We’ve paid a lot of attention recently to the emergence of solid state drives as a replacement for mechanical hard drives, a trend that’s only been reinforced by the announcement of 500GB+ SSDs this week at CeBIT.
However, while speedy solid state drives might be the future face of storage, right now they’re still ludicrously expensive and for the vast majority are an unnecessary extravagance, especially as they don’t always live up to that "faster than mechanical drives," strap line, especially as far as write speeds go.
So for now at least the best buy for most of us remains a speedy mechanical hard disk like Samsung’s Spinpoint F1 series, although as our testing has proven there can be a big gap in performance between even the fastest hard drive and the slowest SSD, especially as far as read speeds go.
Just the other day I was asked if there was anything quicker than a 1TB drive without splashing out the GDP of a South American country on an SSD. That’s the essence of a true PC enthusiast – always looking for that extra bit of performance but without having to rob a bookie's to bankroll the upgrade and there’s clearly a gap in the storage market between mechanical drives and premium SSDs.
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Enter Western Digital with its line of Raptor high speed hard disks, which have long been a staple of high performance PCs by offering significantly improved drive speeds over more traditional hard disks. With the release of the 4th generation of Raptor hard drive, cleverly renamed VelociRaptor (we see what you did there), does Western Digital have enough to challenge the new breed of SSDs vying for its market position, or will the VelociRaptor come in and take over the pack?
Following the previous generation Raptor’s windowed incarnation Western Digital has gone back to the drawing board for the VelociRaptor, replacing the conventional 3.5” hard disk with a 2.5” drive mounted into a 3.5” frame work. The frame, dubbed “IcePak” by Western Digital, serves to cool the hard drive (as well as ensure compatibility with 3.5” drive mountings), a must considering that this teeny 2.5” drive spins at a whopping 10,000RPM! We must say that it does look pretty cool too – much more interesting than the usual black and silver boxes.
The advantages of using a smaller drive spinning at higher speeds are plentiful, but the most glaring is the improved access times - the time it takes for the drive’s read/write heads to reposition to access data. With the use of physically smaller platters spinning faster Western Digital claims the VelociRaptor delivers average read and write seek times of less than 4.7ms with an average track to track seek time of less than 1ms, sizeable improvements in comparison to conventional mechanical disks.
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Inside the 2.5” drive at the heart of the VelociRaptor Western Digital has used dual 150GB drive platters to deliver the 300GB of storage on offer (279.46GB formatted), although there’s also a 150GB version of the drive which uses just a single platter. The data density has been significantly improved over previous generations, with the new 150GB platter size offering data density of around 37GB/in², close to that of high end 1TB drives using 334GB platters. However, the Raptor doesn't make use of perpendiuclar recording, the method of storing data on the magnetic surface of platters that has allowed the development of such massive drives. It’ll certainly be interesting to see if the VelociRaptor will be have enough sheer speed to overcome the perpendicular recording equipped competition.
As well as the speedy platters, Western Digital has also fitted the VelociRaptor with 16MB of cache, which should result in some impressive burst speed figures. Reassuringly, Western Digital also covers the drive with a five year limited warranty, offering welcome piece of mind although obviously the data on your drive won’t be covered (that’s what backups are for!)
While the technology on show certainly makes the VelociRaptor a clever girl, the cost is a whole lot more than hard drives three times its size and even jumps the electric fences into SSD territory. At £200 for a 300GB drive (£66p/GB) let’s just hope that Western Digital really has spared no expense (OK, enough with the Jurassic Park Quotes - Ed) when it comes to performance as for that price you can easily pick up two Samsung Spinpoint F1s with a good £40 left over, while G.Skill’s excellent 128GB Titan SSD costs just another £75.