The original Western Digital Raptor was launched as the WD360GD in March of 2003 with an enterprise level 10,000 RPM spindle speed, SATA interface, 8MB buffer, 5.2 millisecond read seek time, and a single-platter design featuring 36GB of storage. While it shined in single-user performance, the drive did not fare well against its SCSI-based competitors in the enterprise server market for which it was designed. Its already small size and complete lack of command queuing abilities delivered performance that was not on par with the SCSI drives in the critical multi-user applications. However, due to the lack of entry level SCSI drives, a growing interest in SATA components, and a very avid computer enthusiast market, the drive was able to succeed until its replacement arrived.

The next version of the Raptor was launched as the WD740GD in December of 2003 and boasted several needed enhancements. These enhancements included the addition of another platter that increased the capacity to 74GB, 4.6 millisecond read seek time, a FDB based motor to address noise concerns, and ATA-4 tagged command queuing. While TCQ was a welcome addition and certainly improved the drive's I/O operations, it still was not a match for most SCSI drives in the enterprise market. This was primarily due to a lack of SATA controllers that fully supported TCQ and firmware that was not as mature as the SCSI competition.

However, this drive was - and in certain cases continues to be - consistently one of the faster single-user performance drives available. The computer enthusiasts flocked to the drive due to its performance advantages, but the drive continued to have limited success in the enterprise server market. In a nod to the success of the drive in the computer enthusiast market and acceptance of its importance, Western Digital offered the drive in retail stores for a short time. Over the course of the last couple of years, the 8MB cache drive has been enhanced with minor revisions with one of the latest versions, WD740GD-00FLC0, receiving tweaks that significantly improved its performance in single-user applications.


The last major update to the Raptor family occurred in January of 2006 when the WD1500ADFD was launched with a significant list of improvements. The drives still sported the familiar 10,000 RPM spindle speed, 4.6ms read seek time, and a two-platter design now at 150GB capacity. The platter's density was increased to 75GB+ and equals those of several 10,000 RPM SCSI competitors. The buffer size was doubled to 16MB, matching the latest offerings from other drive manufacturers. An OEM version of this drive was made available by Dell that sported a 160GB capacity. WD also introduced a limited edition Raptor-X that featured the 150GB version with a crystalline polycarbonate based transparent cover over the spindle and platter section of the drive.

The Marvell 88i8030 PATA to SATA bridge chip that was used on the previous Raptors was finally dropped in favor of a native SATA implementation. This native SATA implementation brings with it Native Command Queuing instead of the legacy firmware-level Tagged Command Queuing. While NCQ can have a favorable impact in multi-user applications, it can create a performance penalty in certain single-user applications. Since the drive is still targeted towards the server market, it retains the first generation 150MB/sec SATA interface instead of the 300MB/sec SATA interface found in most of the current consumer level drives.

The WD1500ADFD also introduced Time Limited Error Recovery (TLER) and Rotary Acceleration Forward Feed (RAFF) operations to the Raptor product family. TLER allows the drive to signal the RAID host adapter in the event an error recovery process has exceeded timeout parameters. This prevents false drive dropouts on the host adapter when utilizing RAID level 1 or above configurations. Although TLER is disabled by default, a utility is available from Western Digital to enable TLER. RAFF is an electronics feature that senses rotational vibration in a multi-drive setup and then compensates for it by controlling the drive head location. This feature is designed to keep read and write operations consistent, thus avoiding time consuming retries by the drive that could impact performance.

The latest updates to the Raptor family occurred last fall when Western Digital offered the same features introduced on the WD1500ADFD on its 74GB and 36GB drives. The current WD740ADFD also sports a single platter design now instead of the previous two platter design in the older series. We will be taking an abbreviated look at the WD740ADFD today as we received numerous comments and emails inquiring about the performance of this drive. Our next storage review featuring several of the latest 500GB drives will include full performance results of this drive and its smaller sibling, the 36GB Raptor WD360ADFD. For now, we think the performance results we will present today should give a clear indication of the drive's performance.

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  • Genx87 - Wednesday, February 07, 2007 - link

    Once you have one you cant go back :D
    They are wonderful drives. The capacity issue isnt a big deal unless you are opting for the 36GB version. I havent had a need for excessive amounts of capacity since I built my sever a couple of years ago.

    I built a server with a pair of the 36GBs with a 500GB array behind it for storage. It is a very nice step up from the pair of 80GB 7200 rpm drives in there before.
    Reply
  • aka1nas - Wednesday, February 07, 2007 - link

    They definately make great OS/Applications drives if you back them up with a bigger drive for bulk storage. Reply
  • Genx87 - Wednesday, February 07, 2007 - link

    oops forgot to mention my machine at home has the newest 74GB raptor in it. Which is an upgrade from the 1st run 74GB raptor in my old machine.

    Blazing fast, as usual.
    Reply
  • Muzzy - Wednesday, February 07, 2007 - link

    "Of course, if you are into benchmarking or run a lot of disk intensive applications, then a pair of Raptors in RAID 0 will be even better."

    Um, aren't you guys contradicting yourself here? In July 1st, 2004 article about Raptor drives in RAID-0, you stated "If you haven't gotten the hint by now, we'll spell it out for you: there is no place, and no need for a RAID-0 array on a desktop computer." I love my 150GB Raptor despite the noise, don't get me wrong. Really do wish though that other company would give WD some competition in this category. $190 for 150GB??
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, February 07, 2007 - link

    Most people don't really care about running benchmarks for bragging rights, and most desktop users do not "run a lot of disk intensive applications". We don't think RAID 0 is even remotely necessary for 99% of people, but there are still benchmarks where it is obviously faster. If you have BitTorrent running in the background with other networked computers streaming data off of the same drive and you start to run games that load off of the same drive, yes, RAID 0 will clearly outperform a single drive. That's more of a server/workstation workload, which is why we say that RAID 0 on a desktop computer isn't needed. Reply
  • Axbattler - Thursday, February 08, 2007 - link

    *Ponders*

    Where RAID-0 excels is in STR performance. Loading of applications that benefit from STR (e.g. XP), copying a large massive file, working with a large massive file (video editing) etc. are applications where you will see a significant gain with RAID-0.

    RAID-0 may well be faster than a single drive identical drive in most applications (you do pay slightly in access time, but the gain from STR can probably offset it more often than not).. But how about a well two individual drives in a reasonably configured system? I am not convinced that in the scenario that you've described (which, I do not believe reflects the nature of the workload in a server in the first place), that you are necessarily better off with RAID-0 than two individual drives. I would rather have one drive running the game, and the other doing the streaming/torrenting. Game loading time is not exactly where I've seen RAID-0 shine the most (and once the game is running, you'll pretty much get no gain from RAID-0).
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 08, 2007 - link

    Then carry it a bit further. Basically, I'm saying that if you generate enough concurrent HDD accesses, RAID 0 will outperform single drives. You might get better performance from two drives without RAID 0, but then you need to worry about having separate volumes and what happens if most of the accesses start to target a single drive. Basically, RAID 0 can be faster than an individual drive, but this mostly occurs in unrealistic situations, as you point out. RAID 0 mostly seems to be for bragging rights, and I certainly don't recommend it. Reply
  • lemonadesoda - Wednesday, February 07, 2007 - link

    Most Raptorers (the people who love and install them) typically choose a dual drive RAID setup for ultimate HDD performance.

    However, seeing the (very close) performance of Seagate 7200.10, I would be very interested to see Raptors in RAID vs 7200.10 in RAID.

    Would the performance gap INCREASE or DECREASE in such a configuration?
    Reply
  • Le Québécois - Wednesday, February 07, 2007 - link

    It's nice to see my WD1500ADFD is still the top gaming drive on the market. Still something has been bothering me for some time now.

    I've always found intriguing that my Raptor temperature is about 40% lower (idle and under load) than the one you post on every HDD articles. I have a 80mm Antec front fan but still the temperature is 40% lower, not 25%.

    What's the room temperature? You always post the base dB of the room but I don't remember ever seeing the temperature.
    Reply
  • jabber - Wednesday, February 07, 2007 - link

    Indeed, I bought one of these 74Gb Raptors a few weeks ago and it never gets more than slightly warm. Certainly doesnt warrant an 80mm fan blasting on it.

    I do recommend the WD Secure SATA cable though. Great bit of kit. How the standard SATA cable connection setup got approved I'll never know.

    The niggle I have is that 74Gb is too small? I have a full XP install, several apps and games (BF2/Total War etc. etc. and its still got plenty of space. Why would you bother cluttering up your main system HD with non-essential stuff like media files? Just get a cheap 400Gb+ for that sort of thing where performance isnt an issue.
    Reply

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