Truth be told I haven't had a mechanical hard drive on my test bench since shortly after the X25-M review back in 2008. Once the major hiccups that faced SSDs were dealt with, I switched all of my testbeds over. I got more consistent benchmarks, better performance and since I was using the X25-Ms, better reliability.

A week ago Western Digital wrote me and asked if I had any interest in covering hard drives. I'd been planning on building out a HDD addition to our live benchmark comparison engine, so I was definitely interested. It's not that I had forgotten about mechanical storage, it's that nothing exciting had happened there in a while.

It was 2003 when WD introduced its first 10,000 RPM desktop ATA hard drive - the Raptor. After 5 years of incremental updates, we saw the first major change in 2008 with the VelociRaptor. Western Digital moved to a 2.5" form factor mounted to a 3.5" heatsink. The smaller platters meant read/write heads had less distance to travel, which reduced access times. It also meant lower power consumption, something that would matter in the enterprise world. Before I made the switch to SSDs, the VelociRaptor was our testbed hard drive of choice. It was the fastest thing money could buy. But that was 2008. Since then even regular 7200RPM drives have been able to catch up to WD's dinosaur.

Despite releasing its first mainstream SSD, Western Digital is still committed to hard drive manufacturing. The cost per GB of even the cheapest SSDs are still far higher than the fastest hard drives, and thus there's room for newer, faster hard drives. The past couple of years have seen capacities go way up. Western Digital and Seagate both ship 2TB drives, and both of these drives are arguably just as fast as the original VelociRaptor still stuck at its 300GB capacity. That all changes today. This is the new VelociRaptor VR200M:

Available in 450GB and 600GB capacties ($299 and $329), the new VelociRaptor picks up where the old one left off. It's still a 2.5" drive with an optional 3.5" heatsink (called the IcePAK, standard on all drives sold in the channel) that'll keep it cool and let it mount easily in a 3.5" bay. The 2.5" drive measures 15mm in height, so you can't use it in most notebooks in case you were wondering.

WD increased platter density from 150GB to 200GB, which results in higher sequential transfer rates and lower track to track seek times (0.75ms down to 0.4 ms). Average seek time remains unchanged at 3.6ms thanks to the drive's 10,000 RPM spindle speed. The buffer moves up to 32MB from 16MB. Just like the old VelociRaptor, WD has chosen not to outfit this new drive with its largest buffer (64MB currently shipping on the Caviar Black drives).

Specifications
  WD VelociRaptor
VR200M
WD VelociRaptor
VR150M
Capacity 600GB/450GB 300GB/150GB
Interface SATA 6 Gb/s SATA 3 Gb/s
Rotational Speed 10,000 RPM 10,000 RPM
Buffer Size 32MB 16 MB
Track to Track Seek 0.4 ms 0.75 ms
Average Seek Time 3.6 ms 3.6 ms
Full Stroke Seek 8.5 ms (typical) 8.5 ms (typical)
Transfer Rate
Buffer to Disk
145 MB/s 128 MB/s
Platter Density 200GB per platter 150GB per platter
Warranty 5 - Years 5 - Years
.

 

The on-board controller is WD's latest dual-core design. I don't have much information about it but I'm guessing that because drive management is getting more complex, the controllers must scale up in complexity as well. The drive supports 6Gbps SATA, however you see no performance benefit from it (in fact, in many cases it's actually slower than 3Gbps SATA if you've got a good integrated SATA controller).

Western Digital claims to have increased the number of head load/unload cycles the new VelociRaptor can withstand. The drive heads must be positioned over the rotating platters in order to read/write data. When they aren't in use, the heads are retracted (or unloaded) to prevent any accidental damage to the platters and thus your data. The old 300GB VelociRaptor was rated for 50,000 load/unload operations. The new VR200M? 600,000.

The Contenders & The Test
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  • HotFoot - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    People used to buy Raptors for the superior seek times. Where these drives were great was for loading programs. Throughput on large files isn't usually the consideration. RAID 0 does boost throughput, but increases seek time.

    But Raptors will never touch even the lowest-performance SSDs for random IO. These drives are completely obsolete as far as I can tell.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    Not quite completely, but the number of cases where a 7200RPM drive isn't fast enough, several hundred GB of high speed storage space is needed, and a $600-2000 sticker price for several SSDs is too high is much smaller than the raptor market was several years ago.

    I doubt we'll see a raptor revision after this one unless the cost of turning a SAS drive into a raptor is negligible.
    Reply
  • marraco - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    Worse, to match the storage capacity of the 450Gb raptor, you only need to use 10% of each 2Tb disk. This way you short stroke it, accelerating seek and random times.

    If you own an X58 chipset, you also may use the first partition as RAID0, and the remaining 90% space in RAID 0, or witouth RAID.
    Reply
  • coolkev99 - Wednesday, April 07, 2010 - link

    Not quite fair to compare the MSRP of a drive that's not even in the retail channel, to the discount OEM price of an existing drive. Reply
  • Belard - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    Anyone else notice that "VR200M" is Subliminal Message to say "VROOM" as in fast? :)

    But these Raptors are simply not worth it any more. $330 for 600GB drive? Also they are the LOUDEST drives you can get over any other HD... and of course SDs wins hands down ag 0db.

    The best setup is still the Hybrid SSD+HD for desktops.

    $225 = 80GB intel X25-M G2 (Come on G3)
    $ 85 = 1TB Seagate 7200.12 (On this review, Seagate are the quietest drives and its what I use)

    $310 = Total for 1.08GB of storage that would dominate any Raptor.
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    No, not one 80GB X-25M.

    Two 40GB X-25V in RAID 0.

    :D
    Reply
  • Romulous - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    You need to look at the point of the Raptor. Cheap, fast enterprise drives, which is a middle ground between sata and sas. I've setup several vsphere servers with 300GB raptors in raid 10 (8 drives) and they perform very well. Infact, even better than 8 15k sas drives in raid 5 on the same controller. For Virtual Machines, they work great. Of course this is no SAN thus no clustering is available. Reply
  • Xenoterranos - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    Definitely glad I bought a 1TB caviar black. The performance benefits just aren't there given the loss in drive space, but for a high-end notebook, I could see it being a real competitor. Reply
  • AssBall - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    .... Except that it is too tall to fit in notebooks. Reply
  • Glenn - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    I bought into the first three generations of Raptors for the seek times. That is the single most irritating thing for me when using a higher performance computer. Damn HDs always slow everything down. I have migrated to SSDs now and will never look back.

    And often left unsaid in Raptor discussions, is their propensity to get noisier and noisier over there lifespan, to the point you think there are gremlins living inside your computer!
    Reply

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