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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  • DeepThought86 - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    Why oh why do you people insist on using new benchmarks all the time? How stupid is it that I can't go to your review of the Seagate 500GB from just last year and be able to compare performance with this new Velociraptor.

  • Zak - Sunday, April 27, 2008 - link

    Hm, so I guess this is not going to fit in a Mac Pro due to non-standard connector position. I bet there will be 3rd party replacements, but will this void the warranty?

  • mvrx - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    I still find it strange that a drive only has 32MB of cache.. I'd think a gig or two would be on some high end drives..
  • Xean - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    Is it suitable for laptops?
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    As they mentioned, only ones that accept unusually tall 2.5 inch drives.
  • Fricardo - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    What happened to the hard drive review article that was supposed to come out a month or so ago? I'd really like to see a full comparison, especially of the new WD and Samsung drives.
  • Deusfaux - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    #1. Tech Report says:

    "Western Digital says it's also working on a single-platter version of the drive, but that's not ready yet."

    Gary can you verify this one way or another? What would the timeframe be?

    #2. I have a couple spike drops when I bench one of my 2 Raptors with HDTach/HDTune. They're not right at the start, but they're there all the same.

    What do they mean? I don't have them on my other Raptor.
  • Araemo - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    Haven't all raptors(and indeed, most 10k and 15k rpm drives) used 2.5" platters in their large casings? I thought that most/all high-end drive manufacturers used 2.5" platters due to the high angular velocities and vibration.

    In that case - the smaller drive size shouldn't have any negative impact on performance at all.
  • GhandiInstinct - Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - link

    In 2008, for their next generation Raptor, only 16MB Cache?
  • CK804 - Monday, April 28, 2008 - link

    Do people read anymore? The explanation is given on the second page:

    While the hot option on the latest 750GB~1TB drives is a 32MB buffer, WD is once again staying the course with a highly optimized 16MB cache. WD states they did not see any advantages to a 32MB cache on this drive and instead spent their engineering resources on optimizing the cache algorithms.

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