160 GB Hard Disk Drive Round-Up
By Rafael Otto Coelho on July 17, 2008
Today we bring a comparison between three mainstream 160 hard disk drives: Maxtor STM2160215AS, Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 160 GB and Samsung HD161HJ. Which one is the fastest 160 GB hard disk drive? Read on!
We decided to benchmark 160 GB models because this is still the standard for low-end and mainstream PCs. You can still find some 80 GB and 120 GB models on the market, but they seem to be vanishing fast. Also, whoever decides to buy a new hard drive to his (or her) computer doubtfully will buy a unit below 160 GB, since the price difference between a 160 GB and a unit below that is too small. Of course there is the option of buying a 250 GB or bigger model, but on this review we decided to focus on the low-cost market, leaving models with higher capacity for a future round-up (you can count on it!).
We compared Maxtor STM3160215AS, Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 160 GB and Samsung HD161HJ. Even though they come from different parts of the world (the first was made in China, the second on Thailand and the third on South Korea), they can be found on the same price range, USD 50.
In the table below we summarized the main features of the three reviewed hard disk drives.
Barracuda 7200.10 160 GB
It is always important to remember that the nominal capacity of a hard drive (160 GB in our case) isn’t the real capacity of the unit. This occurs because the hard drive manufacturers define 1 GB as being 1 billion of bytes (10^9) while in reality 1 GB represents 2^30 bytes or 1,073,741,824 bytes. All reviewed drives are in fact 149 GB units. If you are interested in this subject please read our Hard Disk Drives Capacity Limits tutorial.
All drives have similar features, except that the first two have a 2 MB buffer (cache), while the third has 8 MB cache. But will this cache four times bigger play an important role in performance? That is what we are going to analyze in this review.
But wait… Pay attention on the above pictures. Don’t you have a déjà vu feeling by comparing Maxtor’s and Seagate’s models? Well, they ARE the same hard disk drive. On the Seagate drive you can see, right below its serial number, its model number, ST3160215AS, the same number present on Maxtor’s. This isn’t a coincidence: Seagate bought Maxtor more than two years ago but kept both brands on the market. They, however, aren’t identical. In Figure 5, you can see their logical boards and, even though they look like the same the routing of the wires on the PCB are different. But is the performance the same? Check it out in the next pages.
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the hard disk drive being tested. Notice that on Seagate and Maxtor models we needed to remove the SATA-150 compatibility jumper to make them to work as SATA-300 devices. The model from Samsung came already correctly configured.
We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
As you could see in the previous page we used three different programs to measure performance, DiskSpeed 32, HD Tach and HD Tune. Let’s see the results.
With DiskSpeed32 we saw Seagate’s model burst transfer rate being 3.8% higher than Maxtor’s and 11% higher than Samsung’s. All hard disk drives achieved a similar maximum sustained transfer rate. Samsung’s model achieved an average transfer rate around 7% higher than the one achieved by the other two drives, which achieved similar transfer rates.
According to HD Tach Seagate’s model is again the drive with the highest burst transfer rate, being 11% higher than Maxtor’s and 3% higher than Samsung’s. All three drives achieved the same average transfer rate on this program.
On HD Tune Seagate’s model again achieved the best burst transfer rate, which was 6% higher than Maxtor’s and almost 30% higher than Samsung’s. The two “twin brothers” achieved the same maximum continuous transfer rate, which was around 5% higher than Samsung’s. All drives achieved a similar average transfer rate.
Our tests presented very interesting results, which however require an in-depth look. In a first analysis we can state that the three mainstream 160 GB hard disk drives included in our comparison have similar performance. If you are buying a 160 GB drive for increasing your storage space, replace a defective drive or to build a new system and you don’t see the need of more than 160 GB of storage space you can buy any of these three models that you won’t be doing a bad deal.
But from the theoretical point of view we had two surprises. First, the fact that comparing two virtually identical hard disk drives one of them (Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 160 GB) had a consistently higher burst transfer rate. This could be caused by a difference in manufacturing: it is possible that two drives from the same brand and model but from different production batches produce opposite results.
Our second surprise was the fact that even though Samsung HD-161HJ has a cache memory four times bigger than the other models (8 MB vs. 2 MB) it didn’t achieve a higher performance. In fact it was consistently slower than Seagate’s model in all burst transfer rate measurements, transfer rate that is dependent on the size and speed of the hard drive cache and also on the maximum transfer rate that the drive’s interface can provide.
Will we find these kinds of surprises on hard disk drives from higher capacities? Hold on…