Anywhere Data (Hard Drive Test)

Published Date
01 - Jun - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Jun - 2007
Anywhere Data (Hard Drive Test)

From the smallest to the biggest, slowest to the fastest, inside and outside, we've got all the hard disks for you to choose from

We'll repeat ourselves just this once: your hard disk is the most important component of your computer because it holds your data and is therefore, in a sense, irreplaceable. With that out of the way, we're sure you won't mind yet another hard drive shootout-with all the data you've been hoarding, you probably need one!

We don't need to introduce you to internal drives-everyone knows they're the de facto storage component, and everyone has one (or two, or three). External hard drives are designed primarily to be backup devices. But the smaller ones are also useful for carrying around and exchanging data with friends. Many of the prominent internal drive manufacturers are into the external drive market as well-an indicator of the increasing popularity of such devices.

This shootout is a comparison test of internal as well as external hard drive solutions. We scoured the markets to bring you most of the available models of both these worlds, from the smallest (74 GB) to the biggest (1 TB). We've brought you 21 internal SATA hard drives and 13 external hard drives. We passed them through our all-new, rigorous battery of tests, and an analysis of their performance and features follows.

Internal SATA Hard Drives

We have only included SATA hard drives this time, sidelining IDE completely. IDE will live on for at least a couple of years more, but we want to present you the ground reality: SATA is in, and IDE is on its way to a speedy exit. One of the things helping the SATA cause is the fact that even entry-level motherboards ship with SATA controllers today. Granted, IDE drives are still being sold, but the fact remains that there are very few of them, and future development prospects are too dim to warrant a shootout.

Of the 21 SATA drives we pitted against each other, two were from Hitachi, two from Maxtor, four from Samsung, three from Seagate, and there was a large contingent of 10 from Western Digital. All the brands were thus represented adequately to give you as wide a perspective as we possibly can about the drives available in the market today.

The Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 with a huge 1 TB capacity was the largest internal SATA drive we've ever laid our hands on. This drive, featuring perpendicular recording technology, featured a platter density of 250 MB-the highest we have seen so far, shattering the previous record of 188 set by the Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3750640AS.

While most of the drives were SATA II compliant, a few of the older drives, such as the Maxtor DiamondMax 10 250 GB, Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 ST3400832AS, and the two Western Digital Raptors were SATA I. Naturally, you would expect these to lag behind in the performance tests, but this was not entirely the case; the Raptors are blistering fast even when compared with the latest SATA II drives.

Though the SATA standard is forward-as well as backward-compatible, there are still some known issues plaguing certain older controllers. Some manufacturers such as Seagate, Samsung, and Western Digital remedy this situation by providing pins that can be jumpered to set the mode of the drive, while some such as Hitachi follow a different method. To set a Hitachi drive to SATA/150 mode, you first need to go to their Web site and download the Feature Tool, which is a bootable ISO image containing the tool. Once created and booted through, it guides you through the process. This is obviously tedious compared to the jumper approach.

How We Tested The Drives
On our test rig, the latest versions of the hardware drivers were installed along with DirectX 9.0c. The internal drives to be tested were connected to the third SATA connector of the motherboard, and the external drives were connected to the first USB port.

                                      Test Rig   
 Processor Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 @ 2133 MHz
 Motherboard Gigabyte GA-965G-DS3
 Chipset Intel 965G
 RAM 1 GB Kingston HyperX DDR2 @ 533 MHz
 Host hard drive Seagate Barracuda 750 GB SATA II
 OS Windows XP with SP2

The Test Procedure
The performance tests of the hard drives consisted of synthetic tests using benchmarking software and real-world tests where application performance and file transfer speeds were tested.

The synthetic tests were conducted using two types of benchmarks: the low-level benchmarks HD Tach RW and H2Bench, and standard benchmarks PCMark05 and SiSoft Sandra Pro Business 2007, all of which are popular benchmarking software for storage devices.

We noted features of the drives such as capacity, dimensions, weight, bundled software, interface type, cables and accessories, ruggedness, and more.

We gauged performance based on eight tests, as follows.

Low-level Synthetic Benchmarks: HD Tach RW
The hard drive to be tested was connected to the test machine, and was not formatted. It was allowed to remain raw (unpartitioned). HD Tach RW was then run and used to evaluate the drive. The scores we noted were as follows:

CPU Utilisation: This benchmark determines how much load the device puts on the CPU. Lower CPU utilisation is better. High CPU utilisation (above 15 per cent) generally indicates that a poor controller is being used, that DMA needs to be enabled, or that a driver update is required.

Random Access Time Benchmark: This determines the random access speed of the device. Random access is the average time it takes to retrieve data from a randomly located sector on the device. Lower random access speeds mean better application and database performance. Random access times can also give an insight into the efficiency of the interface a device is attached to.

Sequential Read and Sequential Write: The maximum sustained speed is an important metric for real-time sequential access applications. This maximum speed may be important to a power user who would like to partition the drive into a high-speed partition and a low-speed partition.

Burst speed: This represents the limits of the throughput that a drive is capable of delivering.

Low-level Synthetic Benchmarks:
H2Bench (Internal Drives Only)
This is a new benchmark developed by Heise Zeitschriften Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, which we used for the first time in a hard drive test; it provides very accurate results. This is a Win32 program that needs to be run from the command line. The interface speed at 50 per cent of the drive capacity was noted. The "Core Test" or repetitive sequential read test was then performed, and this gave the maximum transfer rate the drive can achieve after repeated sequential reads. The read and write seek times were also noted.

Standard Synthetic Tests
A 32 GB NTFS partition was created where possible with compression turned off on the test hard drive. A second partition was created, utilising the remaining capacity.

PCMark05 (Internal Drives only)
FutureMark's PCMark05 is a very popular tool to benchmark the entire system. This benchmarking software has different modules that can be chosen to benchmark a particular PC component. We installed Windows XP SP2 on the test hard drive with the latest drivers, as on the test rig, and installed and ran this benchmark application. We noted the scores of the following components from the hard drive benchmark module.

a. XP Startup: This simulates activity of Windows XP startup and tests the performance of the hard drive at that time.

Application Loading: This simulates opening and closing of several applications such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, Windows Media Player, and more.

Virus Scan: This tests drive performance during a simulated virus scan of approximately 600 MB of files of different types.

4.SiSoft Sandra Pro Business 2007
SiSoft Sandra Pro Business 2007 was launched and the File System benchmark module was run. The 32 GB partition we had created was benchmarked using this module. The Sequential Read, Random Read, Sequential Write, Random Write, and Access Time scores were reported at the end of this benchmark, which we noted.

Real World Tests: File Copy
This consisted of copying a 4 GB (1 GB for external drives) file (for sequential data transfer speed) and 4 GB (1 GB for external drives) of assorted files (for random data transfer speed). The time taken for this data transfer was noted. The sequential file transfer time will give you a fair idea about how the hard drive will perform when large files such as movies are transferred. The assorted files consisted of multiple filetypes that included applications, Word documents, Excel files, MP3s, small video clips, etc., thus simulating a real world situation. The tests we carried out were

a. Time taken to copy the file(s) to the first partition of the test drive from a non-OS partition of the test rig, giving a measure of the drive's interface performance as well as the write performance.

b. Time taken to copy the file(s) from the first partition of the test drive to a non-OS partition of the test rig, giving a measure of the drive's interface performance as well as the read performance.

c. Time taken to copy the file(s) from the first partition of the test drive to its second partition, giving a measure of the drive's internal mechanics as well as its overall performance.

Real World Tests: Multitasking Copy (External Drives Only)
We copied 1 GB of assorted data from the external hard drive and to it simultaneously. This tests the drive's multitasking capability, and also gives a measure of its interface performance by taking the USB interface to the limits of data throughput.

Real World Tests: Photoshop CS2 (Internal Drives Only)
We installed Adobe Photoshop CS2 and configured the scratch file to occupy the first partition of the test drive. We then fired up the application and noted the time taken for it to open. We then copied two PSD files, one of them 550 MB and the other 1 GB, to the first partition of the test drive and clocked the times taken to open each of these.

Real World Tests: Far Cry (Internal Drives Only)
We installed the game Far Cry on the first partition of the test drive. We started the game and noted the time taken to load the first level completely. We chose this particular game because of a peculiar feature of the "CryENGINE"-Far Cry's game engine, with its rather large level loading times. The peculiarity is that when a level is loaded, the complete map and models are loaded to avoid hiccups during gameplay. It therefore takes a considerable amount of time and serves as a good measure of the hard drive's speed.

RPMs And Buffers
The Western Digital Raptors whirred away at rpms as high as 10,000, which was the highest amongst all the drives. This contributed to the performance of these drives during the actual tests. The rest of the drives had a stated rpm of 7,200.

Buffer sizes ranged from 8 to 32 MB. Hitachi's 1 TB behemoth was the only drive with a huge 32 MB buffer, which should theoretically help it when big file transfers occur, but in the tests we conducted, there wasn't a significant gain. All the Western Digitals and Maxtors featured 16 MB buffers, as also the Hitachi Deskstar T7K500, Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3500641AS, and the Barracuda 7200.9 ST3750640AS. The lowest buffer was 8 MB, and drives with this amount were nearly all from Samsung. However, in everyday operations, even this amount of buffer is sufficient.

1. The Synthetic Tests
Synthetic tests aim to give you the absolute limit of performance of a drive. They need not reflect real-world performance, and are a measure of the peak performance the drive is capable of delivering.

HD Tach RW
We used the 32 MB test in HD Tach with write-test enabled on each of the drives. Compared to last year, the scores were found to have increased tremendously, and the credit goes to the superior SATA controller on the Intel 965G chipset-based motherboard which we used this time round. The Raptors boasted the fastest speeds, thanks to their 10K rpm. The Raptor WD1500ADFD topped the charts with average read of 78.1 MB/s in the average write test; the other Raptor, the WD740ADFD, top-scored with 72.9. Next in line were the Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 and the WD Caviar SE16 WD5000AAKS with very good performance.

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000AAKS

Space, speed and value!

CPU utilisation and burst speed do not have much importance these days: CPU utilisation does not matter much because we have very powerful processors even in entry-level PCs these days, and burst speed has little significance as it only indicates the absolute maximum level of data throughput, which is almost never encountered in real-life scenarios. CPU utilisation of most of the drives hovered between 2 and 4 per cent, which is not much. The burst rate of the Seagate 750 GB drive was the highest at 248.7 MBps, again a step higher than what it did last year, probably due to the better SATA controller.
This is a new benchmark. It measures drive performance at a low level and returns a very precise measure of the performance. Like with HD Tach, in H2 Bench too, the Seagate 750 GB trounced the rest and posted the highest scores in the repetitive sequential read or "Core Test," which we conducted at 50 per cent of the drive capacity. It posted an impressive 206.3 MB/s, followed by the two Hitachis with almost identical scores of around 187.5 MBps. But when it came to read and write random access times, the WD Raptors once again came forth with the highest scores-quicksilver response times. Lower read and write access times means the drive should be able to speedily handle assorted data.

We saw mixed results in the PCMark05 test. While the WD Raptors scored very well in the XP Startup as well as the Application Loading tests, the SATA II drives finally started proving their prowess by emerging with the highest scores in the Virus Scan part of the test. The Maxtor DiamondMax 11 was the top scorer here, while the two Hitachis followed it closely. For some unknown reason, the Samsung HD160JJ 160 GB failed to complete this test, while the Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3500641AS could not complete the Virus Scan part. We tried to repeat the test several times, but to no avail.

SiSoft Sandra Pro Business 2007
We saw four top contenders after conducting the SiSoft Sandra benchmarks. The usual suspects, the WD Raptors, were at the top, but very close to them this time were the Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 and the WD Caviar SE16 WD5000AAKS, all with respectable scores breaching the 70 MBps barrier in the drive index. The scene was similar when we took a look at the sequential and assorted read and write indices.

The drive index is derived from the combination of the random and sequential read and write indices. It is therefore a measure of the drive's transfer rate, independent of the interface.

SiSoft Sandra also measures the access time of the drives, and the results yielded were not surprising. Both the Raptors were yet again the top scorers, along with both the Hitachis and the WD RE2 WD5000YS, with each drive exhibiting an access time of 6 ms.

2. The Real-world Tests
To find out whether the drives match up to the synthetic performance when they are put to work in the real world, we conducted a battery of real-world tests.

File Transfer
We transferred 4 GB of data, sequential and assorted, to and from the drive and also within the drive, and clocked the scores. This test simulated a real-world file transfer. We transfer files such as songs, movies, documents, and programs every day from one hard drive to another or from one partition to another. This test brings out exactly how well these drives perform in these routine activities.

To a large extent, the drives did match up to their synthetic test performance results. The WD Raptors scored well in almost every file transfer test, but there were others such as the Seagate 750 GB and the Maxtor DiamondMax 11 that did not disappoint either.

Internal transfer is the most stressful of all the file transfer tests, so a drive that excels in these is a real performer. As we'd expected, the WD Raptors, owing to their faster rpm and lower access times were the clear winners in the internal assorted file transfer test, taking just around two and a quarter minutes to complete. In the internal sequential file transfer test, the Seagate 750 GB took just over two minutes, followed by the both the Raptors and the Maxtor DiamondMax 11, each lagging by just a few seconds.

Application Loading: Photoshop CS2 And Far Cry

Here we noted the time required to open Adobe Photoshop CS2 with the scratch disk configured to be on the test drive, and we were completely taken by surprise. Two Samsung drives (300 GB and 400 GB) loaded Photoshop faster than the rest, even though the difference was just around a second. We then opened the 550 GB and 1 GB PSD files that were present on the test hard drive. The Western Digital Caviar SE16 drives as well as the WD RE2 WD5000YS were found to be the top three performers here. The slowest drives were the 400 GB drives from Seagate and Samsung, trailing by at least 15 seconds.

We then opened the 1 GB file, and the 74 GB Raptor returned to top position-to which it has gotten accustomed-taking just 68.5 seconds. The slowest to open the file was the Samsung HD300LJ, at 1 minute and 47 seconds.

Far Cry level loading times did not reflect too much variation. We probably need bigger levels to load to find a well-defined variation in the game loading times, or a newer game that can take the hard drives of today to their performance limits.

A Few More Things…
For those particular about their PCs being noiseless, we recommend the Seagate and Samsung hard drives. They generated the least amount of noise. When it comes to heating, the Maxtor drives and the WD Raptors would qualify as room-heaters during the winters. While it is understandable that such heat is bound to be produced at 10,000 rpm by the Raptors-they have also been provided heat dissipation fins on the sides-the Maxtor produces an equally large amount of heat for unknown reasons. These hard drives will therefore require a really well-ventilated cabinet, and the possible addition of active cooling would be helpful.

The Seagate hard drives came with the jumpers set to limit their performance to SATA I. This has been done by Seagate to do away with incompatibilities you would experience if the drive is connected to a SATA I controller. But if you have a motherboard with a SATA II controller, you must remove the jumper to unleash the full potential of the drives.

The Winners
Performance is given the highest importance when it comes to a hard drive buying decision, but price also has to be a factor.

There is no doubt that the Western Digital Raptor drives delivered the best performance, zooming past the others. But these drives are, incidentally, the most expensive, when you consider paise per MB, which is 7.69 for the 150 GB and as high as 10.58 for the 74 GB drive. A regular home user would not spend that much for this amount of storage. Therefore, these drives are only suitable for scenarios such as video capturing, where performance cannot be compromised upon, and when price is not a criterion.

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000AAKS

Space, speed and value!

The Hitachi 1 TB provides the ultimate in performance and capacity combined, and is a drive for the mainstream market. But consider this: at Rs 21,000, its price tag is even fatter than its capacity, and we'd advise you to get three 500 GB hard drives, for the same price (assuming your cabinet can take in so many). But as has been the trend, the price will drop steeply.

The Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS is 320 GB, and exhibited excellent performance. The paise per MB is just 1.47. Thus, priced at Rs 4,500, this one means very good value for money and therefore gets the Digit Best Buy Gold.

With equally impressive performance scores and a huge 500 GB of space, the Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000AAKS has a price per MB of 1.57 paise. Rs 7,500 is not too high for this kind of performance. We decided to award this drive the Digit Best Buy Silver.

External Hard Drives

When it comes to sharing your data or simply synchronising data between your office and home, external hard drives play a vital role. The best thing is that you do not need to open your cabinet to transfer data-just plug it into the USB port and play!

We selected 13 drives for this test. Of these, two were from Iomega, five from WD, three from Maxtor, one from Philips, and two were from Seagate.

Backup External Hard Drives

These drives are meant for large and frequent backups. Capacities start from 250 GB, and the prices are considerably higher, too. Most of them come with backup software of some kind and special features such as backup buttons. FireWire ports are common too. These drives are bulkier than those in the portable drive category (read on) as they seldom need to be carried around. System administrators, rather than home users, are the consumers for this category of external hard drives.

There was a 250 GB Iomega, a 500 GB and a 1 TB drive from Maxtor, three 500 GB and one 1 TB drive from WD, a 250 GB drive from Philips, and a 750 GB drive from Seagate in this category.

Capacities and RPM
Capacities in this category ranged from 250 GB to 1 TB. The 1 TB drives were the Western Digital My Book Pro Edition II and the Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo Edition, containing two hard drives each.

Western Digital My Book Essential

Great value backup

Being backup drives, a higher capacity is always preferred, considering the fact that even entry-level PCs come with over 100 GB drives today. All the drives had an rpm of 7200, and most featured a healthy 16 MB buffer, which is adequate for just about any purpose.

All the drives except the Iomega, Philips, and WD My Book Essential featured the USB 2.0 as well as the FireWire interfaces. The above-mentioned drives featured only USB 2.0. The other drives came with two FireWire ports, which lets you connect more drives in a daisy-chain, and does not require the computer to have more FireWire ports to add compatible devices. This can be used to either connect other FireWire devices such as DV cams, or to augment drive space by connecting more such drives. Some drives such as the Maxtor drives and the WD My Book Pro Edition and Pro Edition II even had FireWire 800, which supports a data throughput of 800 Mbps-twice of that offered by FireWire 400.

Advantage SATA
SATA is the de facto standard of hard disk storage today; the older IDE or PATA is passé. So what's different? Does it deliver what it promises? Is it really worth it or is it hype?

To start with, SATA drives support a faster data throughput than IDE drives. While IDE drives cap at 133 MBps (1.04 Gbps), SATA drives begin at 1.5 Gbps, while SATA II (actually, a misnomer-it should be called SATA 3.0 Gbps) can go up to, well, 3 Gbps. When benchmarked against IDE drives, it does show an appreciable improvement in the throughputs; these numbers are therefore not just on paper-you can see the performance improvement in real-life scenarios such as file copying and application loading.

SATA drives feature a four-conductor data cable that does not just make it slimmer, remain tangle-free, and enable better ventilation in the cabinet, but also a lot easier to attach.

Hot-plug is yet another advantage offered by SATA drives. This feature lets you plug or remove a SATA drive without switching off the PC. The SATA controller on the motherboard must support this feature, though.

Another important feature of SATA drives is Native Command Queuing (NCQ), which it borrows from SCSI drives. NCQ improves efficiency and performance. During normal reads or writes, commands arrive at the disk and are executed on a first-come-first-served basis. This creates a mechanical overhead when the read/write head has to be constantly repositioned. SATA drives make use of an algorithm to determine the most efficient way to execute this queue of commands to create the least possible mechanical overhead. This results in a general performance increase. This feature was initially only found on SATA II drives, but has since been incorporated in many SATA I drives too.

The Port Multiplier spec on SATA II allows you to connect up to 15 such drives to a single SATA controller via a port multiplier. Though this still compares unfavourably when you consider the number of drives that can be connected to Fibre Channel or Serial Attached SCSI (SAS), it will make it easier to build disk enclosures for SATA drives.

Port Selectors allows two hosts to be connected to a drive, thus creating a redundant connection to the drive. Thus, if one of the hosts fails, the other can take over and the PC will not go down. A home user will not be much interested in this feature, but the enterprise segment would find this very useful.

As you can see in this shootout, which featured a few SATA I (1.5 Gbps) drives as well, there is not too much of a performance gain with SATA II. Do not, therefore, expect miracles from these drives; they are just a tad bit faster in real-world tests.

The prices of both versions are the same, and further, most drives are backward-compatible with SATA I controllers. In case of any compatibility issues, you can even manually set the SATA II drive to function as a SATA I drive. It therefore makes sense to go with these drives rather than SATA I.

Download Latest Internal SATa Hard Drives PDF file

Bundled Software
EMC Retrospect was the software of choice of most brands. It came with the Maxtor drives, the Iomega, as well as the Western Digital My Book Pro Edition and Pro Edition II. This is a premium software that allows you to back up as well as synchronise your data with your laptop or PC. The WD My Book Premium Edition came with WD Backup, a proprietary backup software, while the WD My Book Essential came with no backup software at all.

The Seagate Pushbutton 750 GB came bundled with Bounceback Express which, in conjunction with the push-button on the drive, easily and conveniently backs up data.

The Philips SPD5110CC managed its backup using Nero BackITup, and as a bonus, also Nero PhotoShow Express to help you organise and view your image collection.

The WD My Book Pro Edition II and Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo Edition came with software that allows you to configure the twin drives inside in RAID. Therefore, these drives can be configured either as RAID mirroring for extra data protection (using data redundancy), or RAID striping for speed and performance.

Cables And Accessories
All the necessary cables were provided with the drives. This means you won't need to spend extra on cables after buying any of these drives.

Other Features
Volume-wise, the Iomega Desktop Hard Drive was the smallest, but the lightest drive was the WD My Book Pro Edition, weighing just 1.2 kg. These drives are comparatively easier to carry around than the bulkier drives; the Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo Edition, in particular, weighs in at 2.6 kg!

Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo Edition

Space, more space!

The Maxtor drives are ruggedly built with rubberised jackets that increase their ability to withstand mechanical shock. The WD drives, too, are very ruggedly constructed, and had rubberised edges. The Seagate drive has been designed in such a way that more such can be stacked one over the other, in case you wish to augment storage capacity by means of a daisy chain.

All the drives except for the WD My Book Essential came with backup buttons which, in conjunction with the backup software, let you create backups at the touch of the button. The backup button on the WD My Book Premium, Pro Edition, and Pro Edition II glows an eerie blue while data is being transferred, and serves as a capacity gauge that provides a rough idea of how much space is available on the drive.

The WD My Book Pro Edition II is user-serviceable, meaning you can open it and send the individual hard drives for an RMA in case of a disaster. Some drives such as the WD My Book Pro Edition II and the Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo Edition also feature a cooling fan that blows out heat generated within the unit.

The Iomega, Philips, and Seagate drives come with stands that let you place them in an upright position, thus saving on desktop real estate.
All the drives in the WD My Book series resemble extra-large reference books, and can be easily kept in either the horizontal or upright position without the need for a stand.

HD Tach RW
The drives performed almost on par with each other when we measured the random access times. The Seagate Pushbutton drive was one of the slower ones with 21.7 ms, while the others hovered around the 16 ms mark. However, the CPU utilisation was found to have a wide variation, with the Philips scoring 1%, and the WD My Book Pro Edition and Pro Edition II eating up 8%. The read and write speed tests did not show much variation across the segment.

SiSoft Sandra Pro Business 2007
Once again, as was the case with HD Tach, none of the drives emerged as a clear winner in SiSoft Sandra filesystem speed tests. It seemed the drives were more or less similar in terms of speed in both the assorted and sequential read as well as write tests. The Western Digital My Book Pro Edition and Pro Edition II drives were the slower performers, but we must state that we can by no measure term them as slow; the drive indices they scored were 28 and 26 respectively, while the best drive index was 30.

The access times of most of the drives were found to be somewhere in the range of 9 ms, and the slowest one in this case was the Iomega with 17 ms, which is twice as slow as that of the drives with the fastest access times.

Real-world Tests: File copy
In the 1 GB assorted data write test, the WD My Book Pro Edition II was the slowest at 58.67 seconds, while the Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo Edition exhibited, well, turbo performance, taking just 43.39 seconds. Lesser variance was seen when data was copied from the drive, that is, in the read performance. The fastest was the Maxtor OneTouch III, and slowest was yet again the WD My Book Pro Edition II.

The Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo Edition was the fastest, while the Iomega was the slowest when 1 GB assorted files were copied from one partition to another, and there was a lot of variation this time. This test pushes the drive mechanics to the limits. The Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo Edition took just a minute and 13 seconds, while the Iomega took too long-a minute and 43 seconds.

We then transferred the assorted files simultaneously to and from the drive to push the interface to its performance limits. Once again, the Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo Edition exhibited excellent performance, while the Iomega was the slowest. We can deduce from this that while synchronising or backing up data, the Maxtor OneTouch III will definitely do a better job.

Portable External Hard Drives

People who need to occasionally back up their data or swap data with friends and colleagues prefer lower-capacity drives-those in this category. These are typically lighter and hence more mobile. Internally, these have laptop hard drives instead of Desktop drives.

This category consisted of just four entrants; one each from Iomega, Maxtor, Seagate, and Western Digital.

Western Digital Passport Black

80GB The black puma!


Capacities And RPM
The WD Passport has the highest capacity with 160 GB, while the lowest capacity was that of the Iomega at 80 GB. The Seagate and Maxtor drives have capacities of 100 GB each. Even the lowest of these capacities is good enough for most of your backups and data transfers.

Barring the Iomega, which has a 4200 rpm hard drive, the others all sported a faster 5400. This was expected to be reflected in the tests, but as you'll see, that was not to be.

These drives featured only the USB 2.0 interface. The peak throughput supported by USB is 480 Mbps; you can transfer a 700 MB DivX movie in 12 seconds flat, at least theoretically, though the practical speeds are over twice as slow.

Bundled Software
We had not anticipated much with these drives (these being priced a lot lower than the Desktop External Drives) on the software front, but the Iomega Portable Hard Drive came with EMC Retrospect, a good backup software. The Maxtor OneTouch III Mini Edition came with Maxtor OneTouch Manager, which is equally good at backing up data. The WD Passport came with WD Sync. Seagate did not provide any backup software.

Cables and Accessories
USB cables were supplied with all the drives. In some systems, the power that the USB port supplies is insufficient to drive an external hard drive.

To remedy this, the Maxtor OneTouch III Mini Edition and Seagate ST9100801U2RK have a cable with two USB connectors to connect to two USB ports-one that carries data and the other that exclusively carries power.

Other Features
To solve the USB power problem in a way other than providing a two-port USB cable, all the drives except the WD Passport came with a power connector to which you can connect a power adapter.

When it comes to ruggedness, nothing beats the Seagate, which has a hard casing with an aluminium mesh on the side, which helps in ventilation. The Maxtor OneTouch III also seemed to be durable.

Thanks to the rubber jacket, it may even endure a "drop test." We didn't test this of course, not sure of what drive was inside, but it's reassuring to the touch. The Iomega had a simple casing, which seemed the weakest. The lightest of all the drives was the Iomega, which also has the smallest dimensions. The WD Passport is also sleek, and has a rubberised base. The Maxtor OneTouch III Mini Edition has a backup button, meaning backups at just the touch of one button.

HD Tach RW
While there was not much variation in the random access time, the CPU utilisation of the Seagate drive was the lowest at just 3 per cent. The Iomega and Maxtor drives took up 8 per cent of CPU time. These CPU utilisation levels are considered normal, but anything above 15 per cent means something isn't right.

The WD Passport was the best performer in the read test with 33.3 MBps, and the Iomega drive top scored with 27.1 in the write test.

Download External Hard Drives Test PDF File

SiSoft Sandra Pro Business 2007
For this synthetic test, we created a 32 GB NTFS partition on the drive. Very little variation was seen here: the drive index varied from the maximum of 29 for the WD Passport, to the minimum of 25 for the Seagate. Access times varied more, with the WD having the lowest (9 ms), while the Iomega and Seagate drives had 16 ms-these were the slowest.

Real-World Tests: File copy
Since there was not a pronounced difference in the scores of the drives in the read and write tests in the assorted as well as the sequential file transfer tests, we move on to the intra-drive transfer tests. The Iomega was the quickest here, clocking just 1 minute and 35 seconds for 1 GB; the slowest was the Seagate with a distant 1 minute and 56 seconds. In the sequential file intra-drive test, the Iomega and the WD were the fastest, taking just over a minute and a half, while the Seagate and Maxtor were neck and neck, with the slowest timings of around a minute and 51 seconds.

In the multitasking file transfer test, the WD was the fastest, and took just 92.89 seconds to complete the copying of 1 GB of assorted data. The Seagate took over two minutes for the same task, and its weakness in a multitasking scenario is thus apparent.
The Winners
The Western Digital My Book Essential packs in good value by providing a ruggedly-built 500 GB external drive at just Rs 8,300. The cost per MB works to the lowest of all the drives-just 1.62 paise. Even though it did not come with backup software, you can get one for just a little extra, and so this drive is worth every penny. It's therefore been adjudged the Digit Best Buy Gold winner in the Backup External Hard Drive segment.

Iomega Portable Hard Drive 80 GB

Sleek portability

The Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo Edition is large, at 1 TB; it provides you the option to configure its twin drives in RAID configuration-you can either opt for better speed and capacity or for data security via redundancy. The backup button makes it very convenient for you to take backups using the excellent EMC Retrospect software. This was the performance king in this category and that is the most important parameter here. This drive has got a wealth of features and performance and therefore bags the Digit Best Buy Silver. We chose this one over the others for the Silver award because even though it's expensive, at Rs 36,200, it's great if you're looking for sheer performance.

The Western Digital Passport Portable costs a tad bit higher (at Rs 6,500) than the others, but with 160 GB, boasted of the largest capacity. This gives it a very good cost per MB of just 3.97 paise-the best in this category. With excellent performance and coming with the WD Sync backup and synchronising software, this drive won the Digit Best Buy Gold award in the Portable External Hard Drive category.

The Iomega Portable Hard Drive was the lowest-priced drive in the portable segment. Its sleekness and lightness made it the most portable of all the drives. The EMC Retrospect backup software fetched it brownie points. With good performance in addition to all this, the Iomega Portable Hard Drive secures the Digit Best Buy Silver.

Closing Thoughts

The future is SATA all the way. With optical drives featuring SATA making a presence in the Indian market, the only reason for IDE to be still around is beginning to disappear. SATA 3.0 Gbps is already commonplace, and hot on its heels is SATA 6.0 Gbps. Not only will this new incarnation of SATA boast of superior bandwidth, it will also support connecting multiple drives to a single SATA port in conjunction with port multipliers.

SATA is already making its presence felt even in the external hard drive segment, thanks to External SATA or eSATA. Most external drives currently use the USB or FireWire interfaces that make use of PATA or SATA drives and bridges to translate between the drive's interface and the external ports. This bridging brings in some inefficiency. To get over this and increase data throughput, eSATA seems a viable solution.

This lets external hard drives achieve throughputs as high as their internal counterparts. eSATA requires motherboards with eSATA ports, and this is still fairly uncommon. But if a motherboard does not come with an eSATA port, it can still be upgraded by installing an eSATA Host Adapter Bus (HBA). Though this is definitely the next big thing in external storage, it is likely that it will remain alongside USB and FireWire.

We've tried hard to present all the possible purchase options available today, and we hope you're now in a position to make a better purchase decision. Though prices will always fall, you can't keep putting off a purchase just for that reason, can you?