WD Caviar SE16 500GB: Big Low-Noise Champ?

Table of Contents

The search for a quiet high capacity hard drive continues with Western Digital’s 500GB Caviar SE16. SPCR’s favorite drives are rapidly disappearing as the Samsung Spinpoint P80 and the Seagate Barracuda IV fade further into obscurity; the market has long since moved on from our single-platter 40GB and 80 GB favorites. So far, no high capacity >250GB drives have lived up to SPCR’s tough noise standards; could this WD be the one?

June 17, 2006 by Devon

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS
500GB, 7,200 RPM Hard Drive
Market Price

Western Digital came late to the game with their 500 GB drive, but finally
introduced it early this year to a minimum of fanfare. Despite having been on
the market for nearly six months, the drive has hardly been noticed by the usual
large review and news sites. The attitude seems to be that this drive is just
another 500 GB, 7,200 RPM drive of which nothing special is expected. Ho hum.

It may be that Western Digital is aware of this. They have kept the usual our-drive-is-faster-than-your-drive
marketing to a minimum; only one of three self-described “Key Features”
relates to performance. The other two are about how cool and how quiet the drive
is. Judging by their marketing efforts, if Western Digital is trying to appeal
to anyone, it’s SPCR. Don’t we feel special.

Naturally, we look at the marketing claims with a certain amount of skepticism.
We have yet to meet such a high capacity drive that we have liked enough to
recommend. Too often, the higher platter count that is required to give such
high capacity has come at the cost of noise and heat (case in point, the recently
released 750GB Barracuda 7200.10
from Seagate
). Nevertheless, we are not convinced that making a quiet 500GB
drive can’t be done, just that nobody has done it — yet. The stakes
are high — SPCR has never wholeheartedly recommended a drive bigger than
250 GB — so we wish Western Digital the best of luck.

Western Digital WD5000KS (quoted from Western Digital’s
Large capacity
— up to 500 GB of storage — ideal for graphic design, video editing,
gaming, advanced business computing, and other high-end desktop applications.
Half a terabyte
is a lot… but Seagate’s 7200.10 easily beats this with their 750GB Barracuda
16 MB cache
— bigger cache means faster performance. A massive cache combined with
up to 300 MB/s transfer rate make these ultrafast drives the perfect solution
for fully loaded PCs with fast processors.
on high capacity drives.
— designed to have the lowest power consumption of any high-capacity,
desktop-class hard drive, which lowers the operating temperature for enhanced
drive reliability
. That’s why these drives are the drives of choice
for the world’s leading consumer electronics manufacturers as well
as the world’s leading PC makers.
To our knowledge,
no other manufacturer has made thermal performance a priority for desktop
drives — or explained why it matters so well.
— Today’s PCs, digital video recorders, and gaming machines are
increasingly operated in environments where noise is less tolerated. With
its WhisperDrive™ and SoftSeek™ technologies, WD minimizes
to levels virtually imperceptible to the human ear.
The most
important feature — this is SPCR.
— connector technology that accepts power from either industry-standard
or new SATA power supplies
with older power supplies is a plus.
SATA latching
— provides a secure connection between the hard
drive and the cable by using a locking latch mechanism.
Much needed
since the original SATA spec was developed, and now required by the latest
revision, SATA 2.5.
— provides a 500 percent stronger cable-to-drive connection
than first-generation SATA hard drives and cables. Also ensures backward
compatibility with legacy SATA cables and backplanes.
A proprietary
alternative to the latching connector, this is Western Digital’s first attempt
to solve the connection problem. A special cable is required.


The specifications below are specific to model 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

Specifications: Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS-00MNB0
Western Digital’s web site
Formatted Capacity
500,107 MB
16 MB
Spindle Rotation Speed
7,200 RPM
4.20 ms
Average Seek: Read / Write
8.9 ms / 10.9 ms
Buffer to Disc Transfer Rate
748 Mbit/s
0.6 ± 0.082 kg
Operating Temperature
5 – 55°C
Power Dissipation: Idle / Seek
8.75 / 9.50 W
+12V Current: Idle / Seek
430 / 450 mA
+5V Current: Idle / Seek
730 / 800 ma
Acoustics: Idle / Seek Mode 3 /
Seek Mode 0
28 / 29 / 33 dBA

Western Digital’s emphasis on thermals and noise also shows through in the
specifications. The power specifications are some of the most detailed (and
accurate looking) that we’ve ever seen. Each of four possible drive states (sleep,
standby, idle, and seek) are rated in three different ways: +12V Current, +5V
Current, and total power consumed. We are interested to see how these specifications
compare with the results of our power testing, especially the seek power, which
is rated at just three quarters of a watt above the idle rating.

Three acoustic ratings are given: Idle, and Seek Modes 0 and 3. Presumably,
these “Modes” refer Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM), which can
drastically reduce seek noise when implemented properly.

Pay attention to the shape of the label — it’s one way to identify which
revision the drive belongs to.

As a general rule, Western Digital makes very little effort to talk about or
differentiate the continuous revisions and updates that they put into their
drives. Because of this, different drive revisions occasionally share the same
model number even when performance or noise are significantly different. This
review examines the most recent revision of the Caviar SE16 series, coded 00MNB0
as a suffix to the model number. This is a more recent revision than the
Caviar SE we examined previously
(00HBC0), and can be distinguished by the
shape of the label. The newer revision can be identified by the black hole in
the middle of the label.

The drive can be powered by either a SATA or an IDE connector. Using both
will probably fry the drive.

Ergonomically, Western Digital has done a good job. Details can make a difference,
and, while the back connector looks similar to any other drive, there are a
few differences that make working with the WD5000KS just a little bit easier.

First of all, even though SATA power connectors are now quite easy to come
by, Western Digital has yet to drop the legacy IDE power connector, which helps
maintain compatibility if the drive is dropped into a system with an older power

But, the real reason for keeping it may be unrelated to the power supply. Western
Digital’s proprietary SecureConnect cable fits over the SATA power connector,
but does not provide power to it. This means that the IDE power connector must
be used when a SecureConnect cable is used.

Why would you use a SecureConnect cable? Well, for one, Western Digital includes
it in their retail package. But why would they go to the trouble of developing
a proprietary connector for a publicly available standard? The reason is that
the connector, as defined in the original standard, was quite flimsy, and would
occasionally unplug themselves if the data cable was disturbed. There was a
need for a more secure cable that Western Digital recognized, and the SecureConnect
cable was developed to fill the need.

The connector is roughly the size and shape of a traditional IDE connector,
and fits just as snugly. Two sturdy posts on either side of the connectors anchor
the plug securely in the back of the drive and a deliberate effort is needed
to disconnect it. Fortunately, the plug is deep enough to grip securely, so
it is easier to pull out than an IDE connector, which sometimes requires gently
yanking on the cable itself to disconnect.

Western Digital’s SecureConnect plug fits over both the data and power plugs…

…but only provides a data connection. Power must be supplied by an IDE

SATA-IO, the organization that oversees the SATA specification, has also recognized
the flimsiness of the connector, and has developed their own latching connector
to solve the problem. This connector also requires a special cable, and must
be supported by all SATA 2.5 compliant devices.

It is not clear whether the Caviar SE16 complies with SATA 2.5. All of the
WDxxxxKS drives support the 3.0 Gbps bus speed, but few other SATA 2.5 features
are mentioned. Western Digital does advertise compatibility with a “SATA
latching connector”, which presumably refers to the “official”


Our 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 HDD performance testing results, we recommend
Storage Review,
who have established a long reputation as the specialist in this field.

Our test drives were compared against our reference drives, the Seagate Barracuda
IV and Samsung Spinpoint P80, which are profiled in our methodology article.
To get a good idea of where the drives in this review stand, it is important
to read the methodology article thoroughly. It was also compared against several
high-capacity drives: A 500
GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.9
, and a 500 GB model from Hitachi, the 7K500

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise

These 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. 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.

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

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 16 dBA. For the record, room temperature
was 23°C.

Mfg date
firmware version
(10 = no vibration)
Activity State

Airborne Acoustics

Measured Power
Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS
March 2006
firmware 07.02E07

21 dBA@1m

8.5 W
Seek (AAM)
21-22 dBA@1m
8.6 W
Seek (Normal)

23 dBA@1m

10.7 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K500 HDS725050KLA360
December 2005
firmware K2AOAB0AACCB

26 dBA@1m

8.5 W
Seek (AAM)

26 dBA@1m

11.5 W
Seek (Normal)

28 dBA@1m

15.1 W
Seagate Barracuda IV
ST340016A – firmware 3.10

20 dBA@1m

6.7 W
Seek (AAM)

23 dBA@1m

11.3 W
Seek (Normal)

25-26 dBA@1m

11.6 W
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3500641AS
October 2005
firmware 3.AAB

24 dBA@1m

8.3 W
Seek (Normal)

26-29 dBA@1m

11.7 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (Nidec motor)
June 04 – firmware TK100-24

21 dBA@1m

6.3 W
Seek (AAM)

23-24 dBA@1m

8.3 W
Seek (Normal)

25-26 dBA@1m

9.1 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (JVC motor)
Feb 05 – firmware TK200-04

21 dBA@1m

6.2 W
Seek (AAM)

25 dBA@1m

n / a
Seek (Normal)

27 dBA@1m

9.3 W

For once, a quick glance at the objective measurements tells everything you
need to know about where the drive stands. At idle, the WD5000KS was on par
with the Samsung Spinpoint P80 — our longtime favorite that has grown quite
long in tooth. This is very impressive: The Caviar SE16 is a four platter drive
with much higher capacity. Yet, their volume levels were almost identical. Subjectively,
the Western Digital sounded slightly rougher and more broadband, but the drive
would need to be in a very quiet system to notice a difference.

The good news continued with seek noise. Even without AAM enabled, the Caviar
SE16 was quieter than any other full size drive we have tested, including the famous Seagate Barracuda IV — with or
without AAM enabled. It was
significantly quieter than the Spinpoint P80, and put the other 500 GB
drives to shame. Subjectively, only the Hitachi drive came close — mainly
because its loud idle tended to obscure its seek noise.

Enabling AAM improved on this already impressive result. Seek noise with AAM
was almost inaudible from one meter — something we have only been able
to say about certain notebook drives in the past. It took a concerted effort
to pick out seek noise when AAM was enabled. Much of Caviar’s advantage comes
from the quality of its noise. The noise character of the seeks was very muted
and soft, like raindrops in the distance. There was no trace of the rattling
chain sound that marred the
earlier Caviar SE that we examined

Only the vibration level prevents the WD5000KS from competing with notebook
drives. Vibration was quite high, roughly on par with the Samsung P80, and will
require soft-mounting to prevent vibration-induced resonance from ruining its
excellent idle noise level. In this respect, it is no different from any other
desktop drive.

The idle power consumption of 8.5 watts was about what we have come to expect
from large SATA drives. It matched the specified figure of 8.75W quite well.
Given that the drive is likely to spend the lion’s share of its service hours
in idle in a desktop machine, it seems that the Caviar SE16 doesn’t quite live
up to its billing as “the lowest power consumption of any high-capacity,
desktop-class hard drive”. Average is a long way from “the lowest”.

That said, the power consumption during seek did show a significant improvement
over the competition, especially with AAM enabled, when the additional power
consumption was shockingly low. The measured increase of 0.1W was so
small that we disbelieved the result the first time we measured it. Only a second
test (and confirmation with a different measurement method using a clamp meter) finally convinced
us that there really was so little difference.

Without AAM, the peak power was measured at 10.7W, still better than
any other drive that idles above 8W. Given that we measure peak power
consumption, it is believable that average power consumption during seek is
close to the 9.5W claimed.


Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here
in MP3 format. The recordings below contains 10 seconds of idle noise followed
by 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and 10 seconds more with AAM
disabled. (Because Seagate does not support AAM on any of their current drives,
the recording for the Seagate 7200.9 omits the section with AAM enabled and is therefore
only twenty seconds long.)

Keep in mind that the 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.

Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS (Idle: 21 / AAM: 21-22 / Seek: 23 dBA@1m)

Reference Comparatives:

Digital Caviar SE WD2500JD (Idle: 22 / AAM: 23-24 / Seek: 28-30 dBA@1m)

Barracuda 7200.9 ST3500641AS (Idle: 24 / Seek: 26-29 dBA@1m)

Deskstar 7K500 HDS725050KLA360 (Idle: 26 / AAM: 26 / Seek: 28 dBA@1m)

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

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

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


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.


For once, a hard drive has lived up to its marketing claims. The 500
GB Caviar SE16 is the quietest 3.5″ desktop drive that we know of on the
market today. Not only is it quieter than all of the other high capacity drives
that we’ve looked at, it also beats the Samsung Spinpoint P80 and gives the
venerable Barracuda IV a run for the money. These are old drives with fewer platters that have less
than one sixth the capacity of the new Western Digital.

The key to its excellent noise performance is seek noise. While
the amount of noise it produces at idle is also low — about the same
as the Samsung Spinpoint P80 — we have never before encountered a full
sized drive with seeks that are nearly inaudible from one meter. For many people,
it is seek noise, not idle noise, that is the most important noise factor. It
is difficult to push any system to a level where the 21 dBA@1m idle noise becomes
the primary source of noise in the system, but seek noise can be noticeable
even in a system that is only moderately quiet.

In the context of a desktop system, Western Digital’s claim that
it requires less power than any other high capacity drive is somewhat debatable. The
8.5W it consumes at idle is average at best and is high when the “high
capacity” condition is removed. However, that should not detract from the
fact that the peak power consumption during seek is significantly lower
than the competition. With AAM enabled, there is virtually no difference between
the amount of power consumed at idle and during seeking. In a system where the
drive sees heavy use — a render farm, for example — the power savings
and lower heat could be quite worthwhile.

The only real question mark about the Caviar SE16 is performance.
Only one performance review of the WD5000KS has been done by an online web site,
and it is not comprehensive enough to draw many conclusions. Of course, such
a large drive is likely to be used mainly for archival purposes, so performance
may be irrelevant to many users. Our general point of view is that the differences between this and other large capacity drives of similar specifications are not large enough to merit much attention. Ultimately, it is up to users to decide for themselves whether
performance is a relevant purchasing factor. For us, the exemplary noise levels
of this Caviar SE16 are compelling enough to earn a strong recommendation.

Many thanks to Western Digital for the Caviar SE16 sample.


SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR’s Hard Drive Testing Methodology
SPCR’s Recommended Hard Drives
Western Digital Drives: Raptor 74GB and Caviar
SE 250GB

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9, 500 GB
Hitachi Deskstar 7K500, 500 GB

* * *

this article in the SPCR Forums

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