Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2052

Western Digital was founded in 1970 and began designing and manufacturing hard drives in 1988. The company is headquartered in Lake Forest, California, and employs approximately 23,000 people worldwide. Their innovative manufacturing facilities are located in Malaysia, California, and Thailand with research and design facilities in California.

We are looking at Western Digital's WD3200KS product today that features a 16MB drive buffer, native 3Gb/s SATA support, 320GB capacity, and 7200 RPM spindle speeds. The SE16 series is available in 250GB, 320GB, 400GB, and 500GB capacities and is considered to be Western Digital's High Performance desktop series. This series also features WD's advanced acoustic technologies, Whisperdrive and Softseek. The 400GB drive offers 1.5Gb/s SATA support while the other drives offer 3Gb/s SATA support but lack Native Command Queuing as Western Digital believes this technology does not benefit the typical desktop user.

Seagate was founded in 1979 and manufactured the first hard drive for the personal computer in 1980. The company is headquartered in Scotts Valley, California with research and design facilities in the US, Northern Ireland, and Singapore. Manufacturing and customer service sites are located in: California; Colorado; Minnesota; Oklahoma; Northern Ireland; China; Malaysia; Singapore and Thailand.

Seagate recently announced the Barracuda 7200.10 as the successor to their Barracuda 7200.9 series. The Barracuda 7200.10 series consists of drives ranging in capacity from 200GB to 750GB along with UltraATA/100, SATA 1.5Gb/s, or SATA 3Gb/s interfaces and 8MB or 16MB of cache depending upon the drive model. As with previous Barracuda product group updates the naming succession follows the standard point upgrade path but this change is anything but a simple number revision. The new Barracuda 7200.10 product is the first desktop centric hard drive to feature perpendicular recording.

What is Perpendicular Recording Technology? Simply put, during perpendicular recording the magnetization of the disc stands on end, perpendicular to the plane of the disc, instead of lying in the disc's plane as it does in current longitudinal recording. The data bits are then represented as regions of upward or downward directed magnetization points. The media is written to a soft magnetic under-layer that functions as part of the write field return path and basically generates an image of the recording head that doubles the available recording field resulting in a higher recording density compared to longitudinal recording.

Whereas in longitudinal recording, the data bit magnetization lies in the plane of the disc and switches between pointing in the same and then opposite directions of the head movement. In order to increase areal densities and provide greater storage capacity in longitudinal recording, the data bits must be arranged and shrunk in a very tight pattern on the disc media. However, if the data bit becomes too small, the magnetic energy holding the bit in place can become so small that thermal energy can cause it to demagnetize resulting in a condition known as superparamagnetism.

To avoid superparamagnetism, engineers have been increasing the coercivity, the field size required to write a bit, of the disc media. These fields are limited by the magnetic materials making up the write head that will soon effectively limit drive sizes utilizing longitudinal recording. Although additional capacities are still achievable, the drive industry will be moving to perpendicular recording technology shortly as longitudinal recording has basically hit the proverbial brick wall after being utilized for nearly 50 years.

Let's see how these two impressive drives compare to each other and if a knockout is in store.

Feature Set: Western Digital Caviar SE16 320GB

The external design of the Western Digital SE16 series is basically the same as other WD offerings and sports the now familiar black casing. The drive is based on the industry standard 3.5" form factor platform with pertinent part number and warranty information embossed on a white sticker on the top of the casing.

The SE16 family ships with the Serial ATA data and power connector along with a 4-pin Molex power connector designed for use with older ATX power supplies. The 4-pin power connector also allows the use of Western Digital's exclusive SecureConnect cable that significantly strengthens the SATA data connection but disables the SATA power connection. The PCB is openly visible on the bottom of the drive as in previous series with the 16 MB of cache memory and controller chips located on the opposite side of the PCB.

To the left of the SATA data and power connectors is an eight-pin jumper block. This jumper block can be utilized to implement spread spectrum clocking or force SATA 1.5Gbs operation. This drive ships with SATA 3Gbs operation enabled. While this feature was advantageous for burst transfer rates in our synthetic benchmarks, overall we did not see any measurable improvement in our real world benchmarks. Our drive was manufactured in Thailand.

Feature Set: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 320GB

The external casing design of the Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 series is basically unchanged from the previous generation 7200.9 series. The drive is based on the industry standard 3.5" form factor platform with pertinent part number and warranty information embossed on a white sticker on the top of the casing. However boring the exterior design may be, this same casing could be holding two terabytes of capacity in short time based upon the potential of perpendicular technology.

The 7200.10 SATA family ships with the Serial ATA data and power connectors only. To the left of the data and power connectors is a four pin jumper block. This jumper block will determine whether the drive operates in SATA 1.5Gb/s or SATA 3Gb/s mode. Two pins are enabled by default, meaning the Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ships and will operate in SATA 1.5Gb/s mode. The jumper must be removed to enable SATA 3Gb/s operation and is recommended if you have a compatible motherboard that fully supports this standard.

The PCB is openly visible on the bottom of the drive as in previous series and now contains an Agere chipset. This is different from the other 7200.10 series drives we have tested as they use the ST Micro Serial ATA controller chipset. The 16 MB of cache memory is located on the opposite side of the PCB. Our drive was manufactured in Singapore although we have another drive that was produced in the China facility.

Hard Disk Test Specifications:

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200KS Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3320620AS
Manufacturer's Stated Capacity: 320GB 320GB
Operating System Stated Capacity: 298.09 GB 298.09 GB
Interface: SATA 3Gb/s SATA 3Gb/s
Rotational Speed: 7,200 RPM 7,200 RPM
Cache Size: 16 MB 16 MB
Average Latency: 4.20 ms (nominal) 4.16 ms (nominal)
Read Seek Time: 8.9 ms 8.5 ms
Number of Heads: 6 4
Number of Platters: 3 2
Power Draw Idle / Load: 8.75W / 9.5W 8.9W / 12.6W
Command Queuing: N/A Native Command Queuing
Warranty: 3 Years 5 Years

The Western Digital WD3200KS drive we are reviewing today will be compared directly against the Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 320GB drive in our benchmark test suite. We have also included the results of drives from our previous articles and will provide additional reviews of drives in the 250GB and 500GB capacity ranges in the near future.

The Seagate drive comes standard with a five year warranty while the Western Digital OEM drives ship with a three year warranty. Based upon reasons that are inexplicable Western Digital ships their retail kits with a one year warranty. The user can extend their warranty by two years through Western Digital for a cost of $14.95 currently.

Hardware Setup

Standard Test Bed
Playback of iPEAK Trace Files and Test Application Results
Processor: AMD Opteron 170 utilized for all tests.
RAM: 2 x 1GB Corsair 3500LL PRO
Settings- DDR400 at (2.5-3-3-7, 1T)
OS Hard Drive: 1 x Maxtor MaXLine III 7L300S0 300GB 7200 RPM SATA (16MB Buffer)
System Platform Drivers: NVIDIA Platform Driver - 6.85
Video Card: 1 x Asus 7600GS (PCI Express) for all tests.
Video Drivers: NVIDIA nForce 84.21 WHQL
Optical Drive: BenQ DW1640
Cooling: Zalman CNPS9500
Power Supply: OCZ GamexStream 700W
Case: Gigabyte 3D Aurora
Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP2
Motherboards: MSI K8N Diamond Plus

We recently changed our test beds to reflect changes in the current marketplace. Based upon the continuing proliferation of dual core processors and future roadmaps from AMD and Intel signifying the end of the single core processor on the desktop in the near future, we have upgraded from our AMD Athlon64 3500+ to an AMD Opteron 170. This change will also allow us to expand our real world multitasking benchmarks in the near future. We will review our test bed requirements once we have an opportunity to thoroughly test the AM2 and Intel Core 2 Duo platforms.

We debated on the memory size for our iPEAK trace file creations and decided to move to 2GB of system memory. A system with a 1GB memory configuration is the predominant standard at this time in the enthusiast community although many are moving to 2GB memory setups. While a 1GB memory installation allows us to capture and report a higher amount of disk activity in certain applications, we decided the make the switch at this time as the difference is minimal when compared to the 1GB trace files. All drives are tested with Native Command Queuing enabled if the drive supports this technology.

Test Setup: Software

With the variety of disk drive benchmarks available, we needed a means of comparing the true performance of the hard drives in real world applications. While we will continue to utilize HDTach and PCMark05 for comparative benchmarks our logical choice for application benchmarking is the Intel IPEAK Storage Performance Toolkit version 3. We originally started using this storage benchmark application in our Q2 2004 Desktop Hard Drive Comparison: WD Raptor vs. the World. The IPeak test can be designed to measure "pure" hard disk performance, and in this case, we kept the host adaptor consistent while varying the hard drive models. The idea is to measure the performance of individual hard drives with a consistent host adaptor.

We utilize the IPEAK WinTrace32 program to record precise I/O operations when running real world benchmarks. We then utilize the IPEAK AnalyzeTrace program to review the disk trace file for integrity and ensure our trace files have properly captured the activities we required. Intel's RankDisk utility is used to play back the workload of all I/O operations that took place during the recording.

RankDisk generates results in a mean service time in milliseconds format; in other words, the average time that each drive took to fulfill each I/O operation. In order to make the data more understandable, we report the scores as an average number of I/O operations per second so that higher scores translate into better performance in all of our IPEAK results. While these measurements will provide a score representing "pure" hard drive performance, the actual impact on the real world applications can and will be different.

The drive is formatted before each test run and three tests are completed on each drive in order to ensure consistency in the benchmark results. The high and low scores are removed with the remaining score representing our reported result. We utilize the NVIDIA nF4 SATA ports along with the NVIDIA IDE-SW driver to ensure consistency in our playback results when utilizing NCQ, TCQ, or RAID settings.

Our IPEAK tests represent a fairly extensive cross section of applications and usage patterns for both the general and enthusiast user. We will continually tailor these benchmarks with an eye towards the drive's intended usage and feature set when compared to similar drives. In essence, although we will reports results from our test suite for all drives, it is important to realize a drive designed for PVR duty will generate significantly different scores in our gaming benchmarks than a drive designed with this purpose in mind such as the WD Raptor. This does not necessarily make the PVR drive a bad choice for those who capture and manipulate video while also gaming. Hopefully our comments in the results sections will offer proper guidance for making a purchasing decision in these situations.

Our IPEAK Test Suite consists of the following benchmarks

VeriTest Business Winstone 2004 - trace file of the entire test suite that includes applications such as Microsoft Office XP, WinZip 8.1, and Norton Antivirus 2003.

VeriTest Multimedia Content Creation 2004 - trace file of the entire test suite that includes applications such as Adobe Photoshop 7.01, Macromedia Director MX 9.0, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0, Newtek Lightwave 3D 7.5b, and others.

AVG Anti-Virus 7.1.392 - trace file of a complete antivirus scan on our test bed hard drive.

Microsoft Disk Defragmenter - trace file of the complete defragmentation process after the operating system and all applications were installed on our test bed hard drive.

WinRAR 3.51 - trace file of creating a single compressed folder consisting of 444 files in 10 different folders totaling 602MB. The test is split into the time it takes to compress the files and the time it takes to decompress the files.

File Transfer - individual trace files of transferring the Office Space DVD files to our source drive and transferring the files back to our test drive. The content being transferred consists of 29 files with a data content of 7.55GB.

AnyDVD 5.9.6 - trace file of the time it takes to "rip" the Office Space DVD. We first copy the entire DVD over to our source drives, defragment the drive, and then measure the time it takes for AnyDVD to "rip" the contents to our test drive. While this is not ideal, it does remove the optical drive as a potential bottleneck during the extraction process and allows us to track the write performance of the drive.

Nero Recode 2 - trace file of the time it takes to shrink the entire Office Space DVD that was extracted in the AnyDVD process into a single 4.5GB DVD image.

Video Streaming - trace file of the time it takes to capture and record Chapter 11 of Office Space with our NVIDIA DualTV MCE tuner card while viewing Chapter 10 utilizing PowerDVD 6. Chapter 10 has already been recorded and is playing from our source drive while Chapter 11 is being streamed from our Media Server. This benchmark was updated for this article.

Audio Encoding / Video Capture - trace file of the time it takes Nero Digital Audio to extract all 16 tracks from INXS Greatest Hits CD and convert them into an mp4 format while capturing and recording Chapter 11 of Office Space with our NVIDIA tuner card. We changed the Nero default quality settings to transcoder-ultra, variable bit rate, encoder quality to high, and the AAC profile to LC. This benchmark was updated for this article.

Game Installation - individual trace files of the time it takes to install Oblivion, Sims2, and Battlefield 2. We copy each DVD to our secondary Seagate 750GB drive, defragment the drive, and then install each game to our source drive.

Game Play - individual trace files that capture the startup and about 15 minutes of game play in each game. Our Oblivion trace file consists of visiting 16 different areas within the game, interacting with individual characters, and passing through three different gates. The Sims2 trace file consists of the time it takes to select a pre-configured character, setup a university, downtown, business from each expansion pack (pre-loaded), and then visit each section before returning home. Our final trace file utilizes Battlefield 2 and we play the Daquing Oilfield map in both single and multiplayer mode.

Hard Disk Performance: HD Tach

We find HD Tach to be useful for generating random access and average read rate results in a very consistent manner. Although the burst rates and CPU utilization rate numbers are interesting they tend to be meaningless in actual application performance comparisons.

The Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 320GB has the highest average sequential read speed of 68.7 MB/s with the Western Digital drive averaging 57.1 MB/s in our comparison today. In previous testing our WD Raptor 150 lead the field with a 75.4 MB/s average, the Seagate 7200.10 750GB at 66.9 MB/s, WD RE2 500GB drive at 62.4 MB/s, WD RE2 400GB drive at 57.0 MB/s, and the WD RE16 250GB drive at 51.4 MB/s. The Seagate 320GB and WD 320GB drives finish around the 40 MB/s mark at the end of the disk. In contrast, the WD Raptor finishes with a 52 MB/s result that is more than 30% greater than the 7200 RPM drives. However, if you look at the read performance for the first 150GB on the 7200 RPM drives, both manage higher than or equal to the minimum transfer rates than the Raptor.

The random access time benchmark favors the 10,000rpm spindle speed of the Raptor which generates a result of 8.6ms. The 7200rpm drives results are close with the nod going to the WD 320GB at 13.2ms while the Seagate 320GB drive finishes at 13.3ms. The average rotational latency at 10,000 RPM is 3ms while the average rotational latency at 7200 RPM is around 4.17ms; what this means is that the head seek speed on the Raptor is significantly faster (~5.6ms) than the other drives (9.2-10.0ms). Although the Seagate 320GB drive has excellent burst rates we will soon see this does not always translate into class leading performance.

Hard Disk Performance: PCMark05

We are utilizing the HDD test suite within PCMark05 for further comparative hard disk scores as it provides a mixture of actual application results and specific read/write percentages utilized within these programs. It also allows interested readers to generate comparative results. The program utilizes the RankDisk application within the Intel IPEAK SPT suite of tools to record a trace of disk activity during usage of real world applications. These traces are then replayed to generate performance measurements based upon the actual disk operations within each application. The HDD test suite contains 53% read and 47% write operations with each trace section utilizing varied amounts of read or write operations. Additional information about the test suite can be found in PDF format here PCMark05 whitepaper.

Our test results are based upon the following trace runs:

Windows XP Startup: This test consists of 90% reading and 10% writes that tracks XP activities at start-up.

Application Loading: This test consists of 83% reading and 17% writes that tracks the opening and closing of the following programs.
  • Microsoft Word
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • Windows Media Player
  • 3Dmark 2001SE
  • Leadtek Winfast DVD
  • Mozilla Internet Browser

General Hard Disk Drive Usage: This test consists of 60% reading and 40% writes that tracks application usage utilizing the following settings.
  • Opening a Microsoft Word document, performing grammar check, saving and closing.
  • Compression and decompression using Winzip.
  • Encrypting and decrypting a file using PowerCrypt.
  • Scanning files for viruses using F-Secure Antivirus.
  • Playing an MP3 file with Winamp.
  • Playing a WAV file with Winamp.
  • Playing a DivX video using DivX codec and Windows Media Player.
  • Playing a WMV video file using Windows Media Player.
  • Viewing pictures using Windows Picture Viewer.
  • Browsing the Internet using Microsoft Internet Explorer.
  • Loading, playing and exiting a game with Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon.

Virus Scanning: This test consists of 99.5% read operations as the test tracks the scanning activities of 600MB of files for viruses.

File Write: This test consists of 100% write activities by writing 680MB of files onto the hard disk.

Hard Drive Performance - PCMark05

Hard Drive Performance - PCMark05

Hard Drive Performance - PCMark05

Hard Drive Performance - PCMark05

Hard Drive Performance - PCMark05

Hard Drive Performance - PCMark05

Our PCMark05 numbers follow a familiar test pattern with the WD Raptor having a 20% advantage over the Seagate 320GB drive and 29% over the WD 320GB in the total score number. The performance delta between the two 320GB drives is 11% although this is primarily due to the Virus Scanning and File Write test results.

The general usage and application benchmarks that represent the majority of daily operations on a typical PC configuration favor the Western Digital drive. Both of the 320GB drives are very close throughout the first four tests and it is only when we get to the Virus Scanning and File Write tests that we see the Seagate drive hold a commanding lead. We believe the short file sizes and very sequential nature of the test file in the Virus and Write tests heavily favor the Seagate 320GB drive, though we are continuing our investigation.

IPEAK Business Application Tests

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

Our IPEAK Winstone benchmarks offer a glimpse into how well our hard disk drives will handle general office applications, media encoding, and graphics manipulation. While the business applications that are being tested tend to be more CPU bound at times, the performance of the hard drive can and will make a difference in the more disk intensive video and graphics applications where large media files are typically being edited.

As expected the WD Raptor places first as its 10k rpm spindle speed and optimized cache play an important role in its ability to sustain high transfer rates, especially in the Content Creation benchmark where transfer block sizes are significantly larger than in the Business application benchmark.

The WD3200KS drive makes a very strong showing in these benchmarks compared to the Seagate 7200.10 320GB drive as it places 18% ahead in the Business Winstones and 3% in the Content Creation test. This continues the trend we noticed in the PCMark05 tests as the WD drive was generally faster in the general usage and application benchmarks. The Seagate 7200.10 drives continue to have issues with data that is not sequentially ordered on the drive.

IPEAK General Task Tests

The IPEAK based General Task benchmarks are designed to replicate utility based application tasks that typically are disk intensive and represent common programs utilized on the majority of personal computers. While the WinRAR program is very CPU intensive it will typically stress the storage system in short bursts. Our anti-virus benchmark will stress the storage system with continual reads and sporadic write requests while the defragmentation process is split between continual read and write requests.

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

The Seagate 7200.10 320GB turns the tables on the WD SE16 320GB drive by posting a 33% advantage in the defragmentation test, 12% and 5% in the WinRAR tests, and 8% in the AVG Anti-Virus test, a far cry from the 50% difference in the PCMark05 Anti-Virus test. Our antivirus IPEAK test file has a greater degree of randomness in the reads which creates a penalty for the Seagate drive compared to the PCMark05 tests. Overall, the pure hard drive performance of the Seagate drive in these daily application tasks is impressive.

IPEAK File Transfer Tests

Our IPEAK based File Transfer benchmarks indicate how well a drive performs in a strictly read or write operation with a limited number of files (29) but a large amount of data (7.55GB). The test is designed to ensure continual write or read operations across a large section of the drive and requires constant head and actuator movements along with caching large amounts of data.

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

The read performance of the WD3200KS is very impressive in these benchmarks while the write performance is average compared to the group. The Seagate 7200.10 320GB read performance is dismal compared to the other drives while its write performance was above average. This is interesting as its read performance in the anti-virus test was excellent. After further examination of the trace files we noticed the read requests in the anti-virus test consisted of mostly small block sizes in continual patterns compared to very large block sizes in irregular patterns in the file transfer test that hampered its performance. We are still looking into this as it seems to be an overall issue with the Seagate drives in general that indicates a poorly tuned firmware or cache design.

IPEAK Video/Audio Tests

The IPEAK based Video/Audio benchmarks are designed around simulating media encoding and HTPC activities. These are basic benchmarks at this time as this section will be expanded greatly with some new tools that we have developed that will be introduced in our 500GB roundup. Our change to a dual core processor will assist us in maintaining a balance between the CPU and Storage systems during the trace file creation and benchmarking processes. These benchmarks are CPU intensive in nature but also require a balanced storage system with the ability to handle read and write requests simultaneously in a very efficient manner.

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

The AnyDVD benchmark is heavily weighted to write requests with the results showing a common pattern with the WD Raptor finishing first and the Seagate 7200.10 320GB placing about 9% ahead of the WD3200KS. The Seagate 7200.10 750GB posts excellent scores in this area and should since its platter density lends itself well to this process.

The NeroRecode 2 benchmark is weighted to streaming read requests but is balanced by continuous write operations. This benchmark is one of the most demanding ones in our test suite with the disk being active the entire trace file with several 100% utilization peaks. The Seagate 7200.10 320GB posts the best scores here with a victory over the Raptor and finishing ahead of the 750GB drive. The WD3200KS finishes near the bottom but does not offer the same strong read performance we noticed in the file transfer tests where a limited number of like file sizes are utilized.

Our video and audio encoding benchmarks that stream a continuous data feed clearly favor the high and sustainable transfer rates of the Raptor. We recently updated this benchmark so previous results cannot be compared. The Seagate 7200.10 320GB is about 10% quicker than the WD3200KS in the video streaming benchmark and about 8% in the more demanding audio encoding process. These results continue the pattern where sequential requests favor the Seagate drive and random (chaotic) requests favor the WD drive.

IPEAK Game Installation Tests

Our IPEAK based Game Installation benchmarks simply show the ability of the hard drive to write data as quickly as possible to the disc based upon the installation software instructions. As detailed in our IPEAK setup description we installed the games from our source drive in order to eliminate the optical drive bottleneck. In separate application timing we witnessed basically the same percentage spread when installing the games via our DVD drive so these results are representative of actual installation performance.

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

The Seagate 7200.10 320GB drive simply dominates the WD3200KS in these tests with performance differences up to 45%. While this is impressive, we need to remember these tests reflect pure hard drive performance and will be mitigated by the overall system platform as we will see in our application tests. These tests are basically designed around continual requests, something the Seagate 7200.10 drives excel at. Any defragmentation program will be Seagate's best friend based upon our results.

IPEAK Game Play Tests

The IPEAK based Game Play tests are centered on the benefits of having a hard disk that can load non-linear or sequential data files quickly without interrupting the flow of the game.

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

IPEAK - Pure Hard Disk Performance

Sounding like a broken record, the WD Raptor places first as its 10k rpm spindle speed and optimized cache play an important role in its ability to sustain high transfer rates. However, the WD3200KS comes back and posts a knockout against the 320GB Seagate with up to a 28% performance lead. While these differences sound large, in actual desktop usage most users will not be able to tell the difference except when utilizing the Raptor in certain situations. These tests certainly reflect what you would see during game play and the non-sequential nature of the requests favor the Western Digital drives.

Actual Application Times:

Our application time tests are designed to show application performance results with times being reported in minutes / seconds or seconds only with lower scores being better. While these tests will show some differences between the drives it is important to understand we are no longer measuring the pure performance of the hard drive but how well our platform performs with each individual drive. The performance of a hard drive is an integral part of the computer platform but other factors such as memory, CPU, core logic, and even driver choice can play a major role in determining how well the hard drive performs in any given task.

Game Load Tests

Game Application Timing - Game Load Time

In our Half-Life 2: Lost Coast test we measure the time it takes to load the game with the application timer starting when the play game icon is initiated in the Steam menu until the main game menu appears. The results follow our overall IPEAK game results with the Western Digital Raptor performing up to 10% better in this benchmark. The WD3200KS finishes slightly behind the Seagate 7200.10 320GB drive but the performance difference requires a benchmark to notice, and you will likely not be able to tell the difference during actual gameplay.

Game Application Timing - Game Load Time

Our Sims 2: Open for Business test measures the time it takes to load the initial portion of the game. Our application timer starts when the game icon is initiated until the neighborhood menu appears. The results are basically the same as our Half-Life 2 results as the WD Raptor continues to lead all drives, but we notice the Seagate 7200.10 320GB finishing ahead of the other drives with the WD3200KS close behind.

Game Level Load

These tests center around the actual loading of a playable level within our game selections.

  • The Half-Life 2: Lost Coast test measures the time it takes to load a new game. Our application timer starts when the start new game icon is initiated and ends when the character is on screen with the 357 magnum visible.
  • The Sims 2: Open for Business test measures the time it takes to load the Downtown sector of the game from Veronaville. Our application timer starts when the Downtown game icon is initiated and ends when the downtown graphics are visible.
  • The Battlefield 2 test measures the time it takes to load the Daqing Oilfields level. Our application timer begins when the start single player icon is initiated and ends when the join game icon is visible.
  • The Oblivion test measures the time it takes to load the Weye level in our saved game files. Our application timer begins when the load saved game icon is initiated and ends when the character is visible on screen.

Game Application Timing - Level Load Time

Game Application Timing - Level Load Time

Game Application Timing - Level Load Time

Game Application Timing - Level Load Time

The WD Raptor continues its pattern of being the fastest available drive for the gaming enthusiast. Our Seagate 7200.10 320GB drive wins three of four tests from the WD3200KS but the drives are so close in performance that it is difficult to distinguish one from another.

WinRAR 3.51

Our WinRAR tests measure the time it takes to compress our test folder that contains 444 files, 10 folders, and contains 602MB of data. This is same test folder utilized in our IPEAK test suite. While the benchmark is extremely CPU intensive for the compression test it still requires a fast storage system to keep pace with the CPU.

WinRar Application Timing - Compress Test Folder

WinRar Application Timing - Decompress Test Folder

The compression tests mimic our IPEAK results with the Seagate 7200.10 320GB drive finishing ahead of the WD3200KS but the difference in scores is drastically lower due to the platform components affecting the overall performance of the drives.

AnyDVD 5.9.6

Our next test has us utilizing the "ripping" function of AnyDVD to copy the Office Space DVD file from our source drive to our test drive. Our DVD features 29 files totaling 7.55GB of data and is an excellent test for determining the write speed of a drive.

Video Application Timing - Time to Transcode DVD

The test results show what we all know: speed kills but in this case the speed belongs to the Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 320GB drive and not the WD Raptor. Here, the Seagate drive posts a first place and finishes 41 seconds ahead of the WD3200KS. If you spend a lot time converting your movie collection or generating video files then buying the fastest drive you can afford can lead to a significant time savings.

Nero Audio Encode

Our last test has us utilizing the audio encoding functions of Nero to convert our INXS Greatest Hits audio files in MP4 format to a high quality variable rate MP3 file for our portable player. Our benchmark features 16 files totaling 137MB of data and is an excellent test for determining the read and write speed of a drive.

Audio Application Timing - MP4 to MP3 Conversion

The test results show once again the amount of time a fast hard drive like the WD Raptor can save over the course of audio or video file manipulation session. In this case, the WD3200KS finishes slightly ahead of the Seagate 320GB drive and mirrors earlier results in tests that combine read and write requests that are not completely sequential.

Hard Drive Acoustics

Our acoustic test utilizes our standard test bed components but we enable AMD's Cool'n'Quiet technology and turn off the case fans to isolate as much case noise as possible during testing. Our OCZ power supply is virtually silent in these tests along with our fanless Asus 7600GS video card providing a further decrease in our case's acoustical ambience. Our drives are attached to the drive cage with rubber bushings to assist in isolating the noise of the drive without creating harmonic changes due to the case design

Our acoustic tests are designed to measure the decibel levels while the system is at idle and also under load while running the General Hard Disk Drive Usage benchmark within PCMark 2005. We found through trial and error this particular benchmark produces controlled readings across a wide range of applications within the benchmark. This particular benchmark utilizes 60% reads and 40% writes within the trace playback file.

The measurements are taken at a distance of 5 millimeters from the rear and front of the drive being tested in order to minimize surrounding environmental noise. The reported measurements are based on an A-weighted decibel score that measures frequencies similar to the way the human ear responds to sound. We take a total of three measurements for each test. We then subtract the high and low scores and arrive at our findings by reporting the remaining score.

Acoustics - dB(A)@5mm

Acoustics - dB(A)@5mm

The WD3200KS is overall the quietest drive we have tested to date. The Seagate 7200.10 320GB drive follows closely behind and improves upon the 750GB drive in the objective test results. Our subjective opinion is that the seek requests are very muted for both drives and it was difficult to near impossible to notice the drive's noise levels over the power supply fan during the majority of intensive read/write requests. The Seagate 320GB drive did not generate the thumping noise we encountered with the 7200.10 750GB drive. Our base db(A) level in the room at time of testing was 24 db(A).

Hard Drive Thermals

Our thermal tests utilize sensor readings via the S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) capability of the drives and are reported by utilizing the Active SMART 2.42 utility. We test our drives in an enclosed case environment without the front fan operational to simulate temperatures that could conceivably be reached in a SFF or HTPC case design. We typically find the reported numbers drop anywhere from 18% to 25% on average when the front fan is operational.

Drive Operating Temperatures - Celsius

Drive Operating Temperatures - Celsius

We expected the WD3200KS to run cool based upon our test results with the other Western Digital drives. It did not disappoint us in either test as even the casing remained somewhat cool to the touch after hours of continuous testing. As already stated, these results were recorded in our enclosed Gigabyte case without the front fan operating and represent something of a worst-case scenario. Our base temperature level in the lab at time of testing was 23 degrees Celsius.

The Seagate 7200.10 320GB improves significantly upon the 750GB version in thermals and makes a respectable showing against the Western Digital drives. However, at idle the Seagate is 2 degrees Celsius and under load 4 degrees Celsius hotter than the WD 320GB drive with the casing becoming hot to the touch after continuous usage. Looking strictly at the acoustic and thermal benchmarks we definitely would recommend the Western Digital drive for a silent or HTPC system.

Final Words

What else can we say? Both drives performed very well and followed certain patterns throughout testing based upon their design and target audience. While the overall performance of the drives placed them consistently in the middle of our test group, this should not be surprising considering the competition. These two drives are designed for single user desktops where storage capacity, thermals, cost, and acoustics are just as important as performance.

The Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200KS offered the best acoustics of any drive we have tested to date along with excellent thermals considering the performance of the drive. Speaking of performance, the drive in our IPEAK tests was at times near the bottom of the group and usually trailed the Seagate 320GB drive except in the game play, general business, and applications where heavy read requests were prevalent. In our platform applications tests the Western Digital drive performed admirably with excellent results in the game load tests and was close enough to the Seagate 320GB drive in the other tests that you could call a tie unless you consider the warranty terms. We are generally very impressed with the Western Digital SE16 series of drives and look forward to testing their 500GB version shortly.

The Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 320GB drive offered competitive acoustics and thermals while bettering its big brother 750GB drive. In fact, during both the acoustic and thermal testing we thought Seagate had provided us a different drive family as the difference between them was very noticeable. We also purchased a Seagate 7200.10 320GB drive for follow up testing and had the same results even though our retail drive was manufactured in China. It appears to us a change has occurred within Seagate's process as our newly received 750GB drive does not exhibit the same thumping sound as our earlier drives while it operates about 3 degrees cooler overall. Initial testing also shows minor improvements in our benchmarks. The one issue we have with the Seagate 7200.10 family is a continuing performance pattern where read or write requests that are not sequential in nature end up adversely affecting performance. While this performance issue is magnified in our IPEAK tests that measure pure hard drive performance, it is tempered somewhat in the platform application tests.

What is our recommendation? If you are looking for a very quiet and thermally advantaged high capacity drive then the Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200KS should be on your short list. The drive also offered very good game play performance and was able to make a strong showing in the general business application benchmarks. If you are looking for a drive that offers slightly better overall performance and excels in most desktop and multimedia applications while offering competitive acoustics then the Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 320GB drive should be at the top of your list.

In the end we have to declare a winner so we took the fact both drives are selling for around $99 in their OEM version (incredible value for 320GB) and bounced that against their performance and still ended up in a situation where you win with either drive. However, after tallying up the points we noticed the deciding factor would be the warranties offered by each company. Seagate offers a full five year warranty while Western Digital offers three years on their OEM drives and one year on their Retail drives with a $14.95 charge for two additional years. Based upon this information, we are going to declare the Seagate our winner on a technical knockout.

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