As we saw last week in our Solid State Drive group test, there’s still plenty of life in mechanical hard disk drives. While not as fast as the new solid state drives at reading data, they still hold the edge in write performance, cost and capacity and for the majority of systems we’d still recommend a decent large mechanical drive.
While the cost of SSDs remains outlandish, the price of even a massive 1TB hard disk drive has plummeted in the last eighteen months, making obscene amounts of storage an affordable solution, and bringing with them surprisingly high performance. As we saw in last week’s testing, a quad platter 7,200RPM 1TB disk from Seagate was able to best a 10,000RPM 150GB WD Raptor in almost every test, with the increased data density working to the Seagate advantage.
However, the 1TB market is becoming viciously competitive, with every major hard disk manufacturer now fielding a 1TB drive. Today we’re taking a look at Samsung’s offering, the Spinpoint F1 1TB, which has fast become a favourite among enthusiasts – let’s find out why.
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To understand the difference between the different 1TB hard drives on the market, it’s important to first have a basic understanding of how data is stored on the disk. In mechanical drives data is stored on a magnetic layer that sits on top of a rotating circular platter. The platters vary in size, rotational speed, number, overall capacity and data density depending on the drive and the data is written and read from platters using an assembly of linked drive heads which skip across the platters' surface.
While the competing Seagate and Western Digital 1TB disks make use of four 250GB platters, the Samsung uses just three larger 334GB platters, resulting in significantly higher data density per platter and, theoretically, a shorter distance for the read/write heads to travel, resulting in improved performance.
The use of fewer drive platters (and subsequently fewer read/write heads) also means the Samsung Spinpoint F1 runs cooler than competing 1TB drives, and the fewer components used means the price stays low too. However, this is by no means a cheaply made budget drive - it just uses less parts than the competition, and you still get the excellent five year warranty that's become standard for hard disks across the industry.
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As well as 1TB, the Samsung Spinpoint F1 is also available in 750GB, 640GB, 500GB, and 320GB flavours too, and rather strangely, uses the same 334GB platters in every disk. This seems an odd choice, especially when you consider the wasted storage – physically there is no difference between the 750GB and 1TB versions of the Samsung F1 other than the different amount of “unlocked” drive space per platter.
We’d love to know if there’s the possibility of a cheeky firmware flash here, although the reasoning behind Samsung’s decision is clear. By producing a whole family of drives based around the same platters, costs are kept down.
On top of the massive amount of storage, the Samsung F1 also packs 32MB of cache on the 1TB and 750GB models, claims access times of 8.9m/s and, as with almost every 3.5” hard drive, boasts a platter speed of 7,200RPM. Sadly though, Samsung doesn’t provide any sustained read/write figures for us to pore over, so we’ll have to find out for ourselves in testing.