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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

When buying a hard disk drive most users are only concerned with the drive’s capacity. Should you also care about performance? We compared the performance of ten 500 GB SATA-300 hard disk drive models from Seagate, Samsung, Western Digital and Hitachi. Is there a big performance difference among them? Is it worthwhile to pay a little bit more and get a drive with a bigger buffer? If so, which is the fastest 500 GB drive on the market? Check it out!

We tried to include on this review all 500 GB hard disk drives we could find on the US market. In the table below you can see a comparison between the main specs for all ten drives included in our round-up. Nine of them rotate at 7,200 rpm – the exception is Western Digital Caviar GP, which is a “green” hard disk drive with rotational speed varying between 5,400 rpm and 7,200 rpm depending on the usage in order to save energy. All drives included in our round-up use a SATA power connector.

All 500 GB models we tested have a real capacity of 465.76 GB (976,773,168 sectors). As you may be aware, the capacity advertised by hard disk drive manufacturers isn’t the real drive capacity. Read our Hard Disk Drives Capacity Limits tutorial for further information on this subject.

Keep in mind that some of the drives included in our review are not primarily targeted to the end-user market and thus are a little bit more expensive. Seagate SV35.3 is targeted to digital video surveillance systems while Seagate ES.2, Western Digital RE.2 and RE.3 drives are targeted to the enterprise market. But it will be interesting to see how these drives that in theory have a higher reliability and transfer rate compare to mainstream units.

Manufacturers are using three different buffer sizes for 500 GB hard disk drives: 8 MB, 16 MB and 32 MB. It will be very interesting to compare drives with different buffer sizes to see if this feature really impacts performance.

Manufacturer Model Model # Buffer Price
Hitachi Deskstar P7K500 HDP725050GLA360 16 MB USD 59.99 *
Samsung Spinpoint F1 DT HD502IJ 16 MB USD 74.00 ^
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST3500320AS 32 MB USD 69.99 *
Seagate Barracuda ES.2 ST3500320NS 32 MB USD 89.99 *
Seagate SV35.3 ST3500320SV 32 MB USD 89.99 *
Western Digital Caviar GP WD5000AACS 16 MB USD 64.99 *
Western Digital Caviar SE WD5000AAJS 8 MB USD 64.99 *
Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000AAKS 16 MB USD 69.99 *
Western Digital RE2 WD5001ABYS 16 MB USD 94.90 ^
Western Digital RE3 WD5002ABYS 16 MB USD 86.00 ^

*Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.

^Researched at ZipZoomfly.com on the day we published this review.

As for prices, we always try to research them on the same online store on the day we publish the review for a better comparison, as prices can vary wildly (for example, the same Caviar GP that is sold by USD 64.99 at Newegg.com is found at USD 123.99 at Best Buy, practically the double), but sometimes the store we decide to use for comparison doesn’t carry all models we included in our round-up.

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 and Seagate Barracuda ES.2 came with a SATA-150/SATA-300 jumper. This jumper must be removed in order for the drive to work at SATA-300, otherwise it will work as a SATA-150 device. Of course we removed this jumper. For more information on this subject, read our Everything You Need to Know About Serial ATA tutorial.

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]

During our tests we used the configuration listed below and the only variable component between each benchmarking session was the hard disk drive being tested.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

  • Windows XP Professional using NTFS file system
  • Service Pack 3
  • Intel Inf driver version: 9.0.0.1008
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 175.19

Benchmarking Software

We adopted a 3% error margin. So, performance differences below 3% cannot be considered meaningful. In other words, products where the performance difference is below 3% must be considered as having similar performance.

[nextpage title=”DiskSpeed32″]

As you could see in the previous page, we measured performance using three different programs, DiskSpeed32, HD Tach and HD Tune.  On this page we will analyze the results provided by DiskSpeed32, while in the next pages we will discuss the results brought by the other two programs.

First, let’s take a look at the burst transfer rate results.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

Here Seagate Barracuda ES.2, Seagate SV35.3, Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 and Samsung HD502IJ achieved the highest performance level. These drives were, on average, 3% faster than Hitachi Deskstar P7K500, 8% faster than Western Digital RE3, 17% faster than Western Digital Caviar GP, 27% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE16, 30% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE and 35% faster than  Western Digital RE2.

If you pay attention on the above chart you will see how interesting that we had all Seagate drives on the top – because all them have 32 MB buffer instead of 16 MB or 8 MB like other models –, all Western Digital drives on the bottom and Samsung and Hitachi models in between.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

But the most import result is the average transfer rate. Here Western Digital RE3 made all other models to eat dust: it was 14% faster than Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 and Seagate SV35.3, 20% faster than Seagate Barracuda ES.2, 30% faster than Samsung HD502IJ and 41% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE16. This model, however, is targeted to the enterprise market and thus more expensive.

On the mainstream arena, the best drive on this test was Seagate Barracuda 7200.11, which was 14% faster than Samsung HD502IJ, 24% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE16, 31% faster than Western Digital Caviar GP and 37% faster than Wester Digital Caviar SE. The reviewed model from Samsung was 4% faster than Western Digital SE16, 15% faster than Western Digital Caviar GP and 21% faster than Caviar SE. Western Digital Caviar SE16 was 6% faster than Caviar GP and 11% faster than Caviar SE.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

The maximum transfer rate is achieved when the disk is reading data stored on its outer most tracks. Here the hard drive from Hitachi achieved the highest transfer rate but this wasn’t enough to make this drive the fastest on average transfer rate (this is exactly the same thing that happened with Hitachi models with lower capacities that we have already reviewed).

Western Digital RE3 and Samsung HD502IJ achieved a similar maximum transfer rate (let’s call them “group 1”), while Seagate Barracuda 7200.11, Seagate SV35.3 and Seagate Barracuda ES.2 achieved a similar maximum transfer rate among themselves (let’s call them “group 2”). Then we have a third group of disks that achieved similar results among themselves: Western Digital RE2, Western Digital Caviar SE16 and Western Digital Caviar GP. The worst disk on this test was Western Digital SE, probably due to its lower buffer (8 MB).

Disks from the first group were, on average, 15% faster than the disks from the second group and 39% faster than disks from the third group. Disks from the second group were, on average, 20% faster than disks from the third group.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

The minimum transfer rate is achieved when the disk is reading data stored on its inner most tracks. As you can see, the difference between the maximum and the minimum transfer rate is huge, and that explains why is so important to defragment your hard disk drive from time to time, to ensure that data is mostly stored on the disk’s outer tracks, which provide a higher transfer rate.

Here once again Western Digital RE3 was the fastest hard disk drive included in our round-up. Other drives from Western Digital also achieved a good minimum transfer rate, and unfortunately Samsung HD502IJ achieved the lowest one and that is probably what pushed down its average transfer rate.

Just to give you some numbers, the minimum transfer rate achieved by Western Digital Caviar SE16 was 17% higher than the one achieved by Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 and 107% higher than the one achieved by Samsung HD502IJ.

[nextpage title=”DiskSpeed32: Read Curves”]

If you are interested, you can find below the read curves plotted by DiskSpeed32 for each hard disk drive tested.

Hitachi Deskstar P7K500Hitachi Deskstar P7K500Samsung Spinpoint F1 DTSamsung Spinpoint F1 DTSeagate Barracuda 7200.11Seagate Barracuda 7200.11Seagate Barracuda ES.2Seagate Barracuda ES.2Seagate SV35.3 Seagate SV35.3Western Digital Caviar GPWestern Digital Caviar GP Western Digital Caviar SEWestern Digital Caviar SE Western Digital Caviar SE16Western Digital Caviar SE16Western Digital RE2 Western Digital RE2Western Digital RE3 Western Digital RE3

[nextpage title=”HD Tach”]

HD Tach
provides only two results, the burst transfer rate and the average transfer rate. We ran the “long bench” test from this program.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

HD Tach confirmed what we had seen with DiskSpeed32: 500 GB hard disk drives from Seagate achieved a higher burst transfer rate due to their larger buffer (32 MB). Disks from Western Digital were the ones with the lower burst rates, with disks from Samsung and Hitachi between Seagate’s and Western Digital’s.

The three drives from Seagate were, on average, 5% faster than Samsung HD502IJ, 8% faster than Western Digital RE3, 10% faster than Western Digital Caviar GP and 22% faster than Western Digital Caviar 16.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

Average transfer is certainly the most important parameter for the regular PC user and on HD Tach Western Digital RE3, Seagate SV35.3 and Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 were the fastest 500 GB hard disk drives, achieving a similar average transfer rate. As mentioned before, Western Digital RE3 is targeted to the enterprise market, Seagate SV35.3 is targeted to digital surveillance systems and Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 is targeted to the mainstream market.

These three disks were, on average, 12% faster than Hitachi Deskstar P7K500, 21% faster than Samsung HD502IJ and 41% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE16. Samsung HD502IJ was 16% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE16 and 22% faster than Caviar GP.

[nextpage title=”HD Tach: Read Curves”]

If you are interested, you can find below the read curves plotted by HD Tach for each hard disk drive tested.

Hitachi Deskstar P7K500Hitachi Deskstar P7K500Samsung Spinpoint F1 DTSamsung Spinpoint F1 DTSeagate Barracuda 7200.11Seagate Barracuda 7200.11Seagate Barracuda ES.2Seagate Barracuda ES.2Seagate SV35.3Seagate SV35.3Western Digital Caviar GPWestern Digital Caviar GPWestern Digital Caviar SEWestern Digital Caviar SEWestern Digital Caviar SE16Western Digital Caviar SE16Western Digital RE2Western Digital RE2Western Digital RE3Western Digital RE3

[nextpage title=”HD Tune”]

Now we have the results provided by HD Tune program.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

Here we saw practically the same thing we had seen with the other programs: Seagate drives achieved the highest burst transfer rates and Western Digital drives achieved the lowest, with Samsung between them. The difference here was that the Hitachi drive we included in our round-up achieved a burst transfer rate on the same level as Seagate’s models.

Models from Seagate and Hitachi achieved a burst transfer rate, on average, 8% higher than the one achieved by Samsung HD502IJ, 25% higher than the one achieved by Western Digital RE3, 34% higher than the one achieved by Western Digital Caviar GP, 46% higher than the one achieved by Western Digital Caviar SE16 and 58% higher than the one achieved by Western Digital RE2.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

The most important figure for most people is the average transfer rate. Here the champs were Western Digital RE3, Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 and Seagate SV35.3. As already explained, Western Digital RE3 is targeted to the enterprise market, Seagate SV35.3 is targeted to digital surveillance systems and Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 is targeted to the mainstream market.

These disks were, on average, 6% faster than Seagate Barracuda ES.2, 11% faster than Hitachi Deskstar P7K500, 20% faster than Samsung HD502IJ, 32% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE, 39% faster than Western Digital RE2, 40% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE16 and 47% faster than Western Digital Caviar GP.

Samsung HD502IJ was 16% faster than Western Digital Caviar SE16.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

As explained before, the maximum transfer rate is achieved when the hard drive is reading data from its outer-most tracks.

Here the reviewed hard disk drives can be divided into four groups. Drives from the first group achieved the high
est transfer rate and in this group we find Seagate Barracuda 7200.11, Seagate SV35.3, Western Digital RE3 and Seagate Barracuda ES.2. Then in the second group we have Samsung HD502IJ and Hitachi Deskstar P7K500. In the third group we have Western Digital Caviar SE, Western Digital RE2 and Western Digital Caviar SE16. And alone in the fourth group we have Western Digital Caviar GP.

Disks from the first group were, on average, 20% faster than the disks on the second group, 33% faster than the disks on the third group and 41% faster than the disk from the fourth group.

Disks from the second group were, on average, 11% faster than the disks on the third group and 17% faster than the disk from the fourth group.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

As explained before, the minimum transfer rate is achieved when the hard drive is reading data from its inner-most tracks.

Here again Western Digital RE3, Seagate SV35.3 and Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 were the disks with the highest transfer rate. The drive from Samsung was the one with the lowest minimum transfer rate and this probably pulled down its average transfer rate.

[nextpage title=”HD Tune: Read Curves”]

If you are interested, you can find below the read curves plotted by HD Tune for each hard disk drive tested.

Hitachi Deskstar P7K500Hitachi Deskstar P7K500Samsung Spinpoint F1 DTSamsung Spinpoint F1 DTSeagate Barracuda 7200.11Seagate Barracuda 7200.11Seagate Barracuda ES.2Seagate Barracuda ES.2Seagate SV35.3Seagate SV35.3Western Digital Caviar GPWestern Digital Caviar GPWestern Digital Caviar SEWestern Digital Caviar SEWestern Digital Caviar SE16Western Digital Caviar SE16Western Digital RE2Western Digital RE2Western Digital RE3Western Digital RE3

[nextpage title=”Access Time”]

Access time is another important measurement. It measures the time the hard disk drive delays to start delivering data after the computer has asked a given data. It is measured in the order of milliseconds (ms, which is equal to 0.001 s) and the lower this value, the better.

The results presented by the three programs we used were very similar, so we made arithmetic averages with the collected results and present them on the chart below.

500 GB HDD Round-Up

Here most units achieved similar results, with Western Digital RE3 achieving the best results. The worst results were achieved by Seagate SV35.3 and Hitachi Deskstar P7K500. Western Digital Caviar GP achieved an average access time a little bit worse than the other units included in our comparision.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

We found out a lot of interesting information about the 500 GB hard disk drives available on the market today. In summary, not all 500 GB drives are equal.

We have clearly two winners: the new Western Digital RE3, which is targeted to the enterprise market, and Seagate Barracuda 7200.11, which is a mainstream product and thus the 500 GB hard disk drive that we recommend to the average user. Samsung HD502IJ in an option only if you can’t find Seagate Barracuda 7200.11. All other models should be avoided.

Here is a breakdown of what we found out about each hard drive included in our round-up:

  • Hitachi Deskstar P7K500 (HDP725050GLA360): It is cheaper than the other reviewed drives and, believe, there is a reason for that: lower performance. Even though it achieved an average transfer rate comparable to Samsung’s model, it has a terrible access time. Don’t buy.
  • Samsung Spinpoint F1 DT (HD502IJ): Although it is faster than Western Digital Caviar SE16, it is slower than Seagate Barracuda 7200.11. It is an option only if you can’t find Seagate Barracuda 7200.11.
  • Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 (ST3500320AS): This is the drive we recommend for the average user. It provides a performance higher than other mainstream units at the same price range, thus providing the best cost/benefit ratio. If you can spend a little more a better option is the new Western Digital RE3.
  • Seagate Barracuda ES.2 (ST3500320NS): An enterprise drive with good performance, but Western Digital RE3 is faster and thus our recommended product for this segment.
  • Seagate SV35.3 (ST3500320SV): A hard disk drive targeted to digital video surveillance systems with a good transfer rate. What killed this hard disk drive was its access time: it was the drive with the worst access time in our round-up. Don’t buy. Western Digital RE3 costs the same thing and is faster.
  • Western Digital Caviar GP (WD5000AACS): This is a “green” drive with variable rotational speed in order to save energy. We didn’t measure power consumption, so we can’t talk specifically about energy savings. Its performance was one of the worst and thus
    we can’t recommend this product. Don’t buy.
  • Western Digital Caviar SE (WD5000AAJS): Performance worst than the majority of drives we tested, probably due to its lower buffer size (8 MB). Don’t buy.
  • Western Digital Caviar SE16 (WD5000AAKS): Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 is far faster and costs the same thing. Don’t buy.
  • Western Digital RE2 (WD5001ABYS): Lousy performance. Don’t buy.
  • Western Digital RE3 (WD5002ABYS): This was the best drive in our review. But since it is targeted to the enterprise market – meaning it has a higher reliability – it costs more. If you are looking for an enterprise-class product, this is the one you should pick. This product is also recommended to regular users that want a higher performance and can pay a little bit more to have the fastest 500 GB drive around. Of course a VelociRaptor 300 GB will be faster, but it costs far more and you will have less storage space: if you want to have more than 300 GB you will have to buy and put two of these in RAID0, what will create a huge hole in your wallet.