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Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB Hard Drive Review

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AkG

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Since today’s multimedia files eat space faster than many realize, capacity has become the premier selling point for hard drives rather than shear speed. After all, when you are talking about a product that is bred for the highest amount of storage space rather than a drive that houses an OS and needs to load items quickly, speed really does take a back seat. In most situations consumers have no issue if these massive storage drives sacrifice some speed for capacity as long as pricing is kept at a fair level.

This combination of size and a low price per GB is why Western Digital’s Green line has been so popular. The latest addition to this product range pushes things to the next level. With a massive amount of capacity on tap, the new Green 3TB seems to fit the bill perfectly but with increased space comes a unique set of challenges as well. One of the main issues some will encounter is the incompatibility of these drives with older operating systems like XP. Rotational speed has also been reduced to 5400 RPM. Nonetheless, pricing seems quite good at around $230 and this includes a Host Bus Adaptor which allows the Green 3TB to work with all OS versions.

As an added bonus, a side effect of this move towards massive drive space is increased performance but this is actually a byproduct of higher platter density rather than a new focus upon speed. Since Western Digital only needed four platters to reach 3TB, we are expecting to see boost as this means we are talking some ultra dense 750GB platters.

At this point, the only competitor with a 3TB drive - Seagate - has yet to release their monster as an internal option. The Seagate 3TB “GoFlex Desk” is actually a 7200 RPM external storage solution with slightly neutered specs in order to reduce its power consumption and heat footprints. Expect Seagate to release a fully-fledged internal version in the New Year but since many are pulling these drives out of their external enclosures, we’ll be including it in this review.

Since Western Digital has equipped this drive with a long list of features and technologies, it will be interesting to see how it performs against the competition. However, it is very important to remember this drive is targeted at users who don’t need copious amounts of speed but rather want a ton of capacity to store predominantly media files. So don’t expect the 3TB to set any speed records.


 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications



<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/WD3TBGreen/specs1.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
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AkG

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A Few Features Under the Microscope

A Few Features Under the Microscope


Western Digital uses a number of different features on their newest hard drives that can drastically increase life expectancy and efficiency. Unfortunately, the 3TB Green edition doesn’t come with dual stage actuators as this would certainly help it in the latency department. Hopefully, at some point in the future this cutting edge technology will trickle down to the Green line but in the mean time there are many other technologies hidden inside this drive.


NoTouch



As with all Western Digital drives, this one features “NoTouch” technology. This is a fancy way of saying your drive heads never touch the platters and during shutdown automatically park themselves. Except for a few of us old timers, can anyone really remember having to manually tell their hard drive to park the heads? It was a big deal back in the day…but now every drive does this. As for never touching the heads, it's same deal; if your heads do hit the platter it’s called “cow belling” and your HDD dies while making a very distinctive cow bell-like sound.


IntelliSeek



Another feature which is basically par for the course is IntelliSeek. What this features is and does is fairly simple to explain and yet it is still a very elegant solution to an age-old problem. On older drives the seek head would zip across the platter as soon as it could and then wait for the sector it needed on the platter to rotate around so it could read it, and then zip to the next one and wait. Rinse and repeat and you basically have an idea of how things used to work. What IntelliSeek does is calculate the best time to move the heads so that as soon as they reach their destination, the sector is in position to be read. This keeps the arm in motion so that its electrical motor doesn’t have to overcome initial startup resistance which requires on average three times the amount of power (and certainly creates more noise). Western Digital states this reduces vibrations and power consumption and we believe them as it is simply a better way of doing things.


StableTrac

Next up is StableTrac, which is nice to see in a more value orientated product line like the Green. StableTrac means this HDD has its drive shaft anchored at both ends, and not just on one end like was the norm not too long ago. This feature is used for reducing vibration and noise while increasing life expectancy.


IntelliPark



The last feature we are going to look as is a double edged sword called IntelliPark. For the most part we have no issues with the assortment of power saving features Western Digital has built into their Green Line. However this feature is one we really wished Western Digital had included a way to over-ride (preferably via a jumper pin like they have for Spread Spectrum Clocking and PUIS; two other less than perfect "one size fits all" options). What this feature does is give the Green line the ability to park its head after a certain period of inactivity (usually about 8 seconds). On the surface this is a great idea as it will further decrease power consumption by reducing resistance drag on the spindle motor but many setups and operating systems do NOT like this and it can cause issues. One of the best examples of this is MS Home Server and Linux, both of which throw errors and fits when Greens are used.
 
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AkG

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Advanced Format “4K Sectors” Explained

Advanced Format “4K Sectors” Explained




There is one least feature included on the Green 3TB we need to take a look at: “Advanced Format” or 4K sector formatting. This feature isn’t exactly new since it was implemented in the Green “EARS” revision but it is an integral part of higher capacity drives. While we will discuss the reasoning behind Western Digital’s (and other hard drive manufacturers) decision to change the default sector size from 512 bytes to 4 Kilobytes (4096 bytes) in the next section, there is a secondary side effect to this feature as well. Basically, using 4K sectors instead of the much older 512 byte sectors involves error correction or “Error Correcting Code” (ECC for short).

ECC is used overcome the inherent increase in noise that is introduced when making platters with higher densities. No matter how precise write and read heads are, the closer the bits are together the higher chances that there will be bleed over from one to another. In a nutshell, the bits are now so close together that when it goes to write in a given bit there is a small chance that the bit next to it will also be negatively impacted. Much like on a CD, ECC is literally additional bits added on to a sector that tells the controller what the data in a given sector should be and how to correct it if there are deviations.



By going to 4K sectors, not only can manufactures use ECC that is more effective (estimated at upwards of 200% more effective) but it also take up less space. The “claim” of taking up less space and yet being more effective may at first seem counter intuitive as it should take up just as much room in 4K sectors as it does in 512 byte sectors and be just as effective.

In the old 512 byte sector layout, each little sector had 40 bytes of ECC clustered at the end which was responsible for that particular sector. On the surface, one would think you would need 320 bytes of ECC for the new larger 4K sector but since the implementation of 512Byte sectors the algorithms behind ECC have become more refined and compact. By going with more advanced algorithms, the new 4K sector layout still requires one cluster of ECC at the end of a sector, but that cluster is now only about 100 bytes in size.



As an added bonus, 4K sectors are not only more compact but also quicker and easier to create and read. Since the hard drive controller only needs to make one ECC per sector but that sector is now 4 times as large, the overall ECC creation is faster. It takes processor cycles to create ECC, so the less time the controller has to work on ECC the more time it has for doing OTHER things. Western Digital estimates there will be a 7 to 11 percent real world increase in ECC read / write performance with a huge 50% increase in burst ECC speed.


Years ago when storage size was actually at a premium the less “waste” you had between files, the more room you could use. This additional wasted space was called “slack space” and was essentially useless as it couldn’t be used. Moving to 4K sectors obviously means more slack space, but with monster 2.5TB and 3TB drives it no longer matters since physical storage space has gradually reduced in overall cost. is not only plentiful it is also CHEAP) and the positives now easily outweigh the negatives.

Sadly, not everything is wine and roses with 4K sectors and the additional wasted space is not the biggest down side either. In the next section we will go over these negative points and how Western Digital overcame them.
 
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AkG

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MBR Limitations, 4K sectors and WD’s Answer to it All

MBR Limitations, 4K sectors and WD’s Answer to it All




As many storage enthusiast’s know, the most widely used disk partitioning scheme for PCs using Windows based operating systems is the Master Boot Record (or “MBR” for short). The MBR has been around for a long time and while it has never been considered the best way of doing things, this 32-bit addressing scheme worked and provided enough “future proofing” that nothing else really was so much better to replace it as the de facto standard. While the MBR is fairly flexible, it can only address 232 logical addresses and thus handle a maximum of 2TB per “drive” (512 bytes per sector multiplied by 2 to the 32nd power). Even splitting a larger than 2TB drive into multiple partitions will not work as the last starting sector can only be “up to” the 2TB (232 sectors) mark. At best the operating system would ignore the rest of the space which would literally turn an expensive large capacity drive into one with reduced storage space.

Anyone who has ever used RAID knows that 2TB partitions are not all that large. Some very smart people also realized this and thus the GUID Partition Table (or GPT for short) scheme was created. Over the past couple of years, GPT has started to gain traction in certain circles but still really hasn’t caught on yet. In addition, GPT is not backwards compatible, not universally bootable and not even an option for Windows XP 32-bit users. As such, these larger drives are useless for XP and other MBR-only based systems.

The answer Western Digital and their competitors have come up with entails a multi-stage approach. The first part of the solution was to change the sector size from 512 bytes to 4 KB on the hard drives. This means the 2TB limitation no longer applies….in a roundabout way. You can still only have a 32-bit (2TB) size partition on XP 32-bit but other partitions can then be added so instead of an equation of “29 X 232 = 2TB (2,199,023,255,040 bytes)” it now becomes possible to have “212 X 232 = 16TB (17,592,186,040,320 bytes)”. Basically, additional partitions can be added until that 16TB limit.



On paper this may sound perfect since in one fell swoop it allows larger drives to be used with basically every operating system. Sadly, the BIOS is still expecting the sector size to be 512 bytes. This means most PCs can’t use these drives unless the motherboard uses an AHCI compliant Host Bus Adapter which understands 4K logical sectors and can translate the drive’s 4K sectors into the 512 bytes the system is expecting.

This is not a big deal for a Green drive, as they are storage only drives and are not going to be used my many as a boot drive. However, Western Digital likes to use their Green drives as bell-weathers to see what consumers are willing to do before they implement it on their 7200 RPM flagship Black series. Much like they worked out all the kinks with 4K sector drives before the need for them (the WD EARS line was the first to use them) they are now working out the kinks before the release of high performance 3TB products.


Western Digital’s answer to the above-mentioned issue is straightforward: they include a two port x1 PCI-E HBA adapter with every 2.5 and 3TB drive. To us, this is the perfect solution as it makes these massive capacity drives bootable and allows them to see what will and will not be accepted by consumers before taking any risks on the Black series. The HBA Western Digital opted for is the HighPoint PCI-E x1 RocketRaid 622. This little two port SATA controller not only supports 4K logical addressing but also is bootable. We tried it out on several systems from 775, 1156, AM3 to 1366 and it would boot with ANY hard drive attached to it.


This “RocketRaid” product uses the exact same Marvell 88SE9128 controller as the Asus U3S6 stand-alone card so it is a very good solution, it is motherboard agnostic. To put this into perspective, when bought separately the RocketRaid 622 retails for upwards of $60 so the fact that it’s included with this drive speaks volumes about Western Digital’s push towards absolute value for your money.


Sadly, the 622 doesn’t address the problem with older operating systems. As any Solid State Drive enthusiast will tell you, XP doesn’t use a “proper” offset when it formats a drive. It uses an archaic 63-bit offset which was perfectly fine a few years ago but it screws the pooch on 4K sectors as a single 4K write will use two sectors instead of on.

Western Digital has had some time to work out multiple solutions to this issue; one of which is through the use of a simple jumper pin. By inserting an included jumper, the hard drive will do a logical offset correction. The upside to this is XP will specify an improper offset of 63 and the drive will automatically set about writing correct offsets. The downside is once you set the jumper you MUST use it unless you want to reformat your drive.


The jumper method was the original solution Western Digital came out with and while it is still present here on the new EZRS drives, they have also offered two free downloads to simplify our lives.

Basically, they offer two partition managers (one from Acronis and one from Paragon) which will check the offset of a drive and either fix it (without being data destructive) or keep things as they are if no problems are detected. It is fast, easy and extremely easy to use.

This software based option coupled with a secondary hardware-based solution means consumers are covered as long as they actually remember to implement either one of them. Luckily, this issue has been fixed on newer OSes since Vista SP1 so only XP users need worry. Then again if you are using Vista or Windows 7 you are most likely going to use GPT to initialize the disk so the entire 3TB of space can be accessible in one partition.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB

A Closer Look at the Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB



Unlike the previous 2TB Green model we reviewed awhile back the all new Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB doesn’t look like a “Black” series drive with a green sticker on it. In fact, the 3TB Green looks a lot more like what the older Green products.


Unlike the slightly plainer ascetics, the weight of this drive is very similar which means it is actually quite heavy. The reason it has such a hefty feel to it is that just like the previous Green 2TB model, the 3TB version uses FOUR platters to reach its stated storage capacity. This may not sound like such an amazing feat, but this is only one of a handful of drives which can boast 750GB platters.

Of course, with all that being said this drive is “only” 3,000,000,000,000 bytes and not 3TiB (i.e. 3 298 534 883 328 bytes) so your OS will only show it as an approximately “2.71 TB” drive.


The fact that Western Digital was able to boost storage capacity a full 50% in one generation is quite astonishing. However, the fact that this new 3TB drive draws no more power than its 2TB sibling is downright amazing. To be specific, just like the 2TB “EADS” model, the 3TB EZRS Green is rated to draw a maximum of 0.45 amps off the 12V line (5.4 watts) and 0.60 amps off the 5 volt line (3 watts), for a combined total of 8.4 watts. On a single drive basis, this may not sound like much but for people with storage arrays of 5 or more HDDs, buying a 3TB Green could be quite beneficial from a capacity per watt perspective.


Moving on to the PCB itself, you can see that while it is smaller than the one on the Caviar Green 2TB, it is basically the same single sided PCB. It has the same thee crucial features consisting of a controller, external ram cache and hardware controller but we did not expect to see much in the way of hardware changes anyways.


It is sad to see that Western Digital did not take the time to upgrade the single core controller to a dual core. It seems that dual core controllers are going to stay the domain of Western Digital’s “performance” lines for at least another generation. While the Marvell 88i9146 found on our Caviar Green 3TB is a slightly newer revision of the one found on the previous generation (88i945), not much has changed. This is still a single core SATA 2 controller and while a very decent choice is not going to produce any noticeable performance difference from other Green series products.


While the Marvell controller did get a slight revision change over the past generations, the same can’t be said about the motor controller since the Caviar Green 3TB uses the exact same SMOOTH L7251 3.1 chip.


When it comes to the cache on the Caviar 3TB, we knew it was going to be different as our EADS model came with only 32MB of cache and the newest EZRS 3TB has 64MB. Unlike the 32MB Winbond module, the Caviar Green 3TB uses a Hynix 5DU5162ETR-E3C 64MB DDR chip. Where this is the –E3 chip, it means this particular one is rated for a maximum speed of 200mhz @ CL3.
 
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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a hard 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 to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for SSDs 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 XP 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 WD 320 single platter drive.

For these tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HDTune, Cystal Disk Benchmark, h2benchw, SIS Sandra Removable Storage benchmark, and IOMeter for synthetic benchmarks.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long XP startup took, Adobe CS3 (w/ enormous amounts of custom brushes installed) took, how long a single 4GB rar file took to copy to and then from the hard drives, then copy to itself. We also used 1gb of small files (from 1kb to 20MB) with a total 2108 files in 49 subfolders.

For the temperature testing, readings are taken directly from the hottest part of the drive case using a Digital Infrared Thermometer. The infrared thermometer used has a 9 to 1 ratio, meaning that at 9cm it takes it reading from a 1 square cm. To obtain the numbers used in this review the thermometer was held approximately 3cm away from the heatsink and only the hottest number obtained was used.


Please note to reduce variables the same Windows XP OS image was used for all the hard drives.

For all testing a Gigabyte GA-P35-DS4 motherboard was used. The ICH9 controller on said motherboard was used.

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

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 2.4 GHZ
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-P35-DS4
Memory: 4GB G.Skill PC2-6400
Graphics card: Asus 8800GT TOP
Hard Drive: 1x WD 320
Power Supply: Seasonic S12 600W
 
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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture.

We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and this goes double for SSD based drives. The main reason we include it is to show what under perfect conditions a given drive is capable of; but the more 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.




As you can see the average read performance of this drive is VERY impressive for one rotating at a mere 5400 RPMs. We are seeing about a 12MB/s average increase from the 2TB Green (EADS which is the last model before 4K sectors was introduced) to the 3TB Green (EZRS). It appears that advanced formatting coupled with a MUCH denser platter arrangement is a very good combination.


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.

Please note:
To obtain accurate results on the 3TB drives, Windows 7 (in IDE mode) on the testbed was used. This was necessary so as to allow us to intilize the drive using GPT (rather than MBR).




As with the sequential read speed, the sequential write speed of this drive is pretty darn good. Once again, the 3TB’s numbers are better than what the older Blacks could do and to be blunt, the minimum write speed is actually pretty impressive…for a low speed 3TB drive.
 
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Crystal DiskMark / Random Access Time

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. When all 5 tests for a given section were run Crystal DiskMark then takes the best out of all 5 numbers to give a result for that section.





Once again we are seeing a respectable performance boost over past generations of Western Digital drives. Sadly, this Green drive puts additional emphasis on efficiency and thus is getting soundly thrashed by the faster, power powerful Seagate 3TB. Though this really isn’t a fair comparison as the Seagate XT line is meant to compete against the BLACK line and doesn't even exist yet without its accompanying external enclosure.


Random Access Time


To obtain the absolute, most accurate Random access time, h2benchw was used for this benchmark. This benchmark tests how quickly different areas of the drive’s memory can be accessed. A low number means that the drive space can be accessed quickly while a high number means that more time is taken trying to access different parts of the drive. To run this program, one must use a DOS prompt and tell it what sections of the test to run. While one could use “h2benchw 1 -english -s -tt "harddisk test" -w test” for example and just run the seek tests, we took the more complete approach and ran the full gamout of tests and then extracted the necessary information from the text file. This is the command line argument we used “h2benchw 1 -a -! -tt "harddisk drivetest" -w drivetest”. This tells the program to write all results in english, save them in drivetest txt file, do write and read tests and do it all on drive 1 (or the second drive found, with 0 being the OS drive).



While the random access performance of this drive is still not what we would call steallar, it is nice to see a marked improvement over the older versions. Otherwise, it is still not recommended as a primary OS drive.

This really is not being fair to this drive, as it is meant to be a storage only device and as such a couple extra milliseconds is inconsequential. In return for a slightly longer pause you do get 3TB of storage.
 
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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, we are actually pretty impressed with this drive's performance. The power curve of the 3TB Green might not even be in the same league as the 3TB Seagate, but it IS better than not only last generation Greens but just as good as older generation Black-series drives as well
 
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