250 GB Hard Disk Drive Round-Up
By Gabriel Torres on July 29, 2008
When buying a hard disk drive most users are only concerned with the drive’s capacity. Should you also care about performance? We compared the performance of nine mainstream 250 GB SATA-300 hard disk drive models from Seagate, Samsung, Western Digital, Maxtor and Hitachi. Is there a big performance difference among them? Is it worthwhile to pay a little bit more and get a drive with a bigger buffer? If so, which is the fastest 250 GB on the market? Check it out!
For this review we went to Newegg.com and bought all 250 GB SATA-300 hard disk drives we could find. In the table below you can see a table comparing the main specs for all nine drives included in our round-up. On all of them the discs rotate at 7,200 rpm and provide only a SATA power connector, except Hitachi Deskstar T7K500, which was the only model also providing a standard 4-pin peripheral power connector.
All 250 GB models we tested have a real capacity of 232.89 GB (488,397,168 sectors). As you may be aware, the capacity advertised by hard disk drive manufacturers isn’t the real drive capacity. Read our Hard Disk Drives Capacity Limits tutorial for further information on this subject.
The prices are the actual price we paid when we bought the drives last week and as you can see even though there are some price differences, they are minor: all drives can be found on the same price range, except Seagate Barracuda ES, which is a little bit more expensive as it is targeted to enterprise solutions, theoretically providing a higher performance.
Seagate bought Maxtor some years ago and the benchmarked Maxtor drive (DiamondMax 21 STM3250310AS) is identical to another drive from Seagate also included in our round-up (Barracuda 7200.10 ST3250310AS). So it will be interesting to see if there is any performance difference among these two drives.
As you can see most models have an 8 MB buffer, but we also included some models with 16 MB buffer. So we will be able if the larger buffer size really increases the drive’s performance. The comparison between the two Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 drives should be really interesting, as they are identical with the only difference being the size of the buffer. The same goes for the two Western Digital drives.
WD Caviar SE
WD Caviar SE16
Seagate and Maxtor drives come with a SATA-150/SATA-300 jumper. This jumper must be removed in order for the drive to work at SATA-300, otherwise it will work as a SATA-150 device. Of course we removed this jumper. For more information on this subject, read our Everything You Need to Know About Serial ATA tutorial.
During our tests we used the configuration listed below and the only variable component between each benchmarking session was the hard disk drive being tested.
We adopted a 3% error margin. So, performance differences below 3% cannot be considered meaningful. In other words, products where the performance difference is below 3% must be considered as having similar performance.
As you could see in the previous page, we measured performance using three different programs, DiskSpeed32, HD Tach and HD Tune. On this page we will analyze the results provided by DiskSpeed32, while in the next pages we will discuss the results brought by the other two programs.
First, let’s take a look at the burst transfer rate results.
Here Seagate Barracuda ES was the fastest hard disk drive, with Hitachi Deskstar P7K500 achieving close results. Drives from Western Digital, Seagate and Maxtor achieved similar results among them, with Barracuda ES being between 7% and 9% faster than the drives from these brands. The losers here were Hitachi Deskstar T7K500 and Samsung HD250HJ. For example, Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 310AS was 7% and 15% faster than these two drives, respectively, while Barracuda ES was 17% and 26% faster.
Having a bigger buffer didn’t provide a higher transfer rate here: the two Barracuda 7200.10 drives achieved the same performance, the same happening with the two Caviar drives.
But the most import result is the average transfer rate. Here Western Digital Caviar SE16 was the fastest hard disk drive and its 16 MB buffer really made a difference, with a performance increase of 26% over the same drive with 8 MB buffer. The higher buffer, however, didn’t make any difference for the Seagate drives. Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 and Maxtor DiamondMax 21 drives achieved the same results, which were close enough to the Western Digital Caviar SE16 for us to consider all them to have the same performance level.
These disks from Seagate and Maxtor were around 8% faster than Samsung’s, 16% faster than Seagate Barracuda ES, 21% faster than Hitachi P7K500 and Western Digital Caviar SE and 75% faster than Hitachi Deskstar T7K500.
As you can see Hitachi Deskstar T7K500 achieved a lousy result here.
The maximum transfer rate is achieved when the disk is reading data stored on its outer most tracks. Here Western Digital Caviar SE16 was again the fastest hard disk drive, providing a 15% performance gain over the same drive with only 8 MB buffer.
All disks from Seagate and Maxtor and Western Digital Caviar SE achieved the same performance level. So a higher buffer didn’t make any difference for the Seagate drives, maybe meaning that Western Digital has a better implementation.
These disks were between 4% and 7% faster than Samsung HD250HJ, 20-24% faster than Hitachi Deskstar P7K500 and 62%-66% faster than Hitachi Deskstar T7K500.
The minimum transfer rate is achieved when the disk is reading data stored on its inner most tracks. As you can see, the difference between the maximum and the minimum transfer rate is huge, and that explains why is so important to defragment your hard disk drive from time to time, to ensure that data is mostly stored on the disk’s outer tracks, which provide a higher transfer rate.
As you can clearly seen in the graph, the two Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 and Maxtor DiamondMax 21 achieved the same performance (let’s call them “group 1”), while Seagate Barracuda SE and the disks from Samsung and Western Digital achieved a similar performance among them (let’s call them “group 2”). And finally the two Hitachi drives achieved a similar performance among them (let’s call them “group 3”), which were really lousy, by the way.
Disks from group 1 achieved a minimum transfer rate around 76% higher than the one achieved by the disks from group 2 and around 218% higher than those on group 3.
Disks from group 2 achieved a minimum transfer rate around 81% higher than the one achieved by the disks from group 3.
HD Tach provides only two results, the burst transfer rate and the average transfer rate. We ran the “long bench” test from this program.
Here most disks achieved the same performance level, as you can see on the above chart. The only disks that were way off average were Hitachi Deskstar T7K500 (the other disks achieved transfer rates between 9% and 12% higher) and Samsung HD250HJ (the other disks achieved transfer rates between 17% and 21% higher). As you can see a larger buffer didn’t make any difference in performance on this test.
Here the two Seagate Barracuda 7200.10, Maxtor DiamondMax 21 and Samsung HD250HJ achieved the same performance level. These disks were around 6% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE16, around 10% faster than Hitachi Deskstar P7K500, around 14% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE, around 25% faster than Seagate Barracuda ES and around 63% faster than Hitachi Deskstar T7K500.Again the higher buffer made only difference for the Western Digital hard disk drive, where Caviar SE16 was 7% faster than Caviar SE.
Now we have the results provided by HD Tune program.
As you can seen on the graph above, we have three performance groups for the burst transfer rate. On the first group we have only Hitach Deskstar P7K500, which achieved a burst transfer rate 10% higher than the disks present on the second group: the other Hitachi hard drive and all models from Seagate and Maxtor. Then on the third group we have the two Western Digital and Samsung disks. Disks from the second group were around 14% faster than the disks from the third group.
As you can see having a bigger buffer size didn’t make any difference on this test.
On HD Tune the two Seagate Barracuda 7200.10, Maxtor DiamondMax 21 and Samsung HD250HJ achieved the same average transfer rate, which was around 6% higher than Western Digital Caviar SE16, 11% higher than Hitachi Deskstar P7K500, 18% higher than Western Digital Caviar SE, 25% higher than Seagate Barracuda ES and 63% higher than Hitachi Deskstar T7K500.
Once again the larger buffer size only made difference for Western Digital Caviar SE16, which achieved an average transfer rate 11% higher than Caviar SE.
As we explained before, the maximum transfer rate is achieved when the disk is reading data stored on its outer most tracks. Here the two Seagate Barracuda 7200.10, Maxtor DiamondMax 21, Western Digital Caviar SE and SE16 achieved the same performance level, with Samsung HD250HJ being between 3% and 8% faster than those disks. Those disks were around 16% faster than Hitachi Deskstar P7K500, 19% faster than Seagate Barracuda ES and 55% faster than Hitachi Deskstar T7K500. A larger buffer size didn’t make any difference here.
And finally we have the minimum transfer rate, which is achieved on the inner most tracks from the hard disk drive. Here the two Seagate Barracuda 7200.10, Maxtor DiamondMax 21 and Samsung HD250HJ achieved the same transfer rate, which was around 12% higher than the one achieved by Hitachi Deskstar P7K500 and Western Digital Caviar SE16, 34% higher than the one achieved by Seagate Barracuda ES, 43% higher than the one achieved by Western Digital Caviar SE and 54% higher than the one achieved by Hitachi Deskstar T7K500.
Here the larger buffer made difference for the Western Digital Caviar SE16, which achieved a minimum transfer rate 27% higher than Caviar SE.
We found out a lot of interesting information about the 250 GB hard disk drives available on the market today. In summary, not all 250 GB drives are equal.
For example, a higher buffer size doesn’t mean a higher performance. On units from Seagate we didn’t see any performance increase by using a model with 16 MB buffer, while with Western Digital models we could clearly see a performance boost in some tests.
The average user will be good with a Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3250310AS, which in our opinion is the drive that provides the best cost/benefit ratio for the average user from all nine 250 GB drives we tested. Maxtor DiamondMax 21 is the same drive with a different label, but at least at Newegg.com it is a little bit more expensive. This Maxtor model is also a great buy if you can find it for the same price or less.
Here is a breakdown of what we found out about each hard drive included in our round-up: