Two drives vie for the title of Miss SPCR Quietest 3.5″ Hard Drive 2009. WD’s candidate is the first and only (so far) 2TB desktop drive, and happens to be part of their famous Green Power series. Seagate’s contestant is a 500GB Pipeline HD, marketed for media applications and spinning at an odd 5900 RPM.
Mar. 26, 2009 by Lawrence Lee
Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EADS
2.0TB Desktop Hard Drive
Seagate Pipeline HD ST3500321CS
500GB Desktop Hard Drive
Western Digital’s Caviar
Green Power series rocked our world when they were first introduced.
The unconventional approach of slower rotational speed, combined with
smarter seeking and head management resulted in the quietest and most power
efficient desktop hard drives. Their largest drive to date,
the Caviar Green 2TB, aspires to continue the legacy. You may think a 2TB couldn’t
possibly be quiet, but with no increase in the number of platters due to the extra high density 500GB platters, in theory it should
do as well as the 1TB version.
Seagate has also stepped into the same market with a line of low noise, low energy drives, the Pipeline HD series. Marketed as the perfect drives for media devices, they essentially share the same values as Green Powers. We confirmed in a recent review that the 1TB
Pipeline HD Pro spins at the usual standard 7200 RPM speed, but the
lower capacity Pipelines all run at 5900 RPM. We’re looking at the largest of these
drives, the 500GB version.
Green Power 2TB on the left, Pipeline HD 500GB on the right.
Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB
WD Caviar Green 2TB WD20EADS: Key Features
(from Western Digital’s product
|FEATURE & BRIEF||Our Comment|
|Reduced power consumption – WD has|
reduced power consumption by up to 40 percent compared to standard desktop
drives with the combination of WD’s IntelliSeek™, NoTouch™, and
|Whatever the main contributor, the power|
efficiency of their Green drives is undisputed.
|Helps enable eco-friendly PCs – WD|
Caviar Green drives yield an average drive power savings of 4-5 watts over
standard desktop drives making it possible for our energy-conscious customers
to build systems with higher capacities and the right balance of system
performance, ensured reliability, and energy conservation.
|While 4-5 watts may sound low, in a server|
farm this can certainly add up.
|Cool and quiet – GreenPower™|
technology yields lower operating temperatures for increased reliability
and low acoustics for ultra-quiet PCs and external drives.
|Lowering the spindle speed is a big reason|
for these improvements.
|Massive capacity – Capacities up|
to 2 TB offer the most available capacity for storage-intensive programs
and space-hungry operating systems, like Window Vista®, with plenty
of room left over for photos, music, and video.
|As the first 2TB drive to hit the market,|
WD is at the top of the mountain at the moment.
|Perfect for external drives – External|
drive manufacturers can eliminate the need for a fan in a high-capacity
product with a WD Caviar Green drive, the coolest and quietest in its class.
|Hard-mounted in a stuffy enclosure, such|
a drive would be the perfect fit.
|IntelliPower – A fine-tuned balance|
of spin speed, transfer rate and caching algorithms designed to deliver
both significant power savings and solid performance
|Our 2TB sample spins at 5400 RPM. WD’s|
literature lists the possible speed range as 5400~7200 RPM, but we have
yet to come across a drive that falls between these two numbers.
|IntelliSeek – Calculates optimum|
seek speeds to lower power consumption, noise, and vibration.
|Just-in-time seeking that lets the seek|
head move more slowly when it would otherwise have to wait for the latency
of the spindle. Should be good for reliability as well.
|NoTouch ramp load technology – The|
recording head never touches the disk media ensuring significantly less
wear to the recording head and media as well as better drive protection
|Not only does this reduce wear and tear,|
but it also lowers the risk of accidental damage.
|Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR)|
– Employs PMR technology to achieve even greater areal density.
|PMR is pretty much standard these days.|
|StableTrac™ – The motor shaft|
is secured at both ends to reduce system-induced vibration and stabilize
platters for accurate tracking, during read and write operations. (2 TB
|Vibrations are less of a problem for|
sub 7200 RPM drives.
|Low power spin-up – WD Caviar Green|
drives consume less current during startup allowing lower peak loads.
|Measuring spin-up power consumption is|
very difficult to confirm.
|Advanced power technology – Electronic|
components deliver best-in-class low power consumption for reduced power
requirements and increased reliability.
SEAGATE PIPELINE HD 500GB
Pipeline HD Pro 1TB on the left, Pipeline HD 500GB on the right. The
500GB Pipeline has a shorter circuit board and the casing has less girth,
looking "hollowed out."
Seagate Pipeline HD ST3500321CS: Key Features &
(from Seagate’s product
|FEATURE & BRIEF||Our Comment|
|Eco-friendly and best-in-class power savings|
enabling the most energy-efficient system designs
|How eco-friendly the drive is is beyond|
our scope. We’ll take them to task on power consumption though.
|Industry-leading reliability in an always-on|
environment supports longevity of consumer electronics and low-power applications.
|We’ll have to take their word for it.|
|Designed for cool, quiet, worry-free, 24×7|
|"Designed for hot, loud, worrisome,|
occasional operation" probably wouldn’t be the best thing to say.
|Performance enhanced for multimedia streaming|
|Seagate SoftSonic™ motor technology|
enables years of ultraquiet, worry-free operation with acoustics performance
as low as 1.9 bels.
|The 1TB Pipeline was surprisingly quiet.|
The 500GB model with its lower rotational speed should improve on that further.
|Up to 1-TB capacity enabling up to 200 hours|
of HD storage or 1000 hours of SD television recording.
|1TB is nothing to brag about any more.|
|Sweet-spot capacities enable premium television|
services such as video on demand, high-definition storage and multi-room
streaming for DVRs and media centers.
|Only the 1TB model is really in a sweet-spot|
based on price per gigabyte.
|Seagate Think Green™ sustainability|
goes beyond green with improved reliability, low power consumption, leading
recycling programs, RoHS compliance, PVC free, halogen free and brominated
flame retardant free
|OK, we get it: Green is definitely the message.|
Specifications: Caviar Green 2TB & Pipeline HD 500GB
|Disks / Heads||4 / 8||2 / 4|
|Interface||SATA 3Gb/s||SATA 3Gb/s|
|Spindle Rotation Speed||IntelliPower|
|Sustained Data Rate OD||100 MB/s||90 MB/s|
|Average Latency||?||5.1 ms|
|Weight||730 grams||530 grams|
| Power Requirements: Idle / Seek|
|3.7W / 6.0W||4.3W / 5.0W|
|Acoustics||24 / 25 / 29 dBA (idle / quiet seek / performance|
|2.1 / 2.4 bels (idle / operating)|
Both manufacturers are
reluctant to state rotational speeds for their respective "green"
hard drives, not wanting consumers to get the (correct) impression that they
do not perform as well as typical 7200 RPM models. Western Digital uses the marketingspeak of "IntelliPower" — which suggests that each individual
drive is set to an optimal speed between 5400 and 7200 RPM before leaving the
factory. An amazing coincidence that our 2TB turned out to be a 5400 RPM drive
just like our 1TB and 750GB samples. Seagate’s current data sheet does not list
rotational speed at all, though an earlier version showed the smaller Pipelines (160GB,
320GB and 500GB models) all spin at 5900 RPM.
Other than the slight rotational speed advantage of the Pipelines, most of the published specifications favor
the 2TB Green drive as it has double the areal density (500GB vs. 250GB),
more cache and a higher sustained data rate. Both drives claim to be low power. The acoustics claims are difficult to compare, as WD cites dBA (we presume at 1m distance) sound pressure level, while Seagate cites bels sound power. Never mind, we measured them side by side in our own anechoic chamber.
A simple frequency analysis shows the true rotational speed of these two
drives. 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.
Green 2TB Frequency / Amplitude graph.
Our Caviar Green sample had a sharp spike at 90 Hz (cycles per second). Multiplying
that number by 60 (to get cycles per minute) yielded a rotation speed
of 5400 RPM. Despite Western Digital’s claims about IntelliPower, we have yet
to hear a single case of a Green Power drive running at a speed other than 5400
or 7200 RPM.
Pipeline HD 500GB Frequency / Amplitude graph.
Our 500GB Pipeline sample generated a a spike at 96 Hz, which means its disks
spin at around 5800 RPM.
Our samples were tested according to our standard
hard drive testing methodology. The significant change in our testing procedure is that as of mid-2008, we’re conducting most acoustics tests in our own 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 not tested comprehensively, for reasons discussed in detail in
the methodology article. In essence, between similar drives, we feel the performance differences are trivial, while the noise differences can be significant. Furthermore, many other hardware review sites (such as The Tech Report, Anandtech, and X-bit Labs) do a good job of covering the performance (speed) aspects of HDDs, while none of them do a thorough job of noise analysis.
Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:
These two types of noise impact the subjective
perception of hard drive noise differently depending on how and where the drive
Both forms of noise are evaluated objectively and
subjectively. Airborne acoustics are measured in our anechoic chamber using a lab reference
caliber microphone and computer 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.
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
The WD drive was manufactured in February. Our Pipeline HD’s date code
correlates to a July 2008 manufacture date, according to our secret Seagate
date-code decoder ring.
Ambient conditions at time of testing were 11 dBA and 20°C.
ACOUSTICS & POWER
DRIVE NOISE EVALUATION
(10 = no vibration)
WD Caviar Green
6.4 W (4.0W heads unloaded)
Seagate Pipeline HD
Seagate Pipeline HD Pro
WD Caviar SE16
WD VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS
300GB, 10K RPM
15 May 2008
WD Caviar SE16
WD Caviar Black
* These drives are references in the sense of previously
tested and known entireties to which newly tested products can be compared
and contrasted against.
Acoustically, these drives were the very quietest desktop models we’ve tested. The 2TB Green just edges out
the 500GB Pipeline, both in terms of airborne noise and vibration. The Caviar
Green’s overall sound was broadband with very soft, low seeks that were only
audible within a proximity of one to two feet. Both idle and seek
with AAM enabled measured 13 dBA. Only when AAM was disabled did the seek noise
produce a measurable difference, though our ears weren’t sharp enough to differentiate
the two modes.
The 500GB Pipeline had similar acoustic qualities, but with a touch more airborne noise
— it sounded a bit louder and more hollow than the Caviar Green. The drive
measured 14 dBA idle and 15 dBA during seek. Seek was significantly more
noticeable — a cacophony of pitter patters like fast-falling rain. It is
still very quiet for a desktop drive and easily disappears into the background
with distance and/or increased ambient noise.
(10 = no vibration)
WD Caviar Green
6.4 W (4.0W heads unloaded)
WD Caviar Green 1TB WD10EACS
5.7 W (3.7W heads unloaded)
Seagate Pipeline HD
|*The WD Green Power 1TB was tested and measured, but before our anechoic chamber was built. The SPL numbers are higher, and not comparable. We believe it is as quiet as the 2TB model, but did not have access to one to test in the chamber.|
We derived some odd power consumption numbers with the WD drive. Idle and seek
measured almost exactly the same, though idle power dropped significantly after
the heads unload, which happens after approximately 7 seconds of inactivity
— the same behavior that prompted WD to issue a firmware
upgrade to increase the delay to prevent excess head loading/unloading.
Our 2TB sample consumed less power during seek than our 1TB
sample, but the opposite was true when idle, whether the heads were
parked or not. The Seagate did very well, idling at only 4.8W.
HD TACH RESULTS
Neither drive provided outstanding performance in HD Tach compared to current desktop 7200 RPM
drives. Both had random access times of about 18 ms and low read speeds, both
average and across the board. At one point read speed dips down to approximately
WD Caviar Green 2TB HD Tach results.
Seagate Pipeline HD 500GB HD Tach results.
The Caviar Green, despite its large platter size and cache only managed an
average read speed improvement of 7 MB/s; the WD’s advantages are probably countered by
the Pipeline’s higher rotational speed
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).
The slower rotational speed of the smaller Seagate Pipelines
make them competitive with similar capacity Western Digital Green Power drives in the green/quiet market. It’s curious that the larger 1TB
drive does not also employ 5900RPM speed. Both the Caviar Green 2TB and the Pipeline 500GB
turned out to be quiet, power efficient drives, welcome components for silent PCs.
Neither are ideal for those seeking the fastest performance, but they are good
enough for typical day-to-day use, they won’t make a dent in your
electric bill, and they are the quietest 3.5" drives we’ve tested in our
With such a large gap in capacities, the two drives
we tested here are not in direct competition with one another. However, it
is difficult for us to ignore that the 2TB Caviar Green bested the 500GB Pipeline
in terms of noise, vibration, performance and power consumption (once the heads
are unloaded) — even though the win is by just a nose. Its massive capacity makes its achievement that much sweeter.
In years past, the largest drive was also the always the loudest and most energy
guzzling model on the market. The 2TB Green commands a hefty price premium, however— $300
is enough to acquire 3TB of storage using smaller drives… although it’d be a
louder and less power efficient solution.
* * *
SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR’s Hard Drive Testing
SPCR’s Recommended Hard Drives
Momentus 5400.6 & Scorpio
Blue: Seagate & WD 2.5" HDDs at 500GB
Seagate Pipeline HD Pro 1TB
7200.11 1.5TB: The Perfect Balance?
WD and Seagate take steps to fix
Black: WD’s Performance 1TB HDD
Samsung F1 750GB & 1TB Drives: Fast… and Silent?
SE16 Caviar 640GB is now Blue
WD VelociRaptor: A Triple Crown
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