Saturday, April 28, 2007

Seagate Momentus 7200.2 - 160 GB, 7200 RPM

This is probably the most interesting 2.5" notebook hard drive available today. Seagate's Momentus 7200.1 was the first model to introduce 7,200 RPM rotation speeds for notebook hard drives, but its maximum capacity of 100 GB isn't sufficient any more today. The second generation 7200.2 is based on Perpendicular Recording Technology, which helps to increase data density and performance by storing magnetic particles in a vertical orientation as opposed to traditional, longitudinal recording.

The Momentus 7200.2 reached an amazing data transfer date of almost 60 MB/s and an average transfer rate of 45 MB/s. This is as fast as the maximum speed of many 5,400 RPM drives. We measured a very quick access time of 14.2 ms, which is clearly faster than the 15.1 and 15.4 ms of Hitachi's Travelstar 7K100 and the Seagate Momentus 7200.1.

There is an 8 MB cache memory and a Serial ATA/300 interface, which reads nicely, but would not be necessary to reach the performance numbers we measured; Native Command Queuing (NCQ) is supported as well. However, we found another feature more interesting: Seagate incorporates freefall sensor technology, which is designed to prevent drive damage in the event of a drop or other shock. The feature is called G-Force Protection, and it puts the drive into a non-operating state by moving the read/write heads off the medium and locking them when the system senses that it is in free fall. Samsung is working on a similar technology, but it seems that Seagate beat it to market. You can already find freefall sensor solutions in retail products such as Lenovo Thinkpad notebooks; in that particular case, the sensor is built into the notebook. Moving it into the hard drive removes the necessity to run a service that orders the hard drive to park its heads in case of a drop.

Seagate seems to have considered even more aspects in its attempt to offer the perfect notebook drive. The operating temperature range of the Momentus 7200.2 exceeds the common 5-55°C, being specified for operation at up to 60°C. All Momentus drives also come with a five year manufacturer's warranty, while other drive makers offer a maximum of three years.

There is one disadvantage, though: although the 7200.2 is clearly more energy efficient than the Momentus 7200.1 or Hitachi's Travelstar 7K100, it still requires up to 50% more idle power than an efficient 5,400 RPM drive or a 4,200 RPM model. And all the features and performance come at the price of increased weight: the Fujitsu and Toshiba drives weigh 101 g, while the Momentus 7200.2 weighs 115 g - 14% more.

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Fujitsu MHW2160BH - 160 GB, 5400 RPM

This is the second largest, but the fastest 2.5" hard drive by Fujitsu. The MHW2160BH offers a capacity of 160 GB, is equipped with a Serial ATA/150 interface, and carries 8 MB of cache memory. There is a 200 GB drive, the MHV2200BT, but it has a height of 12.5 mm compared to the more common 9.5 mm, and it runs at 4,200 RPM. The 160 GB MHW2160BH rotates at quicker 5,400 RPM, yet doesn't consume too much energy. Fujitsu deploys its fluid dynamic bearing system to reduce noise, which it calls Silent Drive Technology.

After a look at our power consumption results, we found that the MHW2160BH is very energy efficient when compared to other 5,400 RPM drives. We measured an idle power of 0.7 W, which is less than the idle power of Hitachi's Travelstar 5K160 or the Seagate Momentus 5400.3 at 160 GB. However, Samsung's HM160JC is even more thrifty, requiring as little as 0.5 W in idle mode. The Samsung drive we tested before was equipped with an UltraATA interface, however, while the Fujitsu MHW2160BH runs Serial ATA, which, like many other serial technologies, may require slightly more energy.

The 17.8 ms access time is an average result, which both Toshiba and Seagate underbid. However, Seagate's 14.2 ms access time shouldn't be the benchmark, as the Momentus spins much faster.

A maximum sequential read transfer rate of 48 MB/s is an excellent result for a 5,400 RPM drive - as a matter of fact, it actually beats the maximum transfer rate of Seagate's first generation Momentus 7200.1. However, the average and minimum transfer rates could be a bit quicker, as Toshiba's 160 GB drive offers better performance as you fill the 160 GB with data. Fujitsu's drive reaches good results in PCMark05's hard drive benchmark, which tests file write performance and Windows XP startup time.

The operating temperature range of 5-55°C is very much standard for notebook hard drives today, as is the drive's weight of 101 g. Fujitsu states a component life span of five years, but it only offers a three year warranty.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hitachi's 7K1000 Terabyte Hard Drive

Terabyte Hard Drives Are Here!

On March 16, 2007, UPS delivered to our storage test lab a shipment from Hitachi, which we had anticipated for several weeks. The box contained the world's first hard drive with a total capacity of 1 terabyte (1 TB): the Deskstar 7K1000.

The new drive is a milestone for both Hitachi and the hard drive industry. Not only is it the first product to store up to 1,000 gigabytes on a single hard drive - beating Seagate to the market - but it also comes with a number of innovations. In addition to its Serial ATA II interface, it is the first hard drive that carries as much as 32 MB of cache memory, and it is Hitachi's first 3.5" drive to implement perpendicular magnetic recording technology (PMR). The company had deployed PMR in its Travelstar 5K160 family, but not into desktop drives. Hitachi's data sheet also lists various features that help to increase reliability and reduce power consumption.

To reach the high capacity of 1 TB, Hitachi had to increase the areal density of the storage media in its new drive. Its predecessor, the Deskstar T7K500, is based on three magnetic platters that store approximately 166 GB each, while the new 7K1000 is based on five platters at approximately 200 GB each. Seagate is currently preparing its 1 TB drive on a four platter design. Hitachi has already had hard drives with five platters in the past, and such a configuration is fairly common for enterprise hard drives as well. Although the PMR recording technology is mature enough to store far beyond 200 GB on a platter, Hitachi decided to stay on this conservative course.

While the capacity of 1 TB is unmatched and highly appealing to enthusiasts, we had to get one of the first 7K1000 drives to check how it compares to the competition: Samsung's 500 GB T166 drive offers great transfer rates at low cost, and Seagate's 750 GB Barracuda 7200.10 has proven to be an excellent choice as well. We recommend checking out our Interactive HDD Charts to compare the performance of over 30 hard drive models.

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Bye Bye Tape, Hello 5.3TB eSATA

It's amazing how much disk you can buy for 60 bucks. For example, I just walked into a local retailer and purchased an 80GB hard drive for less than what my neighbor paid to fill the gas tank in her SUV...and I still overpaid. Years ago, I would have paid three times the amount for a drive a third the size of my latest purchase. Yes, storage hardware has gotten very affordable over the years and with all the breakthroughs in technology, what was once a data protection pipe dream, backup to disk, has become a stark reality.

If you need to backup large amounts of data, but aren't all that comfortable with a bunch of relatively slow USB or Firewire drives and you can't afford more expensive NAS and SAN solutions, consider an interesting answer from Highly Reliable Systems, the High-Rely eSATA Backup System. The e in eSata stands for external. This unit consists of a rack mountable chassis that uses seven SATA disk drives. It just might pave the way for future hard drive backup solutions. The important thing to understand about the High-Rely eSATA chassis is that it's not RAID configurable. The chassis simply provides you with 7 high capacity disk drives, each of which can be configured as a separate physical disk drive.

The High-Rely eSATA chassis is one of two seven drive disk backup systems produced by the Reno, Nevada based company. The other seven drive product is a USB based chassis that is just as nice a package as its sibling, but without the high transfer rate of eSATA. Finally for individual users, Highly Reliable also has five and single drive products that come in USB and eSATA models. Resellers can also find eight and ten drive models.

The High-Rely eSATA system I'll look at here includes a seven bay chassis, seven 750GB cartridge enclosed disk drives, a PCI-Express eSATA card, software and accessories.
The Chassis And Related Parts

The High-Rely package includes the chassis, two single port eSATA adapters, a power cable, a dual eSATA cable, drive keys, software CD and warranty.

The eSATA metal enclosure I tested is a black 4U rack mountable device that, populated with drives, weighs in at a sturdy 50 pounds. The model tested has eight available hard disk bays with seven of them configured for disk use while the eighth drive slot has a vented cover. The eighth bay is for the eight disk version of the product available only to resellers.

Noise-wise, if you work in a data center you recognize the not-so subtle hum of a server-like fan. You may want install the device in a spot designated for noisier devices. A well cooled room or closet would be ideal, especially since you're dealing with a machine that houses seven heat producing disk drives.

All the cabling in the eSATA unit interfaces with the chassis from the back. The eSATA cables plug into two separate cards located on the rear of the case. The eSATA cable that comes with the chassis is composed of two separate eSATA lines joined together by a fabric mesh. For the test model, one of the pair of cables had blue tubing at the ends to distinguish it from the other cable.

The chassis is powered by a single 300 watt power supply that uses the same standard PC power cable that most of us collect and keep in our boxes of spare parts. At the front of the chassis is a rocker switch that turns on the power and a single LED that tells you the system is powered on.

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GeForce 8600: DirectX 10 For The Masses

Rehash Or New And Improved?

The consumer graphics market is filled with products these days. I remember when there were only a few products from a single company but there were many companies. Today we have to depend on two major players and a ton of products. In days gone by there were differing approaches to where companies thought graphics would move. Of course there were the application programming interfaces of OpenGL and Direct3D (DX video component), but there were others such as 3DFX's Glide. Multiple APIs made programming a bit of a challenge as developers tried to building their games to span as many platforms as possible. The move to only two core APIs has made it a bit easier to code games and applications but there has been another effect, the shrinking of main producers of graphics processors.

While Intel is the largest producer of graphics devices, there are really only two key players for the discrete graphics market, Nvidia and AMD (formerly ATI). This has changed the dynamic in the implementation of new devices and the number of product variants. Looking back to the card that put Nvidia squarely on the map was the GeForce 256. For ATI/AMD it was the 9700 and 9800 series cards. Ironically there were only a few variations of those cards. Radeon 9800 has basically two memory densities 128 and 256 as well as a few models like Pro, XT and XT Platinum Edition.

This made for only a handful of graphics cards on the market. It also allowed consumers the ease of knowing what they were getting in terms of performance and price. This has all but disappeared in recent history as we have a plethora of naming conventions, models, clock speeds, memory densities, and architectures. A diversity of cards is a good thing for the consumer but it is getting to the point that product differentiation has lost some of its meaning.

You might be asking, "So why the history lesson, I thought this was a product launch?" Simple, we have yet another series of cards hitting the market in a matter of months which will add yet another set of models that consumers will have to differentiate between. More is good but not always best. There are a couple of questions that need to be asked regarding this product launch. First, does this new offering give me something that the previous offering could not? Secondarily, is this new card really a better buy for the consumer?

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