We continue expanding our database of quiet notebook drives with a review of the Western Digital Scorpio 80G and a new Fujitsu 80G, the first SATA notebook drive.
Western Digital Scorpio WD800VE
80GB, 5,400 RPM Notebook drive
80GB, 5,400 RPM SATA Notebook drive
|Scorpio WD800VE: ~US$120 |
Fujitsu MHT2080BH: ~US$200
A notebook drive is an excellent alternative to a standard 3.5″ drive
for use in a quiet computer system. The light, compact design of a notebook
drive means that a smaller, less powerful drive motor can be used, and the smaller
disc size and lower spindle speed tend to cause less vibration than a 3.5″
drive. We at SPCR have been recommending notebook drives for demanding silent
PC seekers since the article Is
the Silent PC Future 2.5-inches wide? was posted back in March 2004.
Notebook drives do have certain drawbacks. They’re more expensive than desktop
drives, and, although their shock resistance is usually better, they are generally
less solidly built. They also lag behind a bit in both capacity and performance.
The two notebook drives reviewed in this article seek to address these issues.
The Western Digital Scorpio addresses the problem of drive fragility by manufacturing
the top cover out of thick stainless steel. According to Western Digital, this
makes it 50% more rigid, which should make it less easy to squash it inadvertently.
The top end of the series features an 80 GB capacity and an 8 MB cache, which
makes it competitive with most other notebook drives.
WESTERN DIGITAL SCORPIO (quoted from Western Digital’s
|FEATURE & BRIEF||COMMENT|
Fast — spins at 5400 RPM and delivers seek times of
12ms. It has a standard 2 MB cache, with an 8 MB option.
We tested the 8 MB version.
Low Power — spins at 5400 RPM for fast performance but has
power specifications similar to slower 4200 RPM drives. Low power consumption
yields longer battery life and increased overall reliability.
|Usually, there’s a bigger|
difference in power consumption between form factors than spindle speed.
Quiet — features WD’s exclusive WhisperDrive™ technology
with SoftSeek™ algorithms to deliver the quietest 2.5-inch hard
drive on the market.
|Quite a boast for a dual|
platter 5,400 RPM drive. We’ll see if it’s true…
Reliable — provides ShockGuard™ to protect the drive
mechanics and delicate platter surface from shocks, both when it’s in
use and when it’s not. This leading-edge technology enables WD drives
to meet the highest combined shock tolerance specifications in
its class: 250 Gs while in operation, 900 Gs when it’s idle.
|More important in a notebook|
than a desktop system.
locks the heads off the data disk to provide additional shock protection.
Utilizing the most technologically advanced material available on the market,
the drive is able to execute a minimum of 600,000 load/unload cycles
without contamination — up to twice the performance of its competitors.
|Most notebook drives|
unload the heads when not in use to reduce power consumption and increase
|Rugged — WD|
Scorpio has a rigid stainless steel cover, unlike other devices,
that will withstand greater than 5 pounds of pressure — nearly
1.5 times the industry average without pinching the motor hub or other internal
|Makes the drive less|
easily damaged during handling / installation.
Unlike desktop drives, most notebook drives still use the PATA interface. This
interface is fine for a single drive notebook configuration, but it is quickly
becoming obsolete in the desktop market. Many newer motherboards (notably those
with Intel’s 9xx chipsets) have only a single IDE channel, which makes it difficult
to compensate for the limited capacity of notebook drives by using more of them.
Fujitsu is the first company to market a SATA-based drive in the 2.5″
form factor. Aside from increased compatibility with desktop systems, the SATA
interface also makes it easier to set up a RAID configuration. The SATA interface
also makes it possible to support native command queuing, another first in the
FUJITSU MHT2080BH (quoted from Fujitsu’s data
|FEATURE & BRIEF||COMMENT|
Serial ATA (SATA) enables the high-speed transfer of data (1.5Gb/s),
outstripping older, 16-bit parallel bus technology. The 2.5-inch SATA
disk drives feature Native Command Queuing (NCQ), which simultaneously
coordinates up to 32 instructions to be queued and reordered by the hard
The first SATA notebook drive on the market. It is far more convenient
to use than with a PATA adapter for a desktop motherboard.
The 2.5-inch 9.5mm hard disk drive is quieter, uses less heat and
Three to four 2.5-inch SATA drives can fit in the same space as one
3.5-inch drive, allowing it to be used in a RAID array.
easier to install many more drives into a minitower or SFF system.
The small form factor allows for the design of compact, space efficient
storage products, including notebooks and storage towers, as well as non-PC
factor is not supported by most ATX cases, but easily adapted by the average
|Fujitsu has nearly|
20 generations of 2.5-inch form
factor product expertise.
|OK, they say|
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.
Western Digital Scorpio WD800VE
SATA / SATA-II
5 – 60°C
5 – 55°C
|Power Dissipation: |
Idle / Seek
0.85 / 2.5 W
0.80 / 2.3 W
Idle / Seek
20 / 21 dBA (no distance/angle given)
34 / – dBA @ 30 cm
The top cover looks thicker and feels sturdier than usual.
Because notebook computers are subjected to a wider range of physical conditions
than desktop systems, it makes sense that Western Digital plays up the durability
and reliability of the Scorpio. The most unusual feature is the thicker than
usual top cover which reduces the chance of the drive being inadvertently
crushed during a clumsy installation. The additional weight and rigidity of
this drive is immediately apparent when compared against other notebook drives.
Having broken a notebook drive during cable / adapter installation by squeezing
a little too hard in the past, we are pleased at this extra measure of safety.
For reliability, Western Digital claims that its DuraStep Ramp is durable
enough to survive at least 600,000 load/unload cycles, which is comparable
to other modern notebook drives. It’s important not to confuse this with the
start/stop cycles that are typically specified for desktop hard drives. In
order to save power, many notebook drives move the read/write heads away from
the disc surface when they are not being actively used. This process is called
unloading the heads, and a load/unload cycle refers to the heads being loaded
and unloaded once. In contrast, a start/stop cycle refers to whether the actual
disc is spinning or not. In typical use, there are likely to be many load/unload
cycles in a single start/stop cycle.
The Scorpio features the same trademarked noise-reduction technologies as
other Western Digital drives: WhisperDrive and SoftSeek. How these technologies
change when implemented in a notebook drive is hard to say because Western
Digital provides only minimal technical details about these technologies.
It’s a fairly safe bet that SoftSeek is really the same as the Automatic Acoustic
Management (AAM) feature that has become increasingly common in hard drives,
but the details of WhisperDrive are no doubt a closely guarded marketing secret.
The most notable feature of the MHT2080BH is its interface. SATA has not
yet become common in the notebook drive market, which explains the high market
price of this model. Fujitsu also sells a PATA version of this drive, the
MHT2080AH, which can be found for as much as $90 less, at time of writing.
While the drive gains little benefit from the extra bandwidth of SATA (or
SATA-II, which it supports), there are other reasons to consider it, especially
in a quiet desktop system. First and foremost is the fact that most new motherboards
now ship with at least four SATA channels (often with RAID support), but may
only have a single PATA channel. Assuming this channel will be limited by
the slow speed of an optical drive, it may not be practical to use a PATA
drive, which counts out the majority of other notebook drives.
Because SATA connectors are small enough to fit on the MHT2080BH, it can
also be plugged directly into a desktop system without using an adaptor —
a welcome convenience considering how hard it is to find one for sale.
The SATA connector and cable is also far smaller and manageable than a PATA
adapter + cable, which is of particular significance in a small form factor
system. Not only is space tight, but airflow management is critical in SFF
systems, so SATA connectors can make a big difference.
The SATA interface also makes it possible for the drive to support native
command queuing — a feature that most desktop drives still lack. Depending
on how the drive is used, NCQ could compensate a bit for the slower seek times
compared to desktop drives.
Our two samples were tested according to our standard
hard drive testing methodology. Our methodology focuses specifically on
HDD 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. We refer to Storage Review as a reference for many aspects of HDD
Our test drives were 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. We also re-tested a Samsung MP0402H
notebook drive so that the review samples could be fairly evaluated against
another drive in their class.
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. 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.
Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.
NOTEBOOK DRIVE NOISE EVALUATION
Western Digital Scorpio WD800VE
The Samsung has an advantage over the Western Digital and Fujitsu drives
because it uses only one platter. At idle, it remains the quietest 5,400 RPM
notebook drive we’ve heard. Motor noise is characterized by the quiet whoosh
of air flowing over the spinning discs. From certain angles, a high-pitched
but low level electronic squeal can be heard; it’s so directional that it
usually disappears completely inside a case.
Seeks are sharp and chattery and are noticeably louder than the idle noise.
Enabling AAM softens the noise and brings it down in volume, although they
never quite disappear entirely.
Vibration is quite high for a notebook drive, although still better than
any 3.5″ drive. The truly fussy may see some improvement if the drive
is suspended, but most people should be happy even if it is hard mounted.
Western Digital Scorpio WD800VE
Two samples of the Scorpio were on hand during testing, and we were surprised
at the amount of sample variance. The second sample was the 60 GB version
(WD600VE), but the only mechanical difference between the two is the number
of heads; the most significant factor in drive noise, the number of platters,
was the same for both samples.
Both drives were characterized by a small amount of low frequency motor noise
but had even less high frequency noise than the Samsung 40G notebook drive.
The 80 GB version noise seemed roughly comparable to a Barracuda IV in volume,
but the 60 GB was slightly quieter. The Scorpio ranks among the quietest dual
platter notebook drives we’ve seen.
Seek noise was characterized by a low rumble that is barely audible above
the idle noise. Enabling AAM had no effect on the noise measurement, the power
consumption, or the perceived noise. It may be the AAM (or SoftSeek, if you
will) is permanently enabled on the drive and cannot be turned off.
The biggest difference between our two samples was in the level of vibration.
While the 60 GB drive had even less vibration than the Samsung, the 80 GB
version vibrated more than any other notebook drive we’ve tested, reaching
the level of the Barracuda IV. The lower mass of the Scorpio may make it less
prone to transferring vibration when hard-mounted, but it is still likely
to benefit considerably from some variety of soft-mounting.
Some users have reported hearing a repetitive clicking from the Scorpio every
few seconds. We did not encounter this problem during our testing, but we
did hear a distinct click whenever the heads were loaded or unloaded. It is
quite possible that the repetitive nature of the clicking comes from the specific
usage of the drive; a program that writes data in frequent, short bursts,
such as data logging tools (or internet browsers), could be a potential source
of this problem. If this is the case, disabling automatic power management
may help resolve it.
The Fujitsu was a bit of a disappointment in terms of noise, both in volume
and quality. The drive does not seem to be well damped, as the whoosh of airflow,
the broadband hum of the motor, and the screech of the electronic components
are all clearly audible in the idle noise. Together, they are louder than
the 3.5″ Barracuda IV, and approach the volume of a DiamondMax 10.
The seek noise is not as obvious as the Samsung MP0402H, perhaps because
the idle noise is high enough that the relative change in volume is smaller.
A metallic rattle seems the best description of how the seeks sound. Enabling
AAM produces a barely noticeable change in the pace of the seeks; volume and
character remain unchanged, but the seeks sound slightly “slower”.
In spite of its poorer airborne acoustics, the Fujitsu’s level of vibration
is among the best. Even when placed on our resonant sound box, vibration resonance
was audible only by listening within an inch of the box. This is the lowest
vibration drive we’ve ever tested.
Unlike the Scorpio, the Fujitsu does not immediately unload the heads whenever
a seek is finished. Instead, it waits 10-15 seconds before enabling low power
idle. This should help avoid the clicking problem that some people have reported
with the Scorpio, and should also improve seek performance for small chunks
of data. Power consumption was 1.4W while idling with the head in place.
Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here
in MP3 format. The 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. 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.
HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE
These recordings were made
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.
2.5″ HDD NOISE COMPARISON
(10 = no vibration)
|Western Digital Scorpio – 2 platter|
20 / 21 / 21
|Sample variance makes it hard to rank the noise of this drive,|
but it belongs somewhere between the Samsung 1-platter notebook and the
Seagate Barracuda IV. Idle noise is mainly a low frequency motor hum with
little high frequency whine. Seeks are almost too quiet to notice, and can
be characterized as a low rumble. AAM cannot be enabled or disabled, but
it would be hard to improve the seek noise anyway. Vibration ranged from
the level of the Barracuda IV to below the Samsung MP0402H.
|Fujitsu MHT2080BH – 2 platter|
22 / 23-24 / 23-24
|It sounds undamped and is louder than the Barracuda|
IV, somewhat like the Toshiba MK6022GAX. Seeks are about average for a notebook
drive, rising about 1-2 dBA/1m above idle. The Fujitsu has the lowest vibration
of any drive tested. May avoid the intermittent clicking problem common
with notebook drives because it waits for 10-15 seconds after a seek before
unloading the heads. Consumes ~0.2W more than other notebook drives, but
this is very minor.
|Previously Reviewed Notebook Drives|
Samsung MP0402H – 1 platter
17 / 18 / 19-20
The acoustics of this drive are virtually identical to
the Fujitsu MHT2040AT, a considerably slower 4200 rpm drive and the quietest
we’ve encountered. The Samsung is extremely quiet, and there is very little
if any high frequency noise to speak of. It has minimal vibration, but
placing it on soft foam does reduce low freq. noise audibly. The unit
used in the test PC was suspended in elastic string and mostly surrounded
by soft but dense foam. Seek noise is somewhat more audible than the 1
dBA gain suggests, but very soft.
Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 – 2 platter
19 / – / 20
The Hitachi comes very close to the Samsung, but has a
slightly sharper and higher pitched sound, with perhaps a touch more vibration
as well. The seek noise is a touch louder too. When inside even a very
quiet desktop PC, the slightly higher noise level of this drive over the
Samsung may not be audible. The performance is superior, according to
SiSoftware Sandra 2005, and also subjectively.
|Toshiba MK6022GAX – 2 platter|
22 / – / –
|Slightly louder than the Seagate|
Barracuda IV single platter 3.5″ reference hard drive. The noise signature
has the broadband shhhh quality exhibited by the Samsung SP
3.5″ drives, but higher in pitch, a bit like the Seagate. A trace of
whine, but not like the Seagate Momentus. Seek noise is only moderately
louder than idle, perhaps by 3 dBA. Vibration is higher than any of the
4200rpm drives; similar to the Momentus. Performance seems quite speedy,
as it should be with 16 MB cache and 5400rpm, but inconsistent results with
all the benchmarks tried stops me from publishing results.
|Seagate Momentus ST94811A – 1|
24 / – / –
The Momentus has a terrible constant “pure”
tone somewhere in the 6~10KHz range. It drops 2-3 dBA in level when the
listener or the mic faces the edge of the drive because of directionality
of the high frequency whine. Seek noise is substantially higher, probably
3~5 dBA. Vibration is much lower than any 3.5″ drive, but higher
than either of the 4200rpm drives tried. A real disappointment acoustically,
but it did perform about as fast as the Seagate Barracuda-IV.
|Fujitsu MHT2040AT – 1 platter|
16 / – / –
The only noise maker in the Mappit
A4F PC, which seemed virtually inaudible to me. The noise is not
inaudible, but very low and soft, easily dismissed in the ambient noise
of all but the quietest spaces. There is no high pitched whine to speak
of, and the seek noise does not seem more than maybe 2 dBA higher than
idle. It is the slowest performer of all the drives here. Extremely low
|Toshiba MK4025GAS – 1 platter|
16 / – / –
This 8 MB cache 4200 RPM drive offers better performance
than 2 MB cache 4200 rpm drives, and it is identical in both idle and
seek noise to the Fujitsu above. Extremely low vibration.
|Reference Quiet 3.5″ Drives|
|Seagate Barracuda IV ST340016A – 1 platter|
21 / 23 / 25-26
In idle, it remains the quietest of all 3.5″ drives.
This sample is almost 2 years old, but seems unchanged in noise. There
may be a touch of high frequency whine but it is very low in level, and
easily obscured when mounted in a PC case. Seek is considerably higher,
possibly as much as 5~6 dBA. Low vibration, but MUCH higher than any of
the notebook drives.
|Samsung SP0802N – 1 platter|
21 / 23-24 / 25-26
The idle noise is a touch higher, but its seek may actually
be lower than the Seagate B-IV. Similar vibration level as the B-IV, but
there are reports of some samples exhibiting much higher vibration levels.
This is cured by HDD decouple mounting (suspension in elastic material
or placement on soft foam), which is virtually mandatory for a truly quiet
The variance between our two samples of the Western Digital
Scorpio makes it a little uncertain just how quiet this drive is. The dual
platter models that were tested could not match the acoustic performance of
the single platter Samsung drive, but the 60 GB sample did come close. It’s
probably safe to say that the Scorpio is quieter than almost all 3.5″ drives
and should be inaudible in most systems. If the ambient noise level is extremely
low (or if the drive is installed in a laptop instead of a desktop PC), there
may be some benefit to seeking out the single platter version of the drive,
but in most systems this drive should be quiet enough for almost all users.
The strengthened top cover of the Scorpio is hardly a deal-making
feature, but it is a welcome bit of protection against clumsy users, and probably
helps Western Digital keep their RMA costs down.
Although the Fujitsu drive has some unique features that
may make it worthy of consideration in specialized circumstances, it is on the
noisy side of most notebook drives we’ve reviewed. While NCQ is a nice feature
to have, it may actually be detrimental for desktop performance, according to
Storage Review. SATA is very useful, however, for ease of installation
and cable management, especially in a SFF system where space is at a premium
and good airflow is critical. Some users may find a bit of acoustic damping
material around the drive is enough to reduce the noise to acceptable levels,
given the advantages of SATA, or if RAID performance is desired. With the low
thermal output of the drive, it’s also easy to encase the drive for noise reduction.
In any case, we welcome SATA to the notebook drive and look forward for it to
be available on a wider variety of models.
|WD Scorpio 80G|
* Extremely quiet
* Low vibration
* Strong casing
* Modest market price
* Low thermals
* Requires awkward PATA adapter
* Possible repetitive clicking noise
|Fujitsu MHT2080BH 80G|
* Convenient SATA for improved cable management, RAID functions, etc.
* Very low vibration
* Low thermals
* A bit loud for a notebook drive
* Current pricing (but obviously subject to change)
* NCQ actually can hurt desktop performance
* * *