Western Digital's emphasis on recent product releases has been the consumer oriented GreenPower family of products. That all changed last month with the release of the Caviar SE16 320GB drives featuring their new 320GB per-platter technology. We previewed this drive and came away impressed by its excellent thermals, power management, and acoustics but depressed by performance that was not any better than previous generation drives featuring 166GB~200GB per-platter designs. We have an answer to our performance-induced depression but that will have to wait for page two.

The second drive from WD to utilize their new 320GB per-platter technology is the Caviar SE16 640GB WD6400AAKS. This areal density places WD once again in competition with Samsung's F1 lineup featuring 334GB per-platter sizes with similar thermal, acoustic, and power envelope specifications. However, Western Digital decided to branch off in a new direction with a 640GB capacity instead of sticking with the tried and true 500GB and 750GB offerings from their competitors.

While the WD 640GB drive does not fit in with the industry-standard capacity sizes, we fully understand Western Digital's rationale behind this move. This allows WD to use economies of scale with their new 320GB per-platter design and allows a natural progression up to the 1TB~1.3TB level by simply increasing platter count for each logical step. Of course, unless you use sub-prime mortgage mathematics, three 320GB platters only equals 960GB of capacity. WD engineering told us they can easily stretch the areal density of the current platter design to get to the magical 1TB capacity to match their competitors and witness the marketing group smiling (Editors Note - anyone in engineering knows just how difficult that can be).

Why Samsung did not follow this pattern and introduce a 668GB drive with two platters and four heads is beyond us (Editor - Samsung will introduce a 640GB model listed as the HD642JJ in the "near" future) as their 750GB drive is essentially the same drive as their 1TB offering featuring three platters and six heads, just with 252GB left that could easily be filled with family pictures or Flight Simulator X. Update 3/22/08 - Several readers have questioned the actual platter density size on the Samsung F1 HD753LJ. Samsung's latest product information to us had indicated 334GB per-platter technology is being utilized on this drive. However, since Samsung's website seems to offer differing information with the latest PDF specification file listing "Max 334GB Formatted Capacity per Disk", we have asked for clarification. Hopefully, we will have an answer shortly.

However, no matter what marketing decision Samsung made in regards to the "my drive is bigger than your drive terminology", the simple fact is that their new F1 product offers seriously fast performance for the dollar. Speaking of dollars, the Samsung 750GB will set you back $139.99 and the WD 640GB about $129.99 as of today at Newegg. For the bean counters out there, that equates to around 18.6 cents per gigabyte for the Samsung drive and 20.3 cents per gigabyte for the WD drive.

Our review samples arrived from WD just a few hours ago, so naturally we were curious to see how well this drive performed against recent arrivals from Samsung. After seeing the initial results, we thought it would be prudent to post early test results with this drive and provide a short synopsis of our experiences to date with Western Digital's latest product. We still do not have any new information on the Raptor product family. However, we will finally have new products from Seagate and Hitachi next week so we can finally complete this midrange roundup.

Let's take a quick look at a few key benchmarks and see how this drive compares to the Samsung F1 HD753LJ.

PCVantage Results and that's all for now...
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  • johnsonx - Sunday, March 23, 2008 - link

    Same experience here as the other two replies: WD has rarely failed me, while Seagate and Hitachi have been bad for me. I used to use a lot of Maxtors, but at some point alot of them started failing in customer systems, so I switched to WD.
  • just4U - Friday, March 21, 2008 - link

    I swear by my western digital drives. They have always been good to me. I would feel safer tho if more of them cam with the 5 year warranty.
  • Simon128D - Friday, March 21, 2008 - link

    That's odd, I guess you've just had bad luck.

    I've had the complete opposite experience. All my WD drives never gave problems but Seagate never seem to last more than a year or give some kind of reading problem down the line.

    I've since bought nothing but WD drives and have never regretted it.
  • Xpl1c1t - Friday, March 21, 2008 - link

    Beautifully written article, funny how marketing can destroy the beauty of engineering.

    ...i just wonder how dense a platter could be today if storage needs of end-markets didn't drive the funding of development.
  • Arbie - Friday, March 21, 2008 - link

    There wouldn't BE any platter development without the end markets. It's the sales and marketing that pay the bills back at the lab. Just something to remember before we bash the PR guys - which, as an engineer, I am naturally inclined to do.
  • mindless1 - Saturday, March 22, 2008 - link

    Naw, just about everyone ignores the marketing nonsense except for being offended by what they try to spew to sell the product - this not necessarily pertaining to HDD in particular.
  • Inkjammer - Friday, March 21, 2008 - link

    This seems like a great middle-ground hard drive for an HTPC. Seems like a great amount of storage at a reasonable price. Just gotta wait for PC Cablecards to come out now.
  • silentbob17 - Friday, March 21, 2008 - link

    When do we see a new raptor from WD? Im still inlove with my old raptor from 2006....am I a n00b and not seeing that these new HDD's are better?
  • Casper42 - Friday, March 21, 2008 - link

    They are almost as fast.

    For instance the WD7500AAKS (750GB 7200rpm) is pretty much just as fast as the Raptor 150 in everything except seek time.

    Considering the Raptor 150 costs more than the 750 AAKS, I personally will not be buying Raptors for my next machine. (Note I run 2 74GB Raptors right now in RAID 0, so I am not just a Raptor basher :P )

    The sweet spot from what I can tell is to use 3, 4 or 5 Fast Large drives like the 750AAKS, this new 640 or a Samsung F1 and do a RAID5.
    On an Intel chipset you can go with 3, 4 or 5 and get good performance. However beware that for some reason on nForce chipsets there is a weird performance hit with Raid5 that is well documented in a few places on the net. Someone figured out that you can get around it by using 3 or 5 drive RAID5 arrays and sthen setting block size to a certain number. I think you also have to use a Vista DVD to create your partitions as it does something special with the partition layout that is part of this speed boost. After the partitions are created however you can go back and install XP and just say "Use Existing Drive" or whatever.

    So my original plan was to do 5 x 750 AAKS in R5 which would give me around 2800MB Useable which would be cut into either 800+2000 or 500+300+2000 (Dual Boot).
  • iwodo - Friday, March 21, 2008 - link

    I think the 139 is too expensive. I hope the 640Gb will replace 500Gb version soon.

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