The original Western Digital Raptor was launched as the WD360GD in March of 2003 with an enterprise level 10,000 RPM spindle speed, SATA interface, 8MB buffer, 5.2 millisecond read seek time, and a single-platter design featuring 36GB of storage. While it shined in single-user performance, the drive did not fare well against its SCSI-based competitors in the enterprise server market. Limited by size and a complete lack of command queuing abilities, it delivered performance that was not up to par with the SCSI drives in critical multi-user scenarios. However, due to the lack of entry-level SCSI drives, a growing interest in SATA components, and a very avid computer enthusiast market, the drive was able to succeed and build a sterling reputation for Western Digital in the SATA market.

The next version of the Raptor launched as the WD740GD in December of 2003 and boasted several needed enhancements. These enhancements included a capacity upgrade to 74GB, 4.6 millisecond read seek time, a FDB based motor to address noise concerns, and ATA-4 tagged command queuing. While TCQ was a welcome addition and certainly improved the drive's I/O operations, it still was not a match for most SCSI drives in the enterprise market. This was primarily due to a lack of SATA controllers that fully supported TCQ and firmware that was not as mature as the SCSI competition.

Computer enthusiasts flocked to the drive due to its performance advantages, but the drive continued to have limited success in the enterprise server market. The last major update to the Raptor family occurred in January of 2006 when the WD1500ADFD launched with a significant list of improvements. This drive still sported the familiar 10,000 RPM spindle speed, 4.6ms read seek time, and a two-platter design now at 150GB capacity. The platter's density increased to 75GB+ and equaled that of several 10,000 RPM SCSI competitors. The buffer size doubled to 16MB, matching the latest offerings from other drive manufacturers, and a native SATA implementation with Native Command Queuing became standard.

The WD1500ADFD became the de facto drive for enthusiasts and for a while, its 150GB capacity was acceptable. (Price was still a concern for some, of course, and many people were content to get larger, cheaper, quieter drives that performed more than adequately in most usage scenarios.) Since the drive's introduction, we have seen an explosion in capacities with terabyte drives becoming normal fare from the drive suppliers and the sweet spot in the drive market slowly inching up to the 500GB range now. Not only did the capacity of the Raptor series seem small, the latest SATA 3 Gb/s 7200RPM drives were starting to offer equal or better performance in several areas at greatly reduced per-gigabyte prices.


As of today, Western Digital is announcing their fourth-generation design, aptly named the "VelociRaptor" as a nod to its promised capabilities. The capacity is now at 300GB and that is the least of changes for the new VR150 product family. Western Digital took a serious look at the enterprise market and determined they needed a product design that could compete in the widely expanding enterprise market where 2.5" form factor drives are taking a foothold due to the ability to pack more drives into the same chassis footprint. The other advantage to a 2.5" form factor is reduced power consumption, a hot topic in today's energy-aware world.

With that market in mind, Western Digital has moved to a 2.5" form factor with the VelociRaptor, while at the same time providing a unique 3.5" chassis mounting system for the enthusiast desktop market. This mounting system is named "IcePAK" and features a finned aluminum design that offers some degree of thermal dissipation. However, its primary purpose is to ensure this drive works in the multitude of desktop chassis. The drawback is the IcePAK mounting system does not work with standard SATA backplanes found in several rack-mounted servers. To address the enterprise market, WD will ship the drive without the IcePAK chassis.

Let's take a quick look at our preview results today. 5/2/08 - We have updated the test scores with results from a new drive supplied by Western Digital.

When Smaller is Better
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  • OldWorlder - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    Yes, that's always a good advice to have a system and work partition that is rather small (with some defrag from time to time) at the beginning of a disk!

    But there's also no need to "not use" the rest, as long as the files there are not accessed too often - mine seems to fill up faster than I can increase it with the next bigger disk while system/work stays constantly at 70G...
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    Would WD rush this product to reviewers and OEM's if the firmware was this poor? I mean honestly, you can tell this has the potential to be an outstanding product, but this is a PR nightmare. I'm willing to bet not all review sites are going to re-review once updated firmware comes out, and right now while it does quite well in the simulated benchmarks, it falls on its face during real-world applications.

    It's one thing to rush software out the door and patch later (or even hardware's software drivers), completely another when you do this with firmware.

    I feel bad for the engineers, because I'm sure they were begging for another couple weeks to get the bugs out...
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    It appears to be only a few sites with bad ones, storagereview.com review shows no issue. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    How would only a few sites get a particular firmware version and others not? I understand this particular model might have a hardware issue, but its the firmware that I thought was the cause for performance issues. Reply
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    I dont know either, but other sites are not having this issue. check out storagereview.com for a complete review. Reply
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    Rather I should say read any or all of the other reviews...

    Western Digital VelociRaptor VR150
    @ StorageReview
    @ TechReport
    @ HotHardware
    @ PCPer
    @ LegitReviews


    No-one else seems to have any issues, although the incomplete firmware is mentioned.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    And this is why we state several times that we are calling this a preview and will withhold final judgment until we receive a new test drive. Clearly, the drive we were sent has some problems. They may be firmware related, or we may have a drive that has firmware + hardware problems. Maybe the firmware needs tuning to address a certain subset of drives that exhibit the poor performance characteristics we discovered. Whatever the case, we will have a full follow-up review in the near future. Reply
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    cool... I look forward to it. Reply
  • Zefram0911 - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    I know removing the heatsink voids the warranty... but will the SATA and SATA power hookups match a hot swappable 3.5'' bay if the heatsink is removed? I know there would be an inch of extra space or so, but I'd like to keep my hotswap bay. Reply
  • johnsonx - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    While I don't know for sure, I will say NO, at least not without some creative rigging.
    Reply

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