versions of the DiamondMax 10 and
Deskstar 7K250 are probably more suited for use in a quiet system than the flagship
models that we tested.

The low idle noise and effective implementation of AAM on the
DiamondMax 10 impressed us, especially in light of the Maxtor drives we’ve heard
in the past. Maxtor drives have a reputation for good performance, so it’s nice
to know that there’s potential for quiet 3.5" drives that don’t automatically
impose a performance penalty. However, the high vibration of the drive means
it will not be quiet if it is mounted in the standard way; even more than usual,
we recommend suspension to fully silence this drive.

In stock form, the noise level of the Deskstar 7K250 is about
average. Its idle noise is quite similar to the DiamondMax 10, and while its
vibration is not as bad as the Maxtor, it’s still far from stellar. Both of
our reference drives beat the noise level of the Deskstar in general use. However,
in combination with its Low RPM Standby, the large capacity of the Deskstar (in
comparison to our reference drives) makes it an excellent choice for a secondary
drive that will be used infrequently.

Although the same effect could be achieved with any hard drive
by spinning down the disc via Windows Power Management, Hitachi’s Low RPM Standby
has some advantages over this method. Because the feature is enabled on the
drive itself, it is possible to spin down only the Deskstar without affecting
other drives in the system. Windows Power Management only allows a single idle
time-out to be set for all drives in the system.

Additionally, keeping the disc spinning instead of stopping it
entirely reduces both the spin-up time when the drive is needed and the wear
and tear on the drive bearings. Enabling Low RPM Standby will likely be better for
drive longevity than spinning it down entirely.

If suspended, both the DiamondMax 10 and the Deskstar 7K250 are
appropriate for use in a quiet but not silent system. Acoustically, they are
similar enough that a choice between these drives ultimately comes down to price
and performance rather than noise.

Many thanks to Maxtor
for the DiamondMax 10 sample, and to Hitachi
Global Storage Technology
for the Deskstar 7K250 sample.

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