Recommended Hard Drives

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Our reference article about HDD noise, along with complete acoustics-ranked listings of all SPCR-reviewed HDDs since late 2008. Latest update 4 October 2014.

  • Oct 04, 2014: Complete overhaul & update
  • April 28, 2010: Complete overhaul of article, with only
    HDDs tested (or retested) in the anechoic chamber.
  • June 13, 2008: WD single-platter 320GB, Velociraptor and
    Samsung F1 drives added
  • Dec 15, 2007: Western Digital Green Power WD7500AACS added
  • April 3, 2007: Samsung Spinpoint T HD400LJ and WD Scorpio
    120 added; other minor changes.
  • June 30, 2006: Minor changes and added the WD5000KS as
    the quietest currently available drive.
  • October 4, 2005: Complete revision of text and rankings
    based on reviews with
    our latest HDD
    testing methodology
    .
  • January 15, 2005: Another reevaluation of the whole article
    and rankings.
  • April 11, 2004: A long overdue overhaul of the entire article
    and ranking table, including information from reviews over the past year,
    expanded HDD discussion, a new notebook drive table, and a section on some
    excluded drives.
  • May 11, 2003: Info from recent reviews added, including
    Samsung SP1604N, Seagate Barracuda IV & 7200.7, and IBM 180GXP. Also revised
    rankings slightly.
  • Jan 11, 2003: IBM 180GXP added
  • Dec 10, 2002: Minor changes + addition of HDD Noise Reduction
    Products
  • Updated Sept 18, 2002
  • First published July 17, 2002

SPCR began publishing hard drive reviews in March 2002. From the beginning,
the focus was on noise. An improved methodology for testing hard drives was
introduced in May 2005. Since then, we have made one major change: All acoustic
testing has been conducted in our
own anechoic chamber
since the fall of 2008. This allows us to obtain accurate
SPL measurements down to about 10~11 dBA@1m. Previously, we were limited by
ambient noise and limitations in our audio measurement equipment to about 18
dBA@1m during the day. The upgrade in our acoustic testing coincides happily
with a wider range of new 5400 / 5900 RPM HDDs that bump against the noise floor,
even in our anechoic chamber.

HDDs

HDDs are racing to ever higher capacity, and ever lower prices as well. From
the $/GB perspective, 5400 and 5900 RPM 3.5" drives remain king. The HDD
is not going away any time soon with the massive amounts of data growing ever
larger in the data centers, and the similar acceleration of image and video
accumulation in personal computing devices. As I write this, mainstream HDDs
have reached 6TB capacity, and 8~12 TB will be achieved in the very near future.

Corporate consolidations in the past decade have shrunk the number of hard
drive manufacturers to just three: Samsung’s HDD division is now a part of giant
Seagate, and only the 2.5" drives have retained the Samsung label thus
far. Hitachi’s HDD division is now part of Western Digital, the other big player,
but its brand continues relatively unchanged. Toshiba also makes a full range
of drives, though best known for its notebook drives, and retains ~15% of the
drive market, with Seagate and WD splitting the lion’s share.

There have been no dramatic revolutions in hard drive technology in recent
memory; rather, a series of progressive evolutionary improvements that have mainly
targeted capacity by increasing the areal density of the platters. Performance
improvements do come simply because higher areal density means shorter head
movements to read different sectors of the drive. The fastest high capacity
7200 RPM drives now reach 150 MB/s sustained file transfer rates. Big 5400 RPM
aren’t far behind at around 120MB/s. The slowest current SSDs are at least 2X
faster than the fastest HDD.

Sub-6000 RPM 3.5" HDDs have been our go-to quiet high capacity data storage
devices for years. The best of these now have performance barely perceptibly
slower than typical 7200 RPM drives, and achieve a level of noise and vibration
that is staggeringly low by standards less than a decade ago.

SSDs

Solid State Drives continue making inroads to the mainstream. We tend to mark
Intel’s entry into the market in Q3 2008 as the starting point of SSDs becoming
viable storage options for PC enthusiasts. The prices continue plummeting, so
it’s just a matter of time before they are in every computer. SSDs are generally
silent, make no vibrations, and run extremely cool, all of which makes them
ideal for silent computers. We recommend using them for the operating system,
at least, and keep to the models that have the best reliability. No SSDs are
on our recommended lists; noise is not a criteria to choose them by, though
we have run into one or two samples that made some low level electronic whine/squeal.

SSDs for consumers come mainly as 2.5" SATA drives topping out at around
1TB, with the latestest conforming to the SATA3 standard which allows up to
6.0 Gbit/s native transfer rate. There’s no need for the extra room of the 3.5"
drive form factor, so none have appeared in that size. They are also available
in smaller, bare PCB formats for direct plug-in to mobile and desktop motherboards,
mSATA and M.2. The fastest, highest capacity and most capable configurations
have taken PCIe form, used generally for enterprise and data center applications.
The latest development in PCIe SSD technology is NVM Express (NVMe), a scalable
host controller interface designed to provide a platform for ever faster data
delivery.

Longevity of SSDs is directly related to flash memory’s write endurance, which
is finite. Intel rates their top consumer drives for "up to 70GB writes
per day for five years (compared to the industry typical 20GB)." Kingston
rates their top consumer SSDs as capable of 3 Drive Writes Per Day and warranties
them for 3 years. The
Tech Report started a stress test project on six SSDs
in August 2013 to
answer the question of how many writes consumer SSDs can take before dying.
The answer, after more than a year of continuous hammering, is surpringly upbeat:
3 failures at 700~800TB of writes, another failure at 1.2 Petabytes (1000TB),
and 2 more still running at over 1.5PB. None of the SSDs are rated for over
~200TB of writes, and none died without some advance warning.

NOTEBOOK DRIVES

We used to recommend 2.5" notebook drives for the quietest desktop systems
for many years. Notebook drives generally have these advantages over 3.5"
drives: Lower noise, less vibration due to lower moving mass, much lower power
consumption, and correspondingly less heat.

Despite all of this, some sub-6000 RPM 3.5" desktop drives are now just
about as quiet, and in a few cases, quieter, with about as low vibration. Notebook
drives are generally slower than desktop drives, and cannot hold a candle to
SSDs, which is the main reason we’re no longer as enthusiastic about notebook
drives.

The typical enthusiast PC configuration today is an SSD of 120~500 GB for the
OS and programs, combined with a high capacity 3.5" HDD, say 2 to 6 TB.
Even in a small PC, a single 3.5" HDD can be mechanically decoupled in
some way to reduce vibration induced noise to a minimum.

The only scenario in which 2.5" HDDs have practical application for a
quiet desktop PC these days is when the case is too small for a 3.5" data
drive. The most obvious example is an Intel NUC or Gigabyte BRIX with an mSATA
slot and room for a single 2.5" drive. The obvious choice of the latter
is a large capacity 2.5" HDD, which get up to 2 TB now.

HDD RANKINGS

We used to short-list only the quietest drives on the recommended lists. For
this iteration, we’ve changed our methodology: Every drive tested since late
2008 (when they began to be tested our anechoic chamber) is listed, ordered
by its level of noise and vibration. Study the data, read the reviews, and pick
your own poison.

We test drive performance, but these results don’t come into play in our rankings.
The performance test results are available in the reviews. We caution against
expecting measured differences to be easily or always perceptible. Generally,
performance is similar for models of similar basic specifications: Spindle speed,
capacity, and areal density. Small differences in HDD performance are almost
impossible to appreciate in actual use because there are umpteen bottlenecks
and overheads in the PC that obscure such differences. (For an entertaining,
informative exposition of this theme, check out Dan’s Data’s How
fast is a hard drive? How long is a piece of string?
)

Two assessment factors are worthy of note:

  • Sample variance is a hurdle we cannot overcome without examining random samples from many production batches over a period of time. This is not feasible. The reviews and our rankings are based on a careful assessment of our samples only.
  • Manufacturers sometimes revise products without notice or any change
    in model number. Even an updated firmware can affect drive noise, as seek
    strategies can be changed. Keep this in mind when perusing the recommended
    list; the date of manufacture and the firmware version of our sample is listed.

TYPES OF DRIVE NOISE

The noise of a disc drive mounted in a case comes in two forms:

  1. Airborne acoustics is what all drive manufacturers currently specify as the HDD noise. It is the sound that comes from the drive through the air to the observer. This value is measured with the drive suspended in space by wires.
  2. Structure-borne acoustics induced by the drive’s vibration during idle and seek is not quantified by HDD makers. This vibrational energy is transmitted to the PC chassis and causes the chassis to act much like a sounding board.

Structure-borne acoustics is the dominant source of HDD-induced PC noise. Seagate’s testing has shown that changes in stand-alone drive acoustics had little effect on the overall system acoustics when drives were hard mounted in the chassis. Hence the dramatic noise reduction evident with decoupled mountings such as the NoVibes, SPCR’s own elastic suspension, or simply placing the drive on soft foam. The noise emitted by even drives with very quiet stand-alone performance is greatly effected by how it is mounted to a chassis. There is also a useful forum thread on the effectiveness of various HDD decoupled mounting techniques.

There are also two
main types of noise:

  • Idle noise – typically a smooth hum or whoosh, caused by the spinning
    motor and its bearings. Non-FDB drives often exhibit a high pitched whine.
  • Seek noise – a rough, intermittent "clacking" or rapid
    "chugging" noise caused by head actuator movement during seek, read
    and write.

Idle and seek noise have both airborne and vibration-induced components. The
relative balance between airborne and vibration-induced noise is influenced
by the case and the method of installation (i.e, soft vs. hard
mounting). In other words, setup affects how a hard drive will sound. This is
why we do not produce a unified rating for drive noise, but measure and report
both airborne noise and vibration.

FACTORS AFFECTING DRIVE NOISE

Until about 2005, the majority of hard drives on the market used ball-bearing
motors, which had a characteristic high pitched whine and other objectionable
airborne noise. Since then, the industry has shifted to much quieter FDB (Fluid
Dynamic Bearing) motors, with the result that most recent drives are significantly
quieter than older drives, sometimes by as much as 10 dBA@1m. All major drive
manufacturers now use FDB motors in their current lineups. If you have a typical
non-FDB drive, the simplest way to achieve lower noise (and improved performance)
is to swap it for a new drive, almost any new drive.

There are three other factors that affect drive noise:

The number of platters in the drive. The acoustic difference between
a single platter drive and a four platter drive is much smaller than between
a ball-bearing drive and a FDB drive. In other words, the noise penalty for
using a higher capacity drive is not great, especially with FDB bearings.
Still, the quietest drives tend to be single platter FDB models.

The difference between idle and seek noise. While a drive idling quietly
may not be intrusive, if seek noise is considerably louder than idle noise,
it will certainly be noticeable. The smaller the difference between seek and
idle noise, the less audible the drive will be. The sound quality of seek
in some drives is more tonal and more prominent than in others, even when
the measured SPL is the same as in other drives.

Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM). This technology sacrifices some
seek latency in favor of softer, quieter seeks. The performance hit is often
small enough that AAM is well worth using. With the notable exception of Seagate,
all manufacturers these days allow AAM to be enabled, although its effectiveness
varies from drive to drive. Not all manufacturers provide a utility to enable
and adjust AAM, but many drives work with Hitachi’s
feature tool
.

USEFUL LINKS

In SPCR

On the Web

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GUIDE to the TABLES

A Cautionary Note: For a truly quiet computer, many 3.5″
drives vibrate a bit too much to simply bolt into the case normally. Having
suspended or soft-mounted all of the hard drives in our systems for many
years, our position is that most 3.5″ drives benefit from such treatment.
For us, this often applies to 2.5" drives as well, but it may be
due to our hypersensitivity (cultivated?) to PC noise, and the low ambient
acoustics of our environment.

Drive: Manufacturer and model number.

Mfg date: Date of manufacture of our sample model.

Firmware: Firmware version of our sample model.

Vibration: The level of vibration produced by the drive at idle, evaluated
relative to standard reference drives on our
standard vibration box
. 10 = zero vibration, 1 = jackhammer level.

Airborne Acoustics: The measured decibel level, A-weighted (dBA),
at 1m distance, during idle and seek, with AAM enabled and disabled (when
this is a switchable option).

Power Consumption: The amount of power in watts used by the drive.
Can be used to gauge thermal behavior.

NOTE: Only HDDs that were tested (or retested) in SPCR’s anechoic
chamber are listed in this guide (post-2008). This does not mean that previously
tested and recommended HDDs are not quiet, only that we lack sufficiently
accurate acoustic data to put them in context. Keep in mind that drives
that date back more than a couple years may be discontinued.

5,400 ~ 5,900 DESKTOP HARD DRIVES
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version
Vibration
(10 = no vibration)
Activity

Airborne Acoustics
(dBA@1m)

Measured
Power

WD
Caviar Green 2TB
WD20EARS
August 2010
firmware 01.00A01
9
Idle
12~13
2.8 W (2.4 W heads parked)
Seek
6.5 W
Samsung
EcoGreen F4 2TB
HD204UI
August 2010
firmware 1AQ10001
7
Idle
13
4.0 W
Seek
15
5.6 W
WD
Caviar Green 2TB
WD20EVDS-63T3B0
February 2009
firmware 01.00A01
8~9
Idle
13~14
3.9 W
Seek
6.5 W
WD Red 3TB
WD30EFRX-68AX9N0
June 2012
firmware 80.00A80
9
Idle
13~14
3.6 W
Seek
4.9 W
WD
Caviar Green 2TB
WD20EADS
February 2009
firmware 01.00A01
7
Idle
14
2.8 W (2.4 W heads parked)
Seek
13~14
6.5 W
WD
Caviar Green
3TB WD30EZRS
September 2010
firmware 01.00A01
8
Idle
14~15
4.1 W (3.7 W heads parked)
Seek
7.5W
WD
Red 4TB

WD40EFRX-68WT0N0

August 2013
firmware 80.00A80
8~9
Idle
15
4.0 W (3.2 W heads parked)
Seek
15~16
6.2 W
Hitachi
Deskstar 5K3000 2TB
HDS5C3020ALA632
April 2011
firmware 580
7
Idle
14~15
4.1W
Seek
15
5.6 W
Seagate
Barracuda Green 2TB
ST2000DL003
November 2010
firmware CC31
8
Idle
14~15
4.6 W
Seek
17~18
7.3 W
WD Red 6TB
WD60EFRX-68MYMN1
July 2014
firmware 82.00A8
8
Idle
14~15
4.4 W
Seek
18
5.4 W
Seagate
NAS 4TB
ST4000VN000-1H4168
September 2013
firmware SC43
7~9
Idle
15
4.8 W (4.1 W heads parked)
Seek
16~17
5.5 W

 

7200(+) RPM DESKTOP HARD DRIVES
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version
Vibration
(10 = no vibration)
Activity

Airborne Acoustics
(dBA@1m)

Measured
Power

Hitachi
Deskstar 7K1000.C 1TB
HDS721010CLA332
February 2010
firmware JP4OA39C
5
Idle
13
4.6 W
Seek (AAM)
15~16
6.4 W
Seek
17
9.6 W
WD Caviar
Blue 1TB
WD10EALS-002BA0
August 2010
firmware 05.01D05
7
Idle
14
5.2 W
Seek (AAM)
16~17
6.6 W
Seek
20
8.2 W
Seagate
Barracuda 3TB
ST3000DM001-9YN166
November 2011
firmware CC47
8
Idle
16
6.4 W
(5.6 W after 30s)
(3.9 W after 50s)
Seek
16~17
9.9 W
WD
Se 4TB
WD4000F9YZ-09N20L0
October 2013
firmware 01.01A01
7
Idle
16
8.1 W
Seek
18~19
9.7 W
Hitachi
Deskstar 7K3000 2TB
HDS723020BLA642
August 2011
firmware MNGOA5C0
5
Idle
17
5.3 W
Seek
18
7.8 W
Seagate
Barracuda XT 2TB
ST32000651AS
May 2010
firmware CC13
7~8
Idle
17
7.0 W
Seek
18~19
7.9 W
WD VelociRaptor
300GB
WD3000GLFS
May 2008
firmware 03.03V01
(bare drive)
7
Idle
15
3.9 W
Seek (AAM)
20
5.7 W
Seek
22
6.2 W
WD VelociRaptor
600GB
WD6000HLHX
August 2010
firmware 04.05G04
7
[bare]
Idle
[14~15]
17~18
4.2 W
[bare] Seek
[20~22]
24~26
5.5 W
WD VelociRaptor
1TB
WD1000DHTZ-04N21V0
March 2012
firmware 04.06A00
7
[bare]
Idle
[16~17]
18
4.0 W
[bare]
Seek
[27]
32
5.3 W
Seagate Enterprise
v4 6TB
ST6000NM0024-1HT17Z
May 2014
firmware SN02
3
Idle
19~20
7.5 W
Seek
20~21
9.2 W

 

2.5" HARD DRIVES
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version
Vibration
(10 = no vibration)
Activity

Airborne Acoustics
(dBA@1m)

Measured
Power

WD Scorpio
Blue 500GB
WD5000LPVT-22G33T0
March 2012
firmware 01.01A01
8
Idle
12
0.79 W (0.69 W heads parked)
Seek
14~15
1.65 W
WD Red 1TB
WD10JFCX-68N6GN0
August 2013
firmware 01.01A01
8
Idle
13~14
0.92 W (0.79 W heads parked)
Seek
14
1.95 W
Seagate
Momentus XT 500GB
ST95005620AS
June 2010
firmware SD22
7
Idle
13~14
1.34 W (1.16 W heads parked)
Seek
14~15
2.08 W
Hitachi
Travelstar
5K500.B 500GB

February 2009
firmware PB4OC60G
8
Idle
14
0.7 W (0.6 W heads parked)
Seek
15
2.2 W
Seagate
Momentus 7200.4 500GB
ST9500420AS
March 2009
firmware 0002SDM1
7
Idle
14
1.1 W (0.9 W heads parked)
Seek
15
2.35 W
Seagate
Momentus
750GB
ST9750420AS
October 2010
firmware 0001SDM1
8
Idle
15
1.06 W (0.85 W heads parked)
Seek
15~16
2.60 W
WD
Scorpio Blue 1TB
WD10JPVT-00A1YT0
July 2011
firmware 01.01A01
8
Idle
15
0.89 W (0.75 W heads parked)
Seek
16
1.86 W
WD Scorpio Blue 640GB WD6400BEVT
September 2009
firmware 01.01A01
7
Idle
15~16
0.87 W (0.74 W heads parked)
Seek
16
1.95 W
WD
Scorpio Black 750GB
WD7500BPKT
November 2010
firmware 01.01A01
7
Idle
16
1.18 W (1.01 W heads parked)
Seek
16~17
2.28 W
Seagate
Momentus 5400.6 500GB
ST9500325ASG
February 2009
firmware 0001SDM1
8
Idle
16
0.8 W (0.65 W heads parked)
Seek
18
2.2 W

 

SOLID STATE DRIVES

Noise is not a criteria to choose SSDs by, though we have
run into one or two samples that made some low level electronic whine/squeal.
Based on our experience with some 40~50 SSD samples over the years,
we believe this is abnormal and recommend an immedite return to the
vendor if it is encountered, assuming the noise is audible and it bothers
you.

For your convenience, here’s a list of our SSD reviews:

HDD NOISE REDUCTION PRODUCTS

Hard drive noise reduction products typically take the form of enclosures,
although the category is not strictly limited to such devices. Noise reduction
products are tested using the loudest and most vibration-prone drives in the
lab. The noise levels are compared with and without the device. The measurements
below reflect the sonic improvement effected by the products.

NOTE: Demand for such products has fallen with the wide popularity of quiet, low vibration drives, especially the 5xxx RPM drives, and the increasing capacity & falling price of SSDs. As a result, these products have very limited distribution and may be difficult to find. Grow Up Japan is the maker of the Smart Drive, and a search with that name will work better. NoVibes is marketed under some other brand names as well as NoiseMagic.

Recommended HDD Noise Reduction Products
Model
(linked to review)
SPL Improvement
Idle / Seek
(dBA@1m)
Vibration Improvement
(on our standard 10 point scale)
Smart
Drive HDD Enclosure
(also Smart Drive 2002 and 2002Copper versions)
6 / 6
2
Smarter realization of the seal-up-that-hard-drive
idea, with slick metal / damping foam / metal construction and great attention
to detail. Acoustic isolation is excellent, 6 dBA@1m for both idle and seek
noise. Does not eliminate seek noise when mounted normally and has only
a minimal effect on vibration. Does not overheat 7200 RPM drives. Mounts
in a 5.25-inch drive bay. Updated Oct/05
Scythe
Silent Box SBX-1000 HDD Enclosure
4 / 4
3
A foam-padded box that uses a heatlane to transfer
heat away from the drive. Less effective at blocking acoustic noise than
the Smart Drive but better at reducing vibration. Our review showed that
it improved temperature slightly, but real world evidence has contradicted
this. Fits into a 5.25-inch drive bay with difficulty. Added Oct/05

 

3 / 6
5
Reduces vibration-caused noise by
decoupling the HDD from the case using elastic bands (industrial O-rings)
in a 5.25-inch drive rack. Great for drives with low acoustic noise. Just
about eliminates seek noise with many drives. It also almost
completely eliminates vibration. Sturdy, simple, and effective. Among the
commercial HDD noise reducers, this is SPCR’s preferred product, mounted
not in a 5.25" bay but rather, at the bottom of the case in the intake
airflow path. Added Dec/02
Scythe
Quiet Drive 2.5
4 / 3
1
An alumimum box containing another aluminum box
surrounded by foam, this product is similar to the Smart Drive, but made
for a 2.5" drive. It makes a super quiet drive even quieter or a quiet
drive nearly super quiet. The increase in HDD temperature was only a couple
of degrees.
Tiché
PC HDD Vibration Killer
2/4
5
Side-mounted aluminum brackets
that use foam rubber strips for damping drive vibration and require an optical
drive bay. They work very well, but increase HDD temperature by 8~10°C
if it is not in positioned in airflow path. Little improvement in airborne
acoustics, but the improvement in vibration-caused noise is quite dramatic.
Oct 2014

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