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WD VelociRaptor: A Triple Crown

It’s an unusual product in every way: A 10,000rpm SATA drive in an enterprise 2.5″ form factor mated to a cast aluminum heatsink with a 3.5″ desktop HDD form factor. WD’s Velociraptor actually manages to win three crowns at SPCR: Performance, Green and Acoustics… but for the last crown, not the way it’s delivered to the retail buyer.

June 12, 2008 by Mike Chin

Products
WD VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS
300GB, 10K RPM, SATA Hard Drive
Sample Supplier
Market Price
US$299

The Velociraptor is probably the most exciting product Western Digital has introduced since the Green Power drive. It’s not because the name conjurs up CGI movie images of a swarm of vicious dinosaurs. It’s an unusual, high performance drive: A 10K RPM drive like its predecessors, the Raptors, the only SATA drives at this spindle speed. The other salient feature is size: It has a 2.5″ form factor like the SAS-interface 10K RPM enterprise Savvio drives from Seagate and Fujitsu’s similar MBB2 series. Unlike those corporate-intended offerings, the Velociraptor has a conventional SATA. Like them, it is not compatible with notebooks, because it’s about 14.5mm thick, compared to the ~9mm thickness of a standard notebook drive.

Despite its small form factor, WD’s specs tell us that the drive measures 26.1 x 147 x 101.6 mm — standard “3.5 inch” desktop HDD size. What gives? Welll, it’s mated to what is essentially an aluminum casting of standard desktop HDD dimensions. This aluminum frame serves two main functions:

1) It makes the Velociraptor’s native small size a non-factor for the potential retail buyer. There’s no worry about how to install it in a standard desktop case because the aluminum frame has exactly the same form factor as any standard drive.

2) It also helps to cool the drive. This is not really a serious need; you’ll see that the power dissipated by the Velociraptor is very low.


The Velociraptor is a small drive housed in an aluminum frame the size of a standard desktop drive.

WD VelociRaptor FEATURES SUMMARY
(from WD’s product
overview
)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT
Killer Speed – 10,000 RPM, SATA 3 Gb/s interface, and 16 MB cache deliver 35% faster than the previous generation Raptor drives, and beat out all other competitors in the field. In random access, yes, but for sustained throughput of high areal density drives like WD’s own 320gb/disk 7200RPM models, and Samsung’s 333gb/disk F1 series may be competitive.
Rock-solid Reliability – With 1.4 million hours MTBF, these drives have the highest available reliability rating on a high capacity SATA drive. OK.
Double the Capacity – Twice the capacity per disk compared to its older brother WD Raptor resulting in 300 GB. The Raptors were looking tiny by today’s capacity standards, so it was time for a boost anyway.
IcePack™ Mounting Frame – A 3.5″ mounting frame with a built-in heat sink keeps this little drive extra cool when installed in high-performance desktop chassis. Right, that’s what they’re calling it.
Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward (RAFF™) – Optimizes operation and performance when the drives are used in vibration-prone, multi-drive chassis. Hmmmm?
SecurePark™ – Parks the recording heads off the disk surface during spin up, spin down and when the drive is off. This ensures the recording head never touches the disk surface resulting in improved long-term reliability and increased drive protection when the chassis is moved. Not uncommon.
5-year Limited Warranty Excellent, like the other Raptors.

Comparing the specs of the Velociraptor and the Raptor, the data transfer speed
is nearly 50% faster, and the power consumption is substantially lower. But
not all parameters have improved. The latency for random access seeks has slowed
to 5.5 ms from the Raptor’s 2.99 ms. [Correction – 13 Aug 2008: WD
admitted this was an error; they now cite 3.0 ms latency for the VR as well
.
Corrected
page link
] The acoustics specs remain exactly the same. At 29 / 36 dBA for
Idle / Seek, if we can assume a 1m measurement distance for the mic, it is not
particularly quiet. Most of WD’s other drives spec about 5 dBA lower.


Specifications: VelociRaptor vs Raptor (150GB)
(from WD’s web site)
Capacity
300GB
150GB
Cache
16MB
16MB
Disks / Heads
2 / 4
2 / 4
Interface SATA 3Gb/s SATA 1.5Gb/s
Spindle RPM
10,000
10,000
Data Transfer: Buffer To Disk 120 MB/s (Sustained) 84 MB/s (Sustained)
Data Transfer: Buffer To Host (SATA) 3 GB/sec 1.5 GB/sec
Average Seek – Read / Write
4.2 / 4.7 ms
4.6 / 5.2 ms
Average Latency
3.0 ms
2.99 ms
Weight
489 g
822 g
Power Requirements: Idle / Seek
(avg.)
6.08 / 4.53 W
10.02 / 9.19 W
Acoustics: Idle / Seek
29 / 36 dBA
29 / 36 dBA

PHYSICAL DETAILS


It’s a small drive mounted in a big heatsink. We measured the total weight at 540g, a bit higher than the 489g specified.

Four screws on the underside of the IcePack mounting frame hold the drive firmly in place.

On its own, removed from the frame, it weighs just 220g, about a third of the typical 3.5″ desktop drive, but double that of a typical notebook drive. It feels much more robust than the latter. The underside of the drive shows the trace side of the control PCB, which is the opposite of usual practice with most drives.

Next to a notebook drive, the thickness difference is clear.

The IcePack has raised square sections covered with a thin layer of insulation to help transfer the heat from the underside electronics of the Velociraptor. There is no damping material between the drive and the IcePack.

TEST RESULTS

Our sample was tested according to our standard
hard drive testing methodology
. The test drive sample was compared against many other drives. Our methodology focuses specifically on
HDD noise, and great effort is taken to ensure it is comprehensively measured
and described. Performance is usually 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.

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 di fferently 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.


The 15 May 2008 date indicates that this sample is indeed part of the second production run, as our WD rep informed us.

Velociraptor Testing Quirk

We discovered that the Velociraptor’s acoustics change dramatically when it is removed from the IcePack mounting frame. Two sets of acoustic measurements were run — on its own, and mounted in the IcePack frame as delivered. If there was any significant acoustic advantage to be gained from running the drive on its own, SPCR readers would want to know. A small Torx head screwdriver is needed to remove the drive from the IcePack frame.

Ambient conditions at time of testing were 17 dBA and 20°C.

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

Airborne Acoustics

Measured Power
WD VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS
300GB, 10K RPM
15 May 2008
firmware 03.03V01
9
[in frame]
Idle

22 dBA@1m

3.9 W
Seek (AAM)

25 dBA@1m

5.7 W
Seek (Normal)

28 dBA@1m

6.2 W
8
[on its own]
Idle

19 dBA@1m

3.9 W
Seek (AAM)

20 dBA@1m

5.7 W
Seek (Normal)

23 dBA@1m

6.2 W

ACOUSTICS

The VelociRaptor has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality disorder. As delivered in the IcePack frame, its acoustics can only be described as poor. The measured SPL is about the same as the previous gen Raptor WD1500ADFD but it actually sounds a bit worse. The 22 dBA idle SPL does not tell about the clearly audible, annoying 2kHz tone which rises at least 5 dB above the fundamental tone at 166Hz. Most regular readers know that 25 dBA with AAM is not quiet by today’s standards. This is accompanied by an exacerbation of that 2kHz tone mentioned above, and audible harmonic overtones around 4kHz, 5kHz, 7kHz and 10kHz. It comes with AAM disabled, as would be the case for an performance drive, with SPL measured at 28 dBA, a level hardly any SPCR enthusiast would accept.

Remove the VelociRaptor from the IcePack frame, and everything changes completely, at least acoustically. Idle noise drops down to the lowest SPL ever measured for any desktop drive and challenges the best notebook drives as well. All of the tonal peaks disappear, and a smooth mostly broadband sound prevails. In seek with AAM, the peaks barely crest 20 dBA, and although a trace of that 2kHz tonal peak reemerges, it never reaches the level of the fundamental at 166Hz. Without AAM, the seek noise is sharper and louder, but it still does not peak higher than 23 dBA.

The following image captures of the frequency spectrum plot of the drive idle — in the frame and bare — speak for themselves.


Velociraptor idle in frame: Note multiple tonal peaks centered at 700Hz, 1.5~2.2kHz, and 7kHz.
These are all plainly audible from a few feet away.

Velociraptor idle bare: There’s still a trace of the 1.5~2kHz peak, but much reduced. The entire range from 1.5~8kHz has dropped many decibels, on average.

In case these graphic images don’t tell the story clearly enough, here’s a high resolution recording made with a super sensitive, low noise $2000 microphone from one meter away. The first 10 seconds are with the drive at idle in the frame. There is a 1-2 second pause, then you hear another 10 seconds of the drive bare, without the frame. If your hearing and speakers or headphones are any good, you’ll hear this difference plain as day.

MP3: WD Velociraptor at idle from 1m distance: 10 seconds in frame, pause, then 10 seconds bare, outside frame

If only the in-frame acoustics is considered, the Velociraptor is not a quiet drive. In fact, it’s a bit worse than the last generation Raptor because of the clearly audible tonal peaks. We would not recommended it to any silent PC user. But on its own without the IcePack frame, the Velociraptor miraculously becomes the quietest “desktop” drive. It is at least on par with WD Green Power drives, although it may be slightly more audible in seek, especially without AAM enabled.

The question of whether cooling would be an issue comes up when considering operation without the IcePack frame. Our sample was an OEM, so it did not come with the Quick Installation Guide included with the retail kit, which might have some notes on use. Another reviewer mentioned the warranty may be void if it’s used without the IcePack. So… be very careful not to damage the Torx screws if you remove them. 😉 Judging by the power consumption of some 4W at idle, it runs hotter than typical notebook drives. The closest comparable is the WD Green Power 750GB, which is similar at idle and peaks at 6.7W in seek, slightly higher than the Velociraptor. That drive runs cool enough to be perfectly OK with hardly any airflow, but it has substantially more area to disspate the heat. If the Velociraptor was positioned close to the front intake vent of a standard PC or suspended there with elastic cord in a SPCR-esque silent rig, it would run perfectly cool. Shove it in some corner without any airflow or conduction to the chassis, and you might have some heat issues.

HD TACH

The acoustics characteristics of the bare drive are amazing for a drive that’s lauded as being the fastest ever for the desktop. To get some verification, HD Tach was run on the sample drive, with and without AAM. The following images pretty much speak for themselves.


Without AAM. Note amazing 7ms random access time.
Click on image to enlarge.

With AAM. Note 8.5ms random acccess time.
Click on image to enlarge.

We’ve never seen higher HD Tach performance numbers (and we’ve been running them for some time, although not posting the results in many previous HDD reviews). Obviously, the previous gen Raptor comes close, but its acoustics is so far off that most SPCR enthusiasts aren’t that interested. The next best high performance drive is also the quietest 7200RPM drive tested, the Samsung F1 1TB reviewed just a few days ago. The HD Tach summary of that drive is posted below. It’s very good, but especially for access time, it doesn’t even get close.


HD Tach results for the Samsung F1 1TB model. Click on image to enlarge.

COMPARISONS

Here’s how the WD VelociRaptor stacks up against many of the rest.

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

Airborne Acoustics

Measured Power
WD VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS
300GB, 10K RPM
15 May 2008
firmware 03.03V01
9
[in frame]
Idle

22 dBA@1m

3.9 W
Seek (AAM)

25 dBA@1m

5.7 W
Seek (Normal)

28 dBA@1m

6.2 W
8
[on its own]
Idle

19 dBA@1m

3.9 W
Seek (AAM)

20 dBA@1m

5.7 W
Seek (Normal)

23 dBA@1m

6.2 W
REFERENCE DRIVES*
Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD
March 2006
firmware 20.07P20
5
Idle

20 dBA@1m

8.2 W
Seek (AAM)
27 dBA@1m
12.2 W
Seek (Normal)

27 dBA@1m

12.2 W
Samsung F1 3D
HD103UJ
1TB
February 2008
firmware 1AA01109
5
Idle

21 dBA@1m

7.0 W
Seek (AAM)

22 dBA@1m

8.8 W
Seek (Normal)

22 dBA@1m

9.9 W
Seagate Barracuda
7200.11 1TB ST31000340AS
December 2007
firmware SD15
3
Idle

23~24 dBA@1m

7.8 W
Seek (Normal)

24~25 dBA@1m

11.6 W
WDl Caviar SE16 500GB WD5000KS
March 2006
firmware 07.02E07
4
Idle

21 dBA@1m

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

23 dBA@1m

10.7 W
Western Digital Caviar Green Power 750GB WD7500AACS
October 2007
firmware 01.01B01
7
Idle

19~20 dBA@1m

3.3~5.9 W
Seek (AAM)
19~20 dBA@1m
5.4 W
Seek (Normal)

21 dBA@1m

6.7 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 1TB HDS721010KLA330
June 2007
firmware GKAOA70M
5
Low RPM Idle
20-21 dBA@1m
3.6 W
Idle

24 dBA@1m

8.5 W
6.2 W (unloaded)
Seek (AAM)
24 dBA@1m
11.7 W
Seek (Normal)

26-27 dBA@1m

15.4 W
* These drives are references in the sense of previously tested and known entitities to which newly tested products can be compared and contrasted against.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here
in MP3 format. The recordings below contains 5 seconds of ambient noise, and
10 seconds of idle noise followed by 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled
and 10 seconds without.

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.

These recordings were made
with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system, 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.

Most recordings are made
from a distance of one meter. The recording is intended to give you
an idea of how the subject of this review sound 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.
For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise
is just barely audible. 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!

Occasionally, we may include
an extra recording from a distance of one foot. This recording is designed
to bring out the fine details of the noise — typically when the
source is so quiet that it is very close to ambient when heard from
one meter. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed,
it does not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best
to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter
recording.

More details about how
we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio
Recording Methods Revised
.

  • WD VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS bare, w/o frameIdle: 19 / Seek:
    22
    / AAM: 22 dBA@1mOne
    Meter
  • WD VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS in frame Idle: 22 / Seek:
    22
    / AAM: 22 dBA@1mOne
    Meter

Comparatives:

  • Samsung F1 750 GB (HD753LJ)Idle: 20~21 / Seek:
    22
    / AAM: 22 dBA@1mOne
    Meter
  • Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000340ASIdle: 23~24 / Seek:
    24~25 dBA@1m
    One
    Meter
  • Western Digital Caviar Green Power WD7500AACSIdle: 19~20 /
    AAM: 19~20 / Seek: 21 dBA@1m
    One
    Meter
  • Hitachi Global Storage Deskstar 7K1000 HDS721010KLA330Idle:
    24 / AAM: 24 / Seek: 26~27 dBA@1m —
    One
    Meter
  • Samsung T Series HD400LJIdle: 20 / AAM: 21 Seek: 22-23 dBA@1m
    One Meter
  • Western
    Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD
    Idle: 20 / AAM: 27 / Seek: 27 dBA@1m One Meter


CONCLUSIONS

Western Digital is aggressively seeking greater market share by producing innovative drives that fill niches never tackled before or creating new niches. With the Green Power, they managed to reach green-conscious PC users feeling guilty about buying extra storage capacity for movies, music and the rest. They also managed to reach those who seek lower noise. With the Velociraptor, they can actually reach both of those groups (since the drive is both quiet and low power) as well as the traditional power user to whom the Raptor series has always been marketed. That a drive can be the fastest, quietest, and lowest power desktop model available is quite a feat. We’ve never had a triple crown winner before. It’s a major achievement.

That’s only if the VelociRaptor is used bare out of the IcePack.

At the start of this review, we conjectured that the IcePack had two functions: To make the Velociraptor’s native small size a non-factor for the potential DIY/enthusiast buyer and to help cool it. In restrospect, the second item is not one of its functions. This drive does not need special cooling, given the low power dissipation. No, the more important function is to help market the drive. We revise our earlier statement:

The IcePack has two functions, both directly related to sales and marketing:

  1. It make the Velociraptor’s native small size a non-factor for the potential DIY/enthusiast buyer.
  2. It gives the Velociraptor a unique look and style that most PC enthusiasts, with their previous exposure to and experience with aftermarket heatsinks, will perceive as cool, powerful,and even sexy. It’s for marketing appeal.

If the IcePack was engineered to be functional rather than to increase saleability, it would incorporate vibration damping. The absence of conduction for cooling is a non issue for a 4~6W drive that fits into the standard 3.5″ tray in a modern PC case, because those trays are invariably just on the inside of the front vents where there is always at least some airflow. The tiniest bit of airflow across this drive (without the IcePack) is enough to keep it under a perfectly safe 40°C in a typical case. (We tried it.) As it stands, the IcePack is a joke, acoustically, adding all kinds of tonal, resonant harmonics excited by the vibrations of the drive.

The NoVibes III HDD Decoupling Rack reviewed here years ago is still being sold by Noise Magic of Germany, and they offer a version for 2.5″ drives. That would fit into any 3.5″ bay, and it would be far better to buy the Velociraptor without the IcePack and use the money left over for the 2.5″ Novibes.


< Photo courtesy of “Wainwra” >
NoVibes for 2.5″ drive would be much better than IcePack.

That’s the only real criticism we can muster up against the Velociraptor, and to be honest, given the nature of the geek-dominated performance market, we don’t really blame WD. (Maybe they should have consulted us before making the IcePack!) It’s also possible that when the Velociraptor with the IcePack is tightly installed in a sturdy drive bay of a sturdy PC case, the extraneous vibration-induced noise will disappear. Somehow, we doubt it. (Otherwise, WD’s noise specs wouldn’t be what they are.)

Still, performance-oriented, green-conscious, silent PC lovers have reason to celebrate. The bare Velociraptor is truly a landmark drive. It’s one that will probably dissuade most DIYers from moving to solid state drives for some time. If the price came down a bit from the current $300, it would truly be irresistible.

Many thanks Western Digital for the review sample.

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR’s Hard Drive Testing Methodology
SPCR’s Recommended Hard Drives
Samsung F1 750GB & 1TB Drives: Fast… and Silent?
Western Digital Raptor 150GB

WD Green Power: A New Benchmark in HDD Acoustics
& Power

The Terabyte Landmark: Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 Terabyte drive

* * *

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