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Western Digital Black 4TB Hard Drive Review

AkG

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Recently Western Digital was able to show that they were well on their way towards recovering from the disastrous flooding in Thailand. Their lineup was reinvigorated by the introduction of an ultra fast VelociRaptor and the new RE series which pushed capacities to the astounding 4TB mark. Throughout this year, Western Digital moved forward on a number of fronts but the popular consumer-oriented Black series remained untouched but that all changed about two weeks ago when the Black Edition 4TB was unveiled.

The Black Edition 4TB (which is sold under the WD4001FAEX moniker) is currently considered Western Digital’s flagship model despite there being more expensive and higher performing drives in their lineup. Simply put, the Blacks are supposed to be the optimal combination of performance and capacity for the enthusiast market and this new model’s price reflects this mentality. At $339 it may be only $40 more than the 3TB version and a bit less than two Black Edition 2TB drives but the Black 4TB still represents a substantial investment. However, the competition currently doesn’t have anything that can compare in this capacity segment and the Black is still a good $120 less than the 4TB RE drive


In the past, consumers looking for such a large quantity of storage either had to make do with multiple drives in a RAID configuration or even live with the inherent limitations of Raid Edition models which aren’t made for mass market consumption in the first place. Thankfully, those days are now over. Western Digital has not only created a 4TB drive with previously unheard of performance in the home user marketplace, but they have also included nearly all of the RE series features. The only ‘missing’ are the ultra long factory testing and the shortened TLER, two things most consumers will not miss as the Black still has an industry leading 5 year warranty.


As with the 4TB RE, Western Digital has once again foregone the use of 1TB platters for this behemoth. Rather than requiring 4 platters to hit the impressive 4TB mark, the 4TB Black uses five 800GB platters to reach its capacity. This does have the unfortunate consequence of making it a touch more power hungry that it otherwise could be but according to Western Digital, the 5-platter design optimizes longevity.

From the exterior there is very little to differentiate the Black and RE versions other than the label. Both use the same 3.5” standard form factor, both use silver with black highlights and both even use a similarly sized PCB.


Even from an architectural perspective, there are very few differences between the Black and RE series. Like the 4TB RE, Western Digital may not have bestowed 1TB platters upon this drive, but they have given it dual actuator technology, 64MB of cache, and a Marvell dual core controller. The 64MB of cache is present in the form of a single Winbond W9751G6JB-25, 64MB DDR2-800 IC which has 5-5-5 timings.

To some, a 4TB Black Edition may make the more expensive RE look like an overpriced option but that isn’t necessarily the case. Western Digital’s goal is to continue a strict market to market segmentation so products from one area don’t overlap those from another. With a 1.2 million hour MTBF rating, extended factory testing and numerous other features specifically target enterprise clients, the RE will remain the go-to option for datacenters and other mission critical environments. Meanwhile, the Black edition may have slightly more pedestrian runtime figures but it should still be the perfect option for capacity-starved enthusiasts.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our testbed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the Vista load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being a Kingston HyperX 240GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks such as OS startup, Firefox reload and data transfer times. For data transfer we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.


All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formated to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory:
8GB Corsair Vengeance "Blue" DDR3 1600
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Intel 520 240GB, Intel 910 800GB
Power Supply: XFX 850
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


<i>For this benchmark, HD Tune Pro was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these storage devices. We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and thus we no longer included it. The most important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/4TB_Black/read.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

Write Performance


<i>For this benchmark HD Tune Pro was used. To run the write benchmark on a drive, you must first remove all partitions from that drive and then and only then will it allow you to run this test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/4TB_Black/write.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

While it may not match the numbers posted by the newest RE drive, the Black 4TB is still one of the fastest hard drives on the market. Compare and contrast these results to the last generation 2TB Black which averaged a mere 115MB/s reads and 109MB/s writes and you can see Western Digital have not been idle between generations. Unfortunately, their latest contender is noticeably slower than the 1TB per platter Seagate Barracuda 3TB.

So why the performance difference between the RE and Black in this chart? On paper at least, the RE's latency is slightly lower which may point to some changes in the dual processors' algorithms. It also seems like the Black has been engineered with quiet operation in mind since it was able to remain relatively silent when seeking across its platters.
 
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AkG

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drives read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second.



Once again the Black Edition 4TB represents a major improvement over previous generations. For the most part, it is everything you would want to see in a new high performance HDD meant for the consumer marketplace. However, it does appear that the firmware of the Black has been tuned with drastically divergent priorities when compared against its simbling, the RE 4TB.

The most noticeable difference is not in the read or write curves per say, but in the whisper quite operational acoustics. Unfortunately this noise reduction appears to come at the expense of a moderate performance impact. Most consumers will agree that this is a trade-off well worth making as previous Black generations were anything but quiet.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5 and size at 100MB.



For the most part these results are very good. The moderate reduction in sequential read and write performance is neither here nor there as this is still a fast drive. With that being, said the small file performance of the Black Edition 4TB is a tad disappointing. It certainly is greatly improved over past generations of Western Digital Black drives, but it is lower than the 4TB RE even at single queue depths.


PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.


A score of 2301 – or 16 less than the 4TB RE – was not all that unexpected. This drive has been heavily tweaked for a more balanced approach to performance vs. noise. This in turn does make it a touch slower than it otherwise could be.
 
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AkG

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AS-SSD

AS-SSD


AS-SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.






As with Crystal Diskmark results, the small file numbers of this drive is a touch lower than some may have been expecting from the latest Black edition. However, from a capacity / performance standpoint, these are still some great results.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER

IOMETER


<i>IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more End User centric we will be setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per HDD (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,3xk,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/4TB_Black/iom.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

As with all the other synthetic test results, these scores are decent but are lower than the 4TB RE. Of course, this drive is not meant for the Enterprise so such a good showing is notable. This goes double for the fact that the Black barely rose above a whisper even during heavy IO demands. Any way you look at it, that is impressive engineering.
 
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AkG

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Vista Start Up / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Vista Start Up


When it comes to hard drive performance there is one area that even the most oblivious user notices: how long it takes to load the Operating System. While all the other tests were run with a Windows 7 operating system, this particular test uses another older test bed's “day to day” OS (copied over to our new testbed) which has accumulated a lot of crud over the months from installs and removals. We chose the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line as it is the last program to be loaded on start up.


It appears that the moderate performance reduction which was highlighted by the synthetic tests appears to be real and does impact real world performance somewhat. At least within the chart above. It is doubtful that anyone would actually notice the difference between the top five drives in actual day to day usage.


Adobe CS5 Load Time


Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the such you get a really great torture test which can bring even the best of the best to their knees. Let’s see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible!



As with the OS load time results, the performance of Western Digital's Black 4TB is very good and a certainly represents a step in the right direction compared to older Black hard drives.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Portable Performance / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting Firefox to reload the last session upon next session start and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to easily recreate a worse case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it simple to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repetition, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up into a .rar file and only extracted a copy of it to the test device.



The noticeable reduction in deeper queue depth performance is why the new 4TB Black falls even further behind the 4TB RE. If you find a need for high ultra deep queue depth performance, the RE or even a Solid State Drive would be a more suitable solution.


Real World Data Transfers


No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it can not really tell you how your hard drive will perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks strive to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s true capabilities and to this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how its performance relates to real life use. To help replicate worse case scenarios we will transfer a 10.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy (set to 1 file depth) and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.





The more we test this drive the more we are impressed by it. It may not be the absolutely fastest drive we have ever seen but it is still very fast and amazingly quiet.
 
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AkG

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Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


While it is important to know how a drive will perform under optimal conditions, more realistic scenarios are just as important. Knowing how drive will behave when partially or even nearly full than when it is empty is very important information to know. To quickly and accurately show this crucial information we have first filled the drive to 50% capacity and re-tested using both synthetic and real world tests. After the completion of this we then re-test at 75% and 90% of full capacity.

Please note: due to the unquie nature of the Seagate Momentus XT it has not been included with these charts as the drive decides what to place on the NAND and keep performance elevated.


Synthetic Test Results

For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.




Real World Results

For a real world application we have opted for our standard Adobe CS5 test.



As with the 4TB RE before it, the Western Digital 4TB Black is the epitome of ‘quantity has a quality all its own’. It may not be the absolute fastest drive we have ever seen, but these charts only tell a small part of the full story.

The Black has – at the very least – 1TB of additional storage capacity over most other drives in the charts. So while the competition is sitting at their ‘90%’ performance level, the Black is actually able to blaze further ahead over a longer period of time since it will be operating with only 75% of its rated capacity filled.

When the amount of data on the drive is taken into consideration, a different result emerges: this new Black stays fast longer and only the RE 4TB can outperform it in an apples to apples comparison.
 
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