Hard drives du jour

It seems that some hard drives are more equal than others.

Over the years I’ve owned around 15 or so hard drives.

I dabbled with a few SCSI drives but these were noisy, ran hot and were too expensive. I don’t use SCSI drives any longer as the performance of SATA drives has become superb and they are very cheap and have huge capacities.

The current sweet spot for price/performace/capacity (October 2007) is the the 500GB drive. My current favourite is the Western Digital Caviar SE16 drives. These are fast, quiet, cool and have reduced vibration due to various mechanical enhancements. Inside a Mac Pro case this drive is even quieter than the Western Digital WD2500JS 250GB drive that comes as standard when you buy this machine. The 500GB model, the WD5000AAKS is around 110 euros now, so represents superb value for money and gives large enough capacities to help with the needs of video editing/video storage for moderate amounts of video captured with the popular Mini DV camcorders. In the same range, Western Digital also sell a 750GB model, the WD7500AAKS, which has Perpendicular Magnetic Recording to give increased data densities and retrieval speeds, but the bang for your buck is not as good as the 500GB model, at around 240 euros. But if you need the extra space, it seems like a good drive according to Tom’s Hardware.

Another range of drives appearing on the horizon that look great from the quietness front is the Samsung Spinpoint series, but I will avoid these for now until they have gained a solid reputation.

Regarding noise and vibration, a recent Seagate 320GB drive I bought for backups, the Seagate ST3320620AS, I would consider too noisy. It made the case of the Mac Pro vibrate a lot and generated quite a lot of noise. However, it has conflicting reports regarding noise and vibration, so maybe there were different batches made (mine is made in China, although that probably is not significant). See here for an idea of this conflict in feedback.

In the past I had some IBM/Hitachi drives: 30GB, 60GB, 160GB and then a 250GB model. Two of these drives failed and have joined the hard drive graveyard, and two are still working. However, the 250GB model seems to generate enormous noise and vibration, so I’m not impressed with Hitachi drives and won’t be buying any more of them. Of course Hitachi bought the IBM hard drive business in 2002. Back in 2000, IBM had the famous Deskstar 75GXP model which became known as the ‘Deathstar’, due to its party trick, which was its ‘click of death’ 🙂 It got serious and resulted in a class action lawsuit against IBM.

Anyway, currently I am very happy with the new SATA-based Western Digital models mentioned above, and will consider Western Digital drives first in future when upgrading. And I will be watching out for Samsung’s Spinpoint range too as they may turn out to be super drives with high reliability, low noise & vibration and great speed too hopefully.

Finally, I will never forget the eerie meow-ing cat sound coming from inside my PC around 2004… I had just installed a new Hitachi 7K250 hard drive in the computer and I thought someone in the house was calling my name. Then I discovered that this person was not in the house. Then I heard my name being called again! Yikes! Very, very spooky! Then I started noting the time that I thought I heard my name being called. If I recall, it was every ten minutes. A search on the internet identified the source of the noise — the hard drive! People described it as a meow-ing cat sound 🙂 Read about it here.


It seems that if you have more than one hard drive installed in a Mac Pro case, the case will vibrate due to the lack of dampening used by Apple to mount the drives onto the backplane. The metal drives are screwed directly onto a metal mounting bracket and this then makes direct contact with a metal drive rail, transferring all of the nasty vibrations directly to the metal aluminium case. The case then vibrates against the metal side panel, causing a rattling vibration to occur. This is extremely poor of Apple to spoil an otherwise great machine with such poor attention to this aspect. I will try to contact them to see what they say 🙂 You never know, they might say that they have a new improved case and they will swap my case over for the new super duper one… However, I expect they will simply ignore my email. However, maybe Apple should take a look at cases like the Antec P190 case — just look at the cool video of it here. I can’t help smiling at the way this passionate guy presents his videos — hand shaking at the case like he’s in awe of it 🙂 If you thought that video was funny, then check out his bloopers videos here: bloopers #1 and bloopers #2 🙂

As a final note on this vibration issue, it seems that Apple’s Mac Pro case is good at dissipating heat due to being made of aluminium, but this appears not to be good for vibration conduction and its associated noise. On the other hand, the Antec P190 case appears to be good at vibration dampening due to its multi layer case construction, but I expect that heat does not dissipate out from the sides of the case due to this sound dampening material, making it much more dependent on the use of higher fan power to remove the hot air inside the case. But that’s just my opinion based on what I’ve seen and read — I could be wrong.

For ZFS Home Fileserver articles see here: A Home Fileserver using ZFS. Alternatively, see related articles in the following categories: ZFS, Storage, Fileservers.

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