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Samsung F2 EcoGreen HD502HI: Silent 500GB 3.5″ HDD

Single-platter drives are the quietest, according to conventional engineering wisdom, but this truism is not always borne out in reality. The Samsung F2 EcoGreen 500GB desktop drive is a triumph for conventional wisdom.

June 13, 2009 by Mike Chin

Product
Samsung F2 EcoGreen HD502HI
500GB 3.5″ Hard Drive
Sample Source
SPCR forum member ‘frEEk
Market Price
US$50~60

Western Digital’s introduction of the Caviar
Green Power
drives a couple years ago renewed interest in 5400rpm desktop drives after a decade of 7200rpm domination. Seagate introduced the somewhat in-between 5900rpm Pipeline HD drives late last year to compete in that noise- and eco-sensitive segment. Samsung also joined the new slower spin HDD race with the EcoGreen 5400rpm line in mid-2008.

Samsung lists 11 EcoGreen 5400rpm models on their US web site. Six of these are earlier F1 series at 250GB, 320GB, 500GB, 640GB, 750GB and 1TB capacities. The first four have 16mb cache, the last two have 32mb. There are five F2 5400rpm EcoGreen models, with capacities of 500GB, 1TB, and 1.5TB, two each at the latter capacities with 16mb and 32mb cache.

While all of these various models are interesting, the F2 HD502HI is the most compelling because it is a single platter 500GB drive. The conventional wisdom is that the fewer the number of platters in a hard drive, the lower the noise, heat and power. It doesn’t always hold true because manufacturers sometimes change not only the number of platters, but also the casing and other aspects of the drive that impact noise. For example, a single platter takes up less room and weighs less, so sometimes a less substantial casting is used, with the result that the drive ends up vibrating more and making more noise.

In accordance with conventional wisdom, the F2 HD502HI does, in fact, have the lowest specified noise of all the EcoGreen models. It is rated for 2.2 bels (sound power) in idle and 2.7 bels in performance seek; the same parameters for the lower capacity F1 models are 2.45 bels and 2.8 bels.

The 500gb/disk areal density is the current peak, reached not only by Samsung but also Western Digital and Seagate. It is the first single-platter 500GB model to be tested here.

Although the buzz in the SPCR forums is that the EcoGreens are very quiet and offer good performance (see forum thread Samsung EcoGreen F2 500GB platter is out!), Samsung has been unusually mum about the entire EcoGreen series thus far, at least in the retail space. Not only is there no PR and marketing effort, there is simply no distribution in Canada. Luckily, both the US and the EU have access to the EcoGreen line. A SPCR forum member who lives nearby decided he’d order a pair of the HD502HI from Newegg.ca (which actually ships the drives from the US) and have it delivered directly to SPCR for review and analysis for a few weeks before he took possession of them. It was “frEEk“s thoughtful initiative which allowed us to get to this review.

 


Single platter 500GB Samsung EcoGreen HDD
Casing is as substantial as most drives with multiple platters. A less sturdy casing was the cause of higher vibration and noise in some variants of the single-platter WD Caviar 320GB 7200rpm drive.

 

Samsung F2 EcoGreen HD502HI: Key Features
& Benefits
(from Samsung product
web page
)
FEATURE & BRIEF Our Comment
MAX.500GB Formatted Capacity Per Disk Highest aerial density today, should make for fast throughput.
Improved recording stability over temperature with PMR Perpendicular Magnetic Recording is not exactly new any more.
Advanced dynamic FOD control for best data integrity Flying-On-Demand is said to ensure enhanced read/write sensitivity by dynamically lowering the fly-height in read or write mode while maintaining a consistent and higher fly-height across the disk in standard mode.
SATA Native Command Queuing Feature Fairly common and not that useful for desktop PCs.
Intelligent compensation of external disturbance Like letting the answer machine get the phone when you’re having dinner??
Device Initiated SATA Power Management OK
Improved performance with dual-ARM based firmware Sounds like it uses 2 ARM chips.
Automatic Acoustic Management Feature, Rotational vibration sensor, NoiseGuard™, SilentSeek™ The proof of noise reduction features is in the listening and acoustic measurements in our review.

 


Specifications: Samsung F2 EcoGreen HD502HI
Capacity 500 GB
Cache 16MB
Disks / Heads 1 / 2
Interface SATA 3Gb/s
Spindle Speed 5400 RPM
Sustained Data Rate OD 100 MB/s
Average Seek 8.9 ms
Average Latency 5.56 ms
Data Transfer Rate 300 MB/sec
Weight 470 grams
Power: Idle / Seek
/ R-W / Spin-up
3.9W / 4.8W / 5.1W / ~24W
Acoustics (sound power) 2.2 / 2.7 Bel (idle / quiet seek / performance
seek)

TESTING

Our samples were tested according to our standard
hard drive testing methodology
. A significant change in our testing procedure is that as of mid-2008, we’re conducting most acoustics tests in our own 10~11 dBA anechoic chamber, which results in more accurate, lower SPL readings than before, especially as the SPL approaches 20 dBA and below, which is the territory of laptop drives. Our methodology focuses specifically on
noise, and great effort is taken to ensure it is comprehensively measured
and described. Performance is covered only lightly, for reasons discussed in detail in the methodology article.

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. Airborne acoustics are measured in our anechoic chamber using a lab reference
microphone and computer audio measurement system
. Measurements are taken at a distance of one meter from 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.

Summary of primary HDD testing tools:

A final caveat: As with most reviews, our comments
are relevant to the samples we tested. Your sample may not be identical. There
are always some sample variances, and manufacturers also make changes without
telling everyone.


This sample was made in February 2009
.

Ambient conditions at time of testing were 10.5 dBA and 23°C.

ACOUSTICS

The low frequency peak at ~90Hz shows that the rotational speed of the HD502HL is indeed 5400rpm. The pitch of the sound corresponds to the frequency of the vibration, which is caused by its rotational speed. The former, Hz, is cycles per second, while the latter is rotations per minute.


Samsung
HD502HL in idle
.

The confirmation of rotational speed pales against the measured SPL at 1m while the drive is in idle: Less than 12 dBA, barely a single decibel above the ambient level of the anechoic chamber. The overall sound can be described as very difficult to hear. From up close, it’s smooth and muted with no obvious tonalities. The vibration level of both HD502HL samples was low enough that placing a piece of soft foam between it and the testing table made almost no difference in perceived noise. Normally, without the soft foam, the vibrations of the hard drive are amplified by the table top, causing a thrumming low frequency sound. There was virtually none of that effect.

The overall noise is low enough that this 3.5″ drive is worth comparing to a 2.5″ notebook drive, the recently reviewed WD Scorpio Blue 500GB. Admittedly this is a 2-platter model, but still, it is a laptop drive, and they have always had a significant noise advantage over 3.5″ drives.


The graph for the WD Scorpio Blue is not in exactly the same format, but the SPL number is plain as day. So is the 10 dBA peak at 90Hz.

It turns out that the Samsung HD502HL is quieter than the WD Scorpio Blue by over 3 dBA@1m, and its primary motor noise peak at 90Hz is 15 dBA@1m lower. That means it vibrates less. (In our review, we gave the Scorpio Blue 7 for vibration, compared to the 8 the Samsung gets here.) The Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 2.5″ examined in the same review matches the HD502HL for vibration but measured >4 dBA@1m higher. This is quite a dramatic “upset”.


Samsung
HD502HL in seek with AAM engaged
.

The quiet performance continued in seek mode. The drive was subject to the extreme seek condition of the Hitachi Feature Tool acoustic management test/check utility. This utility applies a constant seek mode which makes most drives chatter more loudly than they ever do in real use. With AAM turned on it measured 15 dBA@1m, which is excellent. The sound had a muted chattering quality. Turning AAM off increased the seek noise a touch, to a measured peak of 16.5 dBA@1m. The seek sound became a bit sharper.

POWER CONSUMPTION

DRIVE TEST SUMMARY
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version
Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)
Activity State

Airborne Acoustics
(dBA@1m)

Measured
Power
Samsung 500GB
HD502HL F2 EcoGreen

February 2009
firmware 1AG01114
8
Idle
12
3.2 W
Seek (AAM)
15
5.3 W
Seek (Normal)
16
6.1 W

The power consumption of the Samsung HD502HI is the lowest of any 3.5″ drive tested. The idle power is especially low, at just 3.2W. The previous lows were held by the Seagate Pipeline HD 500GB ST3500321CS at 4.6W and the single platter 320GB 7200rpm WD Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 at 4.5W. The only contenders for the 3.5″ HDD low power crown are the new single platter WD Caviar Green 500GB and Seagate Pipeline II 500/250GB.

COMPETITIVE COMPARISON

DRIVE NOISE TEST SUMMARY
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version
Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)
Activity State

Airborne Acoustics
(dBA@1m)

Measured
Power
Samsung 500GB
HD502HL F2 EcoGreen

February 2009
firmware 1AG01114
8
Idle
12
3.2 W
Seek (AAM)
15
5.3 W
Seek (Normal)
16
6.1 W
PREVIOUSLY TESTED DESKTOP DRIVES
WD Caviar Green
2TB WD20EADS

February 2009
firmware 01.00A01
7
Idle
13
6.4 W (4.0W heads unloaded)
Seek (AAM)
13
6.5 W
Seek (Normal)
13~14
6.5 W
Seagate Pipeline HD
500GB ST3500321CS

July 2008
firmware SC14
6
Idle
14
4.8 W
Seek
15
6.9 W
Seagate Pipeline HD Pro
1TB ST31000533CS

September 2008
firmware SC15
4
Idle
15
7.1 W
Seek
16
10.1 W
WD Caviar SE16
640GB WD6400AAKS
February 2008
firmware 01.03B01
7
Idle
16
6.8 W
Seek (AAM)
16~17
8.1 W
Seek (Normal)
18~19
9.3 W
Samsung F1
750GB HD753LJ

February 2008
firmware 1AA01109
6
Idle
16
6.9 W
Seek (AAM)
18~19
8.9 W
Seek (Normal)
20~21
10.2 W
Seagate 7200.11
1.5TB ST31500341AS

October 2008
firmware SD17
4
Idle
17
8.8 W
Seek
19
10.7 W
WD VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS
300GB, 10K RPM
15 May 2008
firmware 03.03V01
8
[w/o frame]
Idle
15
8.2 W
Seek (AAM)
20
12.2 W
Seek (Normal)
22
12.2 W
WD Caviar SE16
500GB WD5000KS

March 2006
firmware 07.02E07
4
Idle
19
8.5 W
Seek (AAM)
19
8.6 W
Seek (Normal)
22
10.7 W
WD Caviar Black
1TB WD1001FALS

July 2008
firmware 05.00K05
4
Idle
21
8.5 W
Seek (AAM)
21
10.9 W
Seek (Normal)
25
11.0 W
WD Raptor
150GB WD1500ADFD

March 2006
firmware 20.07P20
5
Idle
16
8.2 W
Seek (AAM)
26~27
12.2 W
Seek (Normal)
26~27
12.2 W

 

HD TACH RESULTS


HD Tach results for Samsung HD502HI.

The HD502HI provided good performance in HD Tach. Random access time averaged 16~17ms over several repeated tests, and average
read speed was
87 MB/s. This is a slight edge over other recently reviewed 5400rpm drives, but probably difficult to notice as improved speed in actual use. It fares well against 7200rpm drives of similar capacity. Random access is a bit slower but read speed is very close. (Consider that the best read we’ve measured on a 7200rpm desktop drives is 107mb/s for the Seagate 7200.11 1.5TB.)

HD TACH RESULTS COMPARISON
Drive
Random Access
Avg Read
Samsung EcoGreen F2 HD502HI
16.7ms
87mb/s
WD Green WD20EADS 2TB
17.9ms
82mb/s
Seagate Pipeline HD Pro 500GB
17.7ms
75mb/s
WD SE16 Caviar 640GB
12.4ms
91mb/s
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB
12.4ms
88mb/s
Samsung F1 750GB
13.6ms
77mb/s
Blue blocks, 5400rpm; green blocks, 7200rpm

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11
dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s.
We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from
the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what
we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer
or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn’t record it either!

The recording starts with 5 to 10 seconds of ambient noise, then 10 second
segments of the drive in the following states: idle, seek with AAM enabled (if
applicable), and seek with AAM disabled (if applicable).

  • Samsung F2 EcoGreen HD502HIIdle: 12 / Seek (AAM):
    15 / Seek (Normal): 16 dBA@1m
    One
    Meter

    The drive starts about 7 seconds into the recording. A deliberate silent pause had to be inserted because otherwise, it’s easy to miss when the drive noise begins. It’s that close to the ambient level in the anechoic chamber. AAM seek starts at ~17 seconds, and seek w/o AAM starts at 28 seconds.

Comparatives:

  • Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EADSIdle: 13 / Seek (AAM):
    13 / Seek (Normal): 13~14 dBA@1m
    One
    Meter
  • Seagate Pipeline HD ST3500321CSIdle: 14 / Seek: 15
    dBA@1m
    One
    Meter
  • Seagate Pipeline HD Pro 1TB ST31000533CSIdle: 15 / Seek:
    16
    dBA@1mOne
    Meter
  • Western Digital Caviar Blue 640GB WD6400AAKSIdle: 16 /
    Seek (AAM): 16~17
    / Seek (Normal): 18~19 dBA@1mOne
    Meter
  • Samsung F1 750GB HD753LJIdle: 16 / Seek (AAM):
    18~19
    / Seek (Normal): 20~21 dBA@1mOne
    Meter
  • Seagate 7200.11 1.5TB ST31500341ASIdle: 17 / Seek: 19
    dBA@1m
    One
    Meter
  • Seagate 7200.11 1TB ST31000340ASIdle: 18 / Seek: 19 dBA@1m
    One
    Meter
  • Western Digital Caviar SE16 500GB WD5000KSIdle: 19 / Seek
    (AAM): 19
    / Seek (Normal): 22 dBA@1mOne
    Meter
  • Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB WD1001FALSIdle: 21 /
    Seek (AAM): 21
    / Seek (Normal): 25 dBA@1mOne
    Meter
  • Western Digital Raptor 150GB WD1500ADFDIdle: 16 / Seek
    (AAM): 26~27
    / Seek (Normal): 26~27 dBA@1mOne
    Meter

CONCLUSIONS

The Samsung EcoGreen F2 HD502HI is a dream come true for the quiet PC seeker.

  • It is inaudible in idle, which is the single most important HDD characteristic for low noise computing.
  • Its vibration level at idle is so low than unless the PC case is particularly flimsy and resonant or placed very close to the user, there may be little benefit to mechanically decoupling the drive from the chassis. It’s the first time since starting this site over seven years ago that I can write this about a 3.5″ HDD.
  • In seek with AAM engaged, it’s a bit noisier than the WD Green 2TB, but still very quiet, and the noise may be reassuring for those who prefer to know the drive is actually working. Of course, if you’re so inclined, that noise can be virtually elminated with elastic cord suspension (still the most effective way to mechanically decouple the drive from the chassis).
  • Its performance is very good, with only random access falling a bit behind 7200rpm desktop drives.
  • The power demands are lower than any drive tested in the past, not by some increment of a watt, but by some 1.5W at idle over its closest competitor.
  • This Samsung does not employ the “head park” feature which is a source of anxiety about possible early failure in the WD Green drives.
  • Finally, it’s priced so low than almost anyone can afford one.

It is difficult to find something to quibble about in this product, but here is one: Why is it not sold by any Canadian stores? If it’s true that Samsung is simply not distributing the EcoGreen line here, why the heck not??

Recently, the cost of viable performance SSDs have dropped to the point where they are the best choice for a silent PC. SPCR’s own lab PCs have recently gone the route of combining a low capacity SSD for the OS and programs, with NAS for data storage on a gigabit network. This reduces the PC noise down to virtually nil. But it is a bit more complex and expensive than the single HDD PC, and you need a closet to hide and damp the NAS which might make a fair bit of noise. The Samsung HD502HI makes an inexpensive, silent, conventional PC easier to attain than ever before. Suspended elastically in a sturdy case, it is an exclamatory counterpoint (in terms of noise) to the SSD at a price some 40 times cheaper per gigabyte. ($130 for a 30GB OCZ Vertex SSD vs. $50~60 for the 500GB Samsung.)

The Samsung HD502HI sits at the top of quiet HDDs reviewed by SPCR. It edges the WD Caviar Green 2TB for vibration and idle noise, although many users may be pressed to discern between the two drives in a controlled test with two otherwise identical systems — the ambient room noise would have to be absolutely minimal and the other components in the systems would have to be near-silent. The HD502HI clearly surpasses the Seagate Pipeline drives (that we’ve reviewed) in every way. The Samsung’s lone top position may not be for long, however, as there are new single-platter 500GB models in the WD Green, Seagate Pipeline 2 and Seagate Barracuda LP series. We will be examining those models in the near future with hopes that they can rise to the new summit scaled by the Samsung HD502HI.

Many thanks to Jonathan, aka SPCR forum member frEEk, for the review samples.

SPCR Editor’s Choice Award

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR’s Hard Drive Testing
Methodology

SPCR’s Recommended Hard Drives
Momentus 5400.6 & Scorpio
Blue: Seagate & WD 2.5″ HDDs at 500GB

Seagate Pipeline HD Pro 1TB
Hard Drive

WD Caviar Green 2TB & Seagate Pipeline HD 500GB
WD and Seagate take steps to fix
terabyte drives

Caviar
Black: WD’s Performance 1TB HDD

Samsung F1 750GB & 1TB Drives: Fast… and Silent?

WD
SE16 Caviar 640GB is now Blue

WD VelociRaptor: A Triple Crown

* * *

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