Western Digital VelociRaptor - Plenty of bark, not enough bite

Western Digital has revamped the Raptor line of 10,000RPM high-performance hard drives by unleashing the VelociRaptor. But does the performance boost justify the cost?

Western Digital has revamped the Raptor line of 10,000RPM high-performance hard drives by unleashing the VelociRaptor. But does the performance boost justify the cost?

WD VelociRaptor
On paper, the VelociRaptor sounds fantastic (well, as long as you overlook capacity). You have a 300GB (twice the capacity of the largest Raptor) SATA drive that supports a transfer rate of 3Gb/s (backwards compatible with 1.5Gb/s). At the heart of the VelociRaptor are two platters rotating at 10,000RPM. These are backed up by 16MB of cache. The manufacturer's claim that the drive is capable of read and write speeds of 120MB/s or greater.  The drive also boasts fast seek times of 4.2ms for reads and 4.7ms for writes. That's all impressive stuff.

Note: This review is based on VelociRaptor drives that I purchased, not review samples.

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Now Western Digital claim that the VelociRaptor is the world's fastest SATA drive, and my testing with Simpli Software's HD Tach 3.0.1.0 RW backs this up. I got the following results:

  • Average sustained read speed: 106.1MB/s
  • Average sustained write speed: 97.9MB/s
  • Average access time: 7.1ms

Now if you compare these results to those from a WD Raptor drive then you find that the VelociRaptor is 32MB/s faster when reading, nearly 32MB/s faster at writing and has an access time advantage of 1.1ms.

But here's the rub. Put a VelociRaptor into real-world use, and the performance advantages seem to evaporate. When I put the VelociRaptor (price - $300) up against the original 150GB Raptor (price - $175) and a 1TB Samsung SpinPoint F1 drive (price - $185), you need to be fast on the old stopwatch to see the difference. Boot times are between the three drives were only couple of seconds apart:

  • VelociRaptor: 36 sec
  • Raptor: 34 sec
  • SpinPoint F1: 35 sec

Sure, the VelociRaptor is faster, but now the advantage is nothing to write home about.

I then tried a couple of other tasks, such as loading game levels and loading and saving photos in Photoshop CS3, and again, while the VelociRaptor did have an advantage, these were small (the times for the SpinPoint F1 and VelociRaptor were sometimes so close it was too close to call).

Another problem with the VelociRaptor is down to the fact that it's a 2.5" drive made to fit a 3.5" bay through the use of a caddy called an IcePak. The layout of data and power connectors on the back of the drive means that it won't fit into any sort of caddy or hot-swap mechanism. For most people this isn't a problem, for others it will be.

A note about capacity: 300GB might not seem all that big, but don't for get that this is a 2.5" drive and not a 3.5" drive, so in reality the data density is pretty good.

Heat isn't a problem, although I wouldn't like to run it without the IcePak given that during normal running the IcePak is hotter than the drive. On hammering the VelociRaptor the drive stayed at around 35°C/90°F while the IcePak got up to 45°C/113°F. What I can say without a doubt is that the VelociRaptor runs much cooler than the old Raptors.

When it comes to noise, the drive isn't that noisy. Yes, it has that distinctive Western Digital click-click-click when accessing data, but it's nothing to be worried about.

While I like the VelociRaptor, it's hard to recommend the drive when a SpinPoint F1 offering three times the capacity at two-thirds of the cost can come so close to it in terms of performance. The problem is that it's hard to find a situation where the VelociRaptor really stomps the competition in Godzilla or Cloverfield fashion.

That said, a RAID 0 or RAID 5 array of VelociRaptors would still be very neat!

Thoughts? Anyone already got a VelociRaptor?

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