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Western Digital Blue Slim 1TB HDD Review

AkG

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Western Digital’s Blue series had gone through a long and storied history and the new Slim edition brings its standards up to today’s expectations. With the recent proliferation of Intel’s ‘Ultrabook’ standard and other, similarly svelte personal computers, it is not all that surprising that storage manufactures would start thinking ‘small’ in a big way. Unlike the typical laptop or micro ATX form factor which can easily accept a ‘standard’ 9.5mm height storage device, thin and light notebooks and certain desktops have shaved every millimetre possible. As such, only thin, 7mm devices can fit inside, of which there are very few options to choose from.

For most consumers and system builders interested in a light weight design, SSDs are the de-facto standard but they tend to be expensive and don’t allow all that much storage space without getting into extreme price points. As such, they aren’t an acceptable option for entry level Ultrabooks. This is why 2.5”, 7mm hard drives were been created and continue to flourish.

Unfortunately, in past generations hard drive manufactures such as Western Digital were unable to offer much in the way of capacity if they hoped their creations would fit into the 7mmform factor. With the release of the all new, $139 Western Digital Blue Slim 1 TB drive, consumers looking for a high capacity, ultra small form factor drive need look no further as this is the “largest” 7mm option available this side of a budget busting Crucial M500 960GB SSD.


In order to fit a full one Terabyte of capacity inside such a small footprint, Western Digital has had to boost the aerial density over that of previous generations. While it does make use of two small 2.5” platters, each of them has an impressive 500GB of space. This increased aerial density certainly will not go to waste and may in fact help this power miser drive compete with some of last generation’s heavy hitters despite its relatively pedestrian 5400RPM speed.


Speaking of power consumption, it is one of the primary concerns for the segment Western Digital’s Slim finds itself in. Naturally, the low number of platters and 5400RPM spindle speed will increase overall efficiency but some additional features like on-the-fly input voltage control and a frugal controller.

If history is any indication, the Slim’s aerial density improvements should soon find their way inside a Black branded drive which should satisfy consumers’ cravings for performance above all else.


As you can see, 7mm worth of height doesn’t leave much room for anything besides the basics and this is reflected in the downright PCB. Even by 2.5” drive standards this is an extremely compact PCB which has had all components not absolutely crucial to the function of the drive removed.

Unfortunately while Western Digital has opted for a high performance Marvell 88i9446 controller, the Slim comes with a paltry 16MB of cache. While this should be more than enough for its intended audiences, this drive could have used every bit of help in the performance department due to its 5400RPM rotational speed.


Western Digital has included their dual stage actuators as well as their StableTrack technology. Dual state actuators can help increase precision and performance, while StableTrack augments reliability as the motor shaft has been secured at both ends. So while its components may have been cut down to the bare necessities, the Slim hasn’t skimped on the internal technology.
 
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AkG

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5,283
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 Intel DC S3700 800GB 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 formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

For all RAID testing an LSI MegaRaid 9240 was used; however all drives attached were configured as JBOD and MS Windows 7 built in drive management tools were used to create the RAID array.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory:
8GB Corsair Vengeance "Blue" DDR3 1600
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Intel DC S3700 800GB, Intel 910 800GB
SAS Controller: LSI MegaRaid 9240
Power Supply: XFX 850
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


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.



Write Performance


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.


For such a small drive these results are very good. The increased aerial density and dual actuators certainly helps things along in sequential performance, though the reduced rotational speed limit what these improvements can do. The end result is very good overall performance but one that could have been even better.
 
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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.



With the exception of a minor hiccup in the smaller sized read results, the WD Slim acts just like any 9.5mm drive. This in and of itself is very noteworthy as all those 9.5mm devices – including 7200rpm models - simply will not fit into devices this product can. Obviously Western Digital did not sacrifice performance in order to hit this much more aggressive form factor.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7 / AS-SSD

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.




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.


Now that we are into more narrowly focused tests, the Slim’s results are not quite as impressive as before. The increased aerial density certainly helps this amazingly thin drive outperform a typical 5400RPM 9.5mm hard drive but it still is not what we would call a barn burner when it comes to small file read performance.

Once again it is worth pointing out that this drive is holding its own against most larger 5400RPM and even some 7200RPM drives.


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, this amazingly thin drive’s performance is everything we have come to expect from a newly released 5400RPM HDD and then some. Thanks to its ultra-dense platters in some instances it can outperform older generation 7200RPM models and easily beats the previous 9.5mm height 1TB Blue which required three platters to hit its 1TB capacity.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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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.



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!


In these tests, a dual actuator combined with very dense platters isn't enough to help overcome the Slim's rotational speed disadvantage. While it can outperform certain older 7200RPM‘laptop’ drives it does noticeably lag behind most 7200RPM models. Worse still is the Seagate SSHD which is also a 7mm ‘thick’ drive is in an entirely different performance category.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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Firefox Portable / 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.




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.




Once again the increase aerial density and dual actuator technology does work wonders at making this relatively slow paced drive a decent performer. However, such performance boosts cannot hold a candle to what SSHDs or most modern 7200RPM2.5” drives can accomplish. Western Digital really needs to rethink their strategy and reluctance to go down the ‘Hybrid’ route.
 
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AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
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5,283
Conclusion

Conclusion


Western Digital’s Blue Slim is certainly a unique drive, one which will invariably appeal to system builders who want to maximize the capacity of lower priced thin and light notebooks without significantly increasing overall cost. On the other hand, its appeal to end users may be limited since few Ultrabooks allow for storage upgrades without a full lobotomy. Nonetheless, the Slim is still a great little drive which will do wonders for anyone looking to boost capacity of a slightly older notebook.

This is one of few 1TB 2.5” 7mm form factor hard drives and is arguably the first of its kind in a number of different aspects. By utilizing two 500GB platters and reducing the chassis thickness the Slim is both compact and able to offer some relatively impressive performance numbers despite a rotational speed of just 5400RPM. In many scenarios it traded blows with older generation 7200RPM models and proved why dual actuators combined with highly dense platters can make for a potent combination.

Unfortunately, capacity only counts for so much, especially when so many users are augmenting their capacity-limited SSD-totting Ultrabooks with affordable or completely free cloud storage solutions. Against even the most basic SSD, the Slim will feel slow and lethargic, particularly when loading programs or booting Windows.

Hemming the Slim in on the other end of the spectrum are hybrid devices like Seagate’s excellent SSHD Thin 500GB. While the SSHD may only have 8GB of NAND onboard, it too relies on a power sipping 5400RPM drive, has a 7mm form factor and easily outperforms any straight-up HDD, including the new 1TB Slim. It’s also some $50 less expensive. The question is whether you’re willing to sacrifice storage space for significantly better performance.

While we all know NAND modules are expensive and their addition would have reduced the Thin's capacity, we have to start wondering about Western Digital's reluctance to release a hybrid variant of their Blue series. Maybe that’s coming in the future, especially now that a partnership with SanDisk has been announced but for the time being, the Slim won’t offer the performance some may be expecting from a modern Ultrabook.

By creating a compact, high capacity hard drive, Western Digital has accomplished an impressive feat of engineering. However, until they successfully move towards a hybrid system], buyers will be forced to choose between the Slim’s capacity and the performance offered by competitors like Seagate. In this day and age, we’re almost certain most would choose the latter.
 
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