Six top hard disk drives for speed and capacity

You have to ask yourself whether you want speed, battery life or capacity?

Over the past few months, Computerworld has reviewed the latest in hard disk drive technology, from large-capacity 1TB models and energy-efficient "green" drives to solid-state disks that outpace their spinning disk counterparts on every dimension of speed and power consumption. For your perusal are six of the best drives we could find that you might want to consider for your computer or a friend's this holiday season.

Samsung's 64GB flash hard drive

The drive has the capacity to be your workhorse and is heartier than others in that it can withstand a 1,500G shock, and it has a mean time between failure of over 2 million hours, versus under 500,000 hours for the company's other drives. It sips power at just 1 watt when active, 0.1 watt when idle, and 0.06 watt in standby mode.

Samsung's 32GB, 1.8-in. SSD drive -- the fastest yet

At 32GB, its capacity hardly competes with the 1.8-in. hard drives inside current-generation 60GB or 80GB iPods or even the little 40GB drive inside the iRiver H340. As well, Samsung's SSD commands pricing that hovers around US$500 for just its 32GB model. But this is one fast drive with random data access times of 16.3 milliseconds and an average read of 30.6Mbit/sec. It's also quite miserly with a 10% CPU utilization rate.

Seagate's whopper of a drive -- the 1TB Barracuda

The odds are excellent that Windows will never again tell you that you're running low on hard disk space with this 1TB drive, and that alone might be worth the price of admission. Seagate Technology's latest data monster uses a Serial Advanced Technology Attachment NCQ interface and carries a rather sizable 32MB of cache.

Western Digital's 'green' RE2-GP 1TB hard drive

Western Digital's RE2-GP drive uses less power during startup, meaning that on average, you save US$10 annually on your electrical bill per drive. The drive is rated at a relatively common 8.9 milliseconds seek time and has a 16MB cache -- half the size of other comparable drives. But Western Digitals's drive has an average operational power consumption of just 7.4 watts, which makes it between 22% and 33% more efficient than its three primary competitors.

Hitachi's old-school 1TB DeskStar 7K1000

This drive doesn't boast efficiency, but its slightly lower platter density allows it to achieve better error-checking without the need for sophisticated firmware, and that translates into fast read speeds that rival other high-capacity disk drives that we compared it with. The drive's burst speed even tops that of Western Digital's speedy RE2-GP by a hair, and the 7K1000's average read is about 10% faster than the tested results of the RE2-GP as well.

Sony's flash-based notebook -- a road warrior's dream

Although this drive comes attached to a Sony Vaio TZ191N notebook, we thought it would be good to include on a comparison basis. Sony's 32GB hard drive capacity is tiny by comparison, especially when 6GB of that space is taken up by a hidden partition, this flash drive afforded us with 5 hours, 35 minutes of laptop battery use. Data-transfer rates were 48.7MB/sec. for power saver mode, 49.5MB/sec. for high-performance mode, and 50.2MB/sec. for balanced mode, all with the same 0.3-millisecond access time.

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