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Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB 2.5" Hard Drive Review

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AkG

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With the current PC market moving towards portable and small form factor solutions, the demand for smaller, more versatile components has ballooned. In late 2009 things were much different and when Western Digital announced their first 1TB, 2.5” hard drive, it was targeted straight at enterprise solutions. So while most consumers shrugged their shoulders at that release, the brand new Scorpio Blue 1TB will likely turn a few heads.

This newest addition to the Western Digital’s Blue series fit into a segment dominated by notebooks that demands high capacity and low power consumption for a reasonable cost. That’s to say it won’t be hitting the Scorpio Black’s performance numbers anytime soon but a price of $110 could make for a great upgrade path. Regardless of the fact it is currently one of the more expensive 2.5" hard drives on the market.


On first blush, this new Scorpio Blue doesn't appear to be all that special or technologically advanced. It is marketed as a moderate performance, 5200rpm 2.5” hard drive but there is more here than what first meets the eye. There is a pair of high density 500GB platters housed within its confines which actually makes the Blue 1TB one of the most cutting edge 2.5” drives on the market. If past experience is any indication, the denser platters of the Scorpio Blue 1TB should result in performance that could approach 7200rpm levels in some tests without increasing heat, power or noise envelopes. We should also mention that there is a 5200RPM version of this drive (with a product number of WD10TPVT) which pairs slightly lower performance with increased efficiency.


Even with the drive flipped over the Scorpio Blue 1TB it looks very similar every other standard height 2.5” hard drive. It has a full length PCB with no exposed chips which affords a good level protection and allows the metal chassis of the drive itself to act as a large heat sink.


Removing the PCB we can see that the architecture is also fairly typical with all the various chips laid out in a neat, rational manner with plenty of room between each of them.


The controller which is the heart of this device is the Marvell 88i9346-TFJ2.


The external RAM cache chip Western Digital has chosen to pair with the Marvell controller is a Winbond W9412G6JH-5 module. While this DDR400 CL3 chip rated capacity is 128Mb (or 16MB), the Western Digital Blue 1TB only takes advantage of 8 megabytes worth of it.

Interestingly enough, and unlike previous Western Digital drives, the motor controller chip is not a Smooth branded chip; rather it is a WD Nautilus.
 
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AkG

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Advanced Format “4K Sectors” Explained

Advanced Format “4K Sectors” Explained





There is one feature included on the Scorpio Blue 1TB 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 Blue 1TB.

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-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. Sadly the Blue 1TB does not support this solution, this leaves the only option being software based solutions.



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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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.


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 2400
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory:
8GB Corsair Vengeance "Blue" DDR3 1600
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: 1x Seagate 3TB XT, OCZ 120GB RevoDrive
Power Supply: XFX 850

Unless otherwise noted the drives used were:



5400rpm:
Western Digital Blue 500GB
Toshiba HDD2K11 1TB (12.5mm)
Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB (WD10JPVT)


7200rpm:
Hitachi 7K750 750GB
Seagate Momentus (ST9750420AS) 750GB
Western Digital Scorpio Black 750GB
Seagate Momentus XT 500GB
Western Digital Scorpio Black 250GB

10,000rpm:
Western Digital Velociraptor (HLFS) 150GB
 
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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 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.



While not quite in the same performance class as the 7200rpm drives, the 1TB Blue is still very capable for a 5400Rrpm, budget-focused HDD. It is not until well past the 400MB mark that the performance dips below 100MB/s. The ultra high areal density of these platters has already made its presence known.


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.



The write performance of the Scorpio Blue may be lower than its sequential read but it is still quite impressive since minimum write speed is awfully darn close to the Hitachi 750GB 7200rpm hard drive. Also, while the average write performance may have been noticeably lower, both drives are able to sustain 100MB/s or better performance to about the same capacity point. Namely the Blue – just like the 7K750 - was able to sustain 100MB/s speeds to basically the 300GB mark. For a 5400rpm, 2.5” drive this is remarkable performance.
 
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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.




While the ATTO read curve is very good for a 5400rpm drive, the write performance is slightly disappointing, particularly when it came to smaller file sizes.
 
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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.





It appears that this drive has been tuned for large file performance even at the expense of small file. Considering the Blue line has different priorities than their high performance Black line, this makes perfect sense.

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.



The PCMark 7 numbers the Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB are not only impressive, they are quite good for a 5400rpm drive. It may not be able to compete against the likes of the Seagate XT 500GB Hybrid or Western Digital Scorpio Black 750GB or even (oddly) the Blue 500GB, but it is able to beat a 7200rpm Hitachi 7K750. The only possible explanation is the difference in areal density, allowing this drive to negate some 7200rpm’s decrease latency associated with their increased rotational speed.
 
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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 64. 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.





Thanks to an above average 4k 64 queue depth showing, the Western Digital Blue was able to post higher in the charts than it would otherwise would have. These results, are a touch misleading as the single queue depth performance isn't nearly as good. For most consumers, single queue depths are going to be encountered more often than 64 queue depths and thus this drive will not seem as "fast" as the 64K queue results would lead you to believe. With that caveat taken care of, this drive is still very peppy for one sporting a rotational speed of just 5400rpm.
 
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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.



As with some of the synthetic tests, the Blue is able to post some down right good performance numbers. It may only be a 5400rpm drive, but this translates into only a minor to moderate reduction in performance compared to some 7200rpm drives. Of course, this was not all that unexpected as the areal density of this drive is well above average and the more data that can be packed into a smaller area, the smaller the performance impact is from having a slower rotational speed.


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 boot times, this 1TB 5400rpm drive may be a tad slow compared against 7200rpm devices, but the difference is not overly large; nor is this what we would consider a slow device for its class.
 
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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 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.





As expected small file performance is not this hard drive’s strong suit. It is only a 5400rpm hard drive and while these numbers are above average for this niche, the dense platters the Scorpio Blue 1TB can only take it so far. Luckily, large file transfers are an entirely different matter all together. This is this drive’s raison d’être and while we could wish for a touch more low file performance it is a very potent blend of performance none the less.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


In the 2.5” HDD market, Western Digital currently has a limited number of offerings across their Black and Blue series. The highly regarded Green series hasn’t made the jump into smaller form factors yet. This means the new Scorpio Blue 1TB finds itself in the unenviable position of trying to bridge a gap between performance oriented, sub-1TB products and high efficiency, large capacity drives. Usually a low power / acoustical footprint and massive storage space don’t go hand in hand but for the most part the Blue 1TB accomplishes this delicate balancing act quite well.

To meet its specific set of requirements for the Blue 1TB, Western Digital had to make some sacrifices which mostly center upon performance. The high areal density platters do go a long way towards alleviating the shortfalls of a slower 5400rpm rotational speed, at least in many of the synthetic tests. However, they just can’t completely overcome this drive’s limitations which resulted in slightly elevated real world numbers.

With the negatives out of the way, there really is a lot to like about the Scorpio Blue 1TB. It is currently among the elite few that can boast 1TB in a miniscule form factor and its benchmark numbers ranged from acceptable to impressive, which is no small feat a spacious 2.5” HDD. If anything, this will be a great choice for an OS or storage drive.

Western Digital has targeted their Scorpio Blue 1TB at a market that is hungry for storage space but it will also leave some potential customers with a tough decision. Do they pony up the $20 premium over the faster Scorpio Black 750GB or should they save some money by going for a lower capacity drive that has class leading performance? Unfortunately, that question can’t be conclusively answered but the Blue 1TB does seem to be a tad expensive considering the drives it is up against.


Pros:

- High Areal density platters
- Low noise
- Good read and write performance in many scenarios
- Decent real world performance
- Low Power Consumption


Cons:

- 3 year instead of 5 year warranty the WD Blacks come with
- Write curve is a low with small files as seen in ATTO
- Price
 
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