Which Hard Drive is Fastest?

Category: Hard-Drives

I'm building my own home computer from the motherboard up, and I want the best and fastest hard drive available. But the lingo is confusing - should I be looking at RPM, seek time, transfer rate or some other combination of drive specs?

What Is The Fastest Hard Drive For a Home Computer?

Solid-state drives are generating a lot of buzz, but the good old-fashioned magnetic platter hard drive is still what most people have in their desktop and laptop computers. When most consumers ask, "What is the fastest hard drive?" they mean a traditional magnetic hard drive.

Surprisingly, given the highly technical blather surrounding hard drives, there is a pretty clear consensus on this question.

Professional reviewers, gaming enthusiasts, and other people in the know generally recommend the Western Digital Velociraptor family of hard drives as the "fastest" just about any way you care to measure speed. The Velociraptor stands alone in several categories.
Fastest Hard Drive

  • First, it is the only consumer hard drive whose platters spin at 10,000 rpm. Most others max out at 7200 rpm. Rotational speed is a big contributor to overall hard drive performance. The faster those platters are moving, the sooner the sector of a platter that's needed gets under the read-write head.
  • Second, the Velociraptor's platters are 2.5 inches in diameter. That reduces the distance that the read-write head must travel to move from its home position to the track where it is needed, resulting in much faster seek times.
  • Third, the Velociraptor has a generous 32 MB cache. Cache memory holds the most frequently used data and dishes it to the I/O bus at speeds up to 1000 times faster than an electromechanical read-write head.

Speed, Capacity and Price

In benchmark tests, the Velociraptor consistently beats other high performance hard drives on average seek time, sustained data transfer, time to access data, and most other metrics. It doesn't matter whether the files being read/written are long or short, sequential or random. The Velociraptor excels in all areas.

In sequential read/write transfer tests, the Velociraptor moves data at about 147 Mbps. Read and write seek times are under 4 ms, about half of most other hard drives. Average latency is only 3.0 ms.

The current generation of Velociraptor drives support SATA 3, a serial I/O standard that can transfer data at up to 6.0 Gbps, twice as fast as SATA 2. While that sounds impressive, no hard drive can match the 3.0 Gbps maximum speed of SATA 2 yet, so SATA 3's is pretty much overkill.

The capacities of the Velociraptor hard drives range from 150 to 600 GB, so depending on your needs, the speed advantage may be offset by the limited storage capacity. Street prices range from $79 to $250, depending on the storage size of the drive.

For completeness, I'll mention that there are some hard drives that run at 15000 RPM, such as the Seagate Cheetah 15K and Hitachi Ultrastar 15K lines. But these drives are designed for use in high-end servers, where the focus is on transaction processing and extreme reliability, so capacity per dollar tends to be higher.

If you're looking for the fastest hard drive for your high performance game machine, workstation, or small server, the Western Digital Velociraptor is your best bet.

Do you have something to say about super-fast hard drives? Post your coment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Which Hard Drive is Fastest?"

Posted by:

11 Jul 2011

I Owned the 300GB Velociraptor and it crashed twice in 8 months. I sent it to WD for repair the first time and to the trash the second time. I am now using a competitor's drive. Yes it was fast when it was actually running, but not the extra money fast you would expect. Very expensive drive!

Posted by:

11 Jul 2011

You should also mention the latest generation of SSDs as an alternative.

Posted by:

11 Jul 2011

Perhaps these drives should be used more for processing things like video where throughput is important, rather than storage which is where the finished article would be stored, which would be under far less stress for long term storage.

At the moment, I see enough flaws in SSD's to wait until the technology for consistent desktop/notebook use is more mature. It's getting there but for the moment they don't seem to offer more over traditional drives if I am making decisions in my workflow or taking time over processing something.

Posted by:

11 Jul 2011

Wouldn't this drive generate lots of heat?

Posted by:

E. W.
12 Jul 2011

The only thing holding my Windows 7 computer performance ratings back is my hard drive at 5.9. Everything else is 7.0 and above.
The manufacturer didn't offer anything faster than a 7,200 rpm hard drive at the time.

I am considering buying a Velociraptor for a second drive.

Posted by:

Paul Braga
12 Jul 2011

A good source for information on drives is Storage Review.. http://www.storagereview.com/

Posted by:

25 Jul 2011

E.W.: Only SSDs will go above 5.9, not even the Velociraptor goes above.

Posted by:

24 Nov 2011

Rob, are you surprise that 10k speed drivers are
still so expensive

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