Hitachi Deskstar 7K500 review

£110
Price when reviewed

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Whether you’ll use Vista primarily for work, digital imaging, gaming or media centre duties, you can never have too much hard disk space. At 750GB, the Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 is the largest single disk you can buy. Achieving this capacity in a standard 1in tall drive is only possible with perpendicular recording technology (see www.pcpro.co.uk/links/seagate for an explanation). This allows Seagate to cram 187.5GB on each of the four platters.

In terms of speed, a sustained transfer rate (STR) of 67MB/sec makes the Barracuda the fastest desktop hard disk around – no surprise considering how tightly the data is packed in. It’s also adept at handling tiny files, writing at 8.1MB/sec and reading at 20.7MB/sec. Only the Western Digital is noticeable faster at writing small files.

The Barracuda isn’t the quietest here, but seek noises aren’t intrusive. At 28p per GB, the Seagate isn’t as cheap as we’d have expected. But if you only have room for a single drive and need the extra performance it offers, you won’t be disappointed.

The Hitachi Deskstar 7K500 is still Hitachi’s flagship and offers 500GB of storage on five 100GB platters. This puts it at a slight disadvantage here, since the lower areal density means slower transfer rates, while five platters mean extra noise and heat. This meant the 7K500 was marginally noisier than others when idle, although it didn’t run noticeably hotter – each disk measured close to 40C during benchmarking. Despite the heavier actuator – for five platters versus four – it was the fastest seeker here, with an average random access time of 12.8ms.

But the average STR of 51MB/sec is the slowest here, limited by those 100GB platters. When reading small files, the 7K500 proved the fastest, managing 23.8MB/sec. Writing large files showed it to be the slowest by only a small margin at 57MB/sec. The 7MB/sec for writing small files is on a par with most others, although it’s half the speed of the superb Western Digital, while reading large files at only 39MB/sec is disappointing.

The 7K500 has dropped in price since its launch to 22p per GB, but even this isn’t enough to offset the below-average performance.

Although it’s been around for a while, the Maxtor DiamondMax 11’s specifications still match the leaders. Offering 500GB of storage on four platters and a 16MB buffer, it isn’t difficult to see why it beats the Hitachi. The 15.5ms average access time may be a little tardy, but at 58MB/sec on average the DiamondMax 11 is well ahead of the 7K500 and only slightly behind the Western Digital. It’s similarly behind the Caviar SE16 and Seagate when reading and writing large files.

However, reading and writing small files brought the DiamondMax to its knees. With rates of 15.4MB/sec for reading and 5.6MB/sec for writing, it was significantly trailing the other three. With its noisy seeks and a higher price per GB than the other 500GB offerings, the Maxtor takes last place here.

The Western Digital Caviar SE16 took the Recommended award last July (see issue 141, p123) and this 500GB version of the same disk manages the same here. Dig deeper into the specifications than the main features – four 125GB platters, a 16MB buffer and a SATA/300 interface – and you’ll find that, while it shares the Caviar SE16 name, several improvements have been made to the disk. For a start, it’s quieter. In fact, subjectively, the Caviar is the quietest, with the least annoying idle and seek noises. It also runs cooler than average, at about 36C. With the higher density platters, performance is better as well. The average STR of 62MB/sec isn’t far behind the 187.5GB platters of the Seagate, and the SE16 wrote small files much quicker at 14.3MB/sec. Only the Hitachi read small files quicker than the Caviar’s 21.6MB/sec.

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