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Western Digital Scorpio Black 750GB 2.5" Hard Drive Review

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AkG

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It should go without saying that Solid State Drives grab most of the headlines but when push comes to shove, most people turn to the good old fashioned hard disk for the vast majority of their storage needs. This is especially true of laptops where in most cases only one drive can be installed and a diminutive 2.5” drive is relied upon for both capacity and application load time performance. For these situations which call for performance, massive storage abilities and a reasonable asking price Western Digital has their Black line which has just received a new addition: the Scorpio Black 750GB.

The latest Scorpio weighs in at a whopping 750GB of storage capacity and yet still manages to cram all that space into the typical 9.5mm 2.5” form factor. This really does make for some impressive platter density numbers and when you add in dual processors and other assorted features, the potential for staggering performance is definitely there. The price is surprisingly frugal as well since you should be able to get one for around $120 US.

With the onset of SSDs and even more forward-thinking hybrid drives, typical spindle-based products are in for a tough ride in the 2.5” form factor market. Nonetheless, finding a good combination of capacity, performance and price is still none too easy. Hopefully Western Digital has found the answer with their the Scorpio Black 750GB.

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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications

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AkG

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Advanced Format “4K Sectors” Explained

Advanced Format “4K Sectors” Explained


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There is one least feature included on the Scorpio 750GB 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). This feature will also help out “smaller” drives like the Scorpio Black 750GB.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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-capacity drives it no longer matters since physical storage space has been gradually reduced in overall cost.

Sadly, not everything is wine and roses with 4K sectors and the additional wasted space is not the biggest down side of them. The biggest downside is the potential performance impact of 4K sectors when used in conjunction with older operating systems.

As any SSD user will tell you, XP does NOT use a “proper” offset when it formats a drive since it uses a less than optimal 63bit offset. This was perfectly fine in the past but on any storage device that uses 4K sectors, this offset will cause issues since a single 4K write will use two sectors instead of one.

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. In addition this method is only used for 3.5” hard drives since the jumper pins on 2.5” drives like the Scorpio Black are for Spread Spectrum Clocking (“SSC” via jumper pins 1 & 2) and Reduced Power Spin-up (“RDS” via jumper pins 3 & 4).

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Since the jumper pin method is not available for some drives, the only options are software based solutions offered by Western Digital.

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.

Luckily, this issue was fixed since Vista SP1 so only XP users need worry.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Scorpio Black 750GB

A Closer Look at the Scorpio Black 750GB


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As you can see the Scorpio Black 750GB looks like any other typical standard height (9.5mm), 2.5” form factor hard drive. At this size, there really isn’t any room for deviating from the standard design anyways.

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Flipping the drive over we can see that much like the Seagate Momentus XT, the Scorpio Black 750GB has a full length PCB with no exposed chips. By having the fragile chips sandwiched in between the chassis and the PCB affords a good level protection and allows the metal chassis of the drive itself to act as a large heat sink. In other words, here too nothing stands out as different from the everyday.

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The single full length label does contain some very important information. While Western Digital claims that the Scorpio Black 750GB only uses 1.75 watts of power (during read/write), the actually absolute maximum is 0.55amp off the 5 volt line. This translates into a frugal 2.75 watts at time of absolute peak operation.

What is particularly impressive about these numbers is they are less than the advertised consumption of the previously reviewed Seagate Momentus XT 500GB and previous generation 250GB Scorpio Black (both of which are rated for 0.58a or 2.9 watts). More importantly this absolute maximum power rating of 0.55a is the same as our 500GB Scorpio Blue is rated for. Yes, this high performance model will in worst case scenarios only use the same amount of power as a 5400 RPM Blue. When you look at it this way, the Black 750GB’s power usage is astoundingly low.

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With the printed circuit board removed we can see that at its heart the Western Digital Scorpio Black 750GB consist of three main parts: a controller chip, a memory chip and a drive controller chip.

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The ram chip is a single Winbond branded W9425G6 JH-5 SDRAM chip. Interestingly enough, if you look for this chip on Winbond’s site it isn’t listed as a 16MB (128megabit) chip but rather a 32MB (256megabit) IC. We assume that either this information is incorrect or only 16MB of the 32MB is being utilized by the Marvel Controller.

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The controller chip is actually the same chip you would find on a VelociRaptor. To be precise it is the Marvell 88i9045-tfj2 controller.

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The controller chip is made by Texas Instruments and is their SH6601AF driver chip.
 
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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 Phoenix Pro 120GB 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 Vanatage.

For real world benchmarks 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.


For all testing a Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD5 motherboard was used, running Windows 7 64bit Ultimate edition.

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: 1090T @ 3.3 GHZ (turbo core set to 3.8GHZ)
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD5
Memory: 16GB Mushkin DDR3 1300
Graphics card: Asus 580GTX
Hard Drive: 1x G.Skill Phoneix Pro, 1x Seagate 3TB XT
Power Supply: XFX 850


SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):

OCZ Vertex: 1.6
Kingston SSDNow V+ 128GB: AGYA0201
OCZ Vertex 2: 1.24 (custom “full speed” SandForce 3.4.x firmware)
G.Skill Phoenix: 305 (standard “mass production” firmware)
Patriot Inferno: 305 (standard “mass production” firmware)
OWC Mercury Extreme Pro: 310 (standard 3.1.0 firmware)
Corsair Force F120: 2.0 (aka standard 3.4.0 firmware)
Mushkin Callisto Deluxe 40GB: 340A13F0 (custom full speed 3.4.0 firmware)
Seagate Momentus XT 500GB Hybrid: SD24
 
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AkG

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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.


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It really is amazing to see a “laptop” hard drive post an average speed this good. Those ultra dense platters, coupled a more efficient 4K data layout does make for one very impressive 2.5” product.


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.


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If we thought the sequential read numbers were good, the numbers the WD Scorpio Black 750GB hard drive posted in the write test were simply jaw dropping. This drive’s write numbers stay above 100MB/s to past the 375GB mark and really don’t go seriously into the upper 90s until 450GB point.

Let’s face it; up until the advent of SSDs, a “laptop” drive was considered an inferior compared to its 3.5” brethren and a certain amount of “lowered expectations” had to be taken into consideration. After all, a 2.5” drive that is meant to be low noise, low power usually resulted in drastically lower performance numbers. Well that has certainly changed since the Scorpio 750GB decimated previous Black drives and the best the competition has to offer as its average is about 19MB/s higher than the Momentus XT.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark Vantage

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.

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The all new Western Digital Scorpio Black 750GB once again posts some very impressive numbers. The 4K and 32 queue depth results were particularly noteworthy as they allow this 7200rpm drive to nearly match (and even beat) a 10,000rpm hard drive. Of course even entry level Solid State Drives walk all over the Scorpio Black’s numbers but they just can’t beat this little drive when it comes to capacity and price.



PCMark Vantage


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark Vantage, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of 8 tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista startup time to game load time is tested in these 8 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.

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Sadly, Seagate’s Momentus XT hybrid drive really does outclass the Scorpio here but this is to be expected as Vantage really is the first test suite that can highlight the difference hybrid hard drive technology can make. With that being said, the Western Digital Scorpio Black 750GB has nothing to be ashamed about.
 
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AkG

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AS-SSD / Access Time

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.

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Much like the Crystal DiskMark results, the Scorpio Black 750GB is simply outclassing the Seagate Momentus XT and really is once again trading blows with the VelociRaptor. This continues to amaze us and really goes to show how powerful the 7200rpm 2.5” Scorpio Black “laptop drive” really is. Just remember that AS-SSD doesn’t really allow the Hybrid hard drive to strut its stuff.


Access Time


To obtain an accurate reading on the read and write latency of a given drive, AS-SSD was used for this benchmark. A low number means that the drive’ data can be accessed quickly while a high number means that more time is taken trying to access different parts of the drive.

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As expected the latency of this drive is quite good when compared against other spindle-based products. To be blunt, this drive is the fastest 2.5” “laptop” drive we have ever seen and we really are mightily impressed by the numbers it continues to post.
 
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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.

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Much like nearly all the other synthetic test results so far, the Western Digital Scorpio Black 750GB posts some down right impressive numbers. To be frank, the power curve of this drive is simply insane for a 7200rpm 2.5” hard drive. If you take a close look at the read curve you can see that from the 2k size mark onwards it outclasses our 150GB VelociRaptor; and the write numbers are nothing to sneeze at either.
 
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AkG

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Real World Data Transfers

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 RAR file and a folder containing 490 subfolders with a total 21,080 files varying in length from 20mb to 1kb (10.00 GB total).

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


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As expected, the large file transfer numbers the Scorpio Black 750GB posts are darn impressive. They easily outperform all but the VelociRaptor and Solid State drives and simply make a mockery out of Seagate’s Hybrid hard drive. This is obviously because the 4GB of NAND on the Seagate is not enough to all it to work its magic on this test; leaving the Scorpio Black 750GB free to really show what a spindle & platter only based drive can do. Sadly, the small file numbers while good are not as impressive. Please don’t get us wrong they are still awfully, awfully good but in this new paradigm shifted Flash based landscape the Scorpio Black 750GB does fall back a step or two.
 
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