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.

The star of the show today is Western Digital's new 160GB per-platter technology currently being rolled out in their Caviar, SE, and SE16 drive families. While Western Digital announced this technology and started shipping the single platter drives back in July, multi-platter drives utilizing the new technology have just recently started shipping in volume to the retail channels. With this introduction, WD now joins Seagate, Maxtor, Samsung, and Hitachi in offering 160GB+ platter designs.

We will be reviewing additional drives from Hitachi and Samsung along with larger capacity drives from WD featuring the 160GB+ platter designs shortly, but today our focus is on the latest WD1600AAJS Caviar SE series product that features an 8MB drive buffer, native 3Gb/s SATA support, 160GB capacity, NCQ, and 7200 RPM spindle speeds. The SE series is available in capacities ranging from 40GB to 320GB and is considered to be Western Digital's mainstream desktop series with the SE16 series being slotted for the high performance desktop users with capacities up to 500GB.

The WD drives featuring the 160GB+ (we estimate actual platter size to be 167GB) per-platter technology can be identified by the introduction of an AA sequence after the drive designation and before the internal family identification number. As an example, the previous generation SE16 500GB drive was designated as the WD5000KS with the new 160GB+ per-platter design being identified as WD5000AAKS. At this time we expect WD to launch the AA series in the SE16 family at capacity points of 250GB, 320GB, 400GB, and 500GB. The SE AA series family will eventually have the same capacity points with the addition of the 160GB model we are reviewing today. The entry level Caviar AA series is scheduled at the same capacity points but we do not have confirmation if they will be available in retail or offered as OEM only drives.

The SE and SE16 AA series feature Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM) technology . The AAM feature allows the host user to select the acoustic level of the hard drive depending upon the controller utilized. The combination of AAM and Western Digital's advanced acoustic technologies, Whisperdrive and Softseek, generated some of the best acoustic results we have seen in testing to date.

Besides the new platter density, Western Digital is also introducing ramp load technology in the new drives. Ramp Load/Unload (LUL) technology is a proven design used in mobile devices that parks the recording head when the drive is idle and on spin up, maximizing available disk space and minimizing power usage, which usually results in lower transient acoustics, lower heat, and long-term drive reliability. Another added feature is that Native Command Queuing is now standard with the AA series drives, although as in previous reviews our initial testing we did not show any real benefits for the typical desktop user with this particular drive.

Let's see how well this drive performs and if 160GB per-platter technology makes a difference in the low-end market.

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  • semo - Monday, February 5, 2007 - link

    Gary, are you thinking of including some ssds (slc and mlc) in the mix for future comparisons. also, are you planning on doing a raid article (again with ssds too) and see if raid edition drives make a difference. Reply
  • Gary Key - Monday, February 5, 2007 - link


    We will have a ssds roundup in March if the products are released on schedule. We will concentrate on SLC first as the MLC drive I do have is just terrible for general desktop usage. It was designed for industrial use and even I would not want to be a user at that workstation. ;) I am working on RAID article for March that will cover several chipsets and drives along with some new benchmarks.
  • oDii - Monday, February 5, 2007 - link

    Gary, would it be possible along side the various chipsets to see how Linux Software RAID performs (http://tldp.org/HOWTO/Software-RAID-HOWTO-5.html">http://tldp.org/HOWTO/Software-RAID-HOWTO-5.html or XFS)? It'd be great to see the results in context, as I haven't been able to find a complete and reliable source of results. Reply
  • semo - Monday, February 5, 2007 - link

    the only reason i wanted to see an mlc drive in a roundup is to get an idea how bad they are but i get the picture now.

    i wonder if the faster response of the ssds compensate for their lower transfer rates and beat hdds in general usage. i guess we'll find out in march.
  • mostlyprudent - Monday, February 5, 2007 - link

    I should wait to see some numbers from the versions with 16MB cache sizes, but for me - this article reaffirms my choice of the Seagate 7200.10 320GB. Reply
  • mjz - Monday, February 5, 2007 - link

    i'm amazed that the raptor didn't do so good.. why couldn't they just combine the 160 platter with the 10000 rpm Reply
  • DrMrLordX - Tuesday, February 6, 2007 - link

    I kinda agree, though the newer 74 gig Raptor w/ 16 meg cache is supposedly faster than the 150 gig Raptor.

    Personally I'd rather see the 74 gig Raptor in there, but . . .
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, February 6, 2007 - link

    I will have a short performance update to include the 74GB 16MB cache Raptor tomorrow, not a full article but enough results to draw a conclusion. Reply

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