Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2455

Western Digital has been quiet on the performance front the past several months as they have placed an emphasis on their GreenPower family of products that we recently reviewed.  However, they have been busily working on a new line-up of Caviar SE16 drives that feature their new 320GB per-platter technology.  This type of areal density places WD in direct competition with Samsung's F1 lineup featuring 334GB per-platter sizes with similar thermal, acoustic, and power envelope specifications.
It does not come as a surprise that the first drive from WD to utilize the 320GB per-platter technology is the Caviar SE16 320GB WD3200AAKS.  What is surprising to us is that WD is not changing the product designation on drives that feature this new technology.  It's not really that surprising as a manufacturer will want to clear out inventory of previous product before introducing new product. We would like to see WD following Seagate, Hitachi, or Samsung by changing model numbers when there is a major switch in product technology.
Ordering a WD3200AAKS could land you the new drive or the older design with two 160GB platters.  Since only the part number changes in this case, the one you want is WD3200AAKS-00B3A0. For all intent purposes this means you need to find a dealer that carries OEM drives and will guarantee this particular part number is available.  It's either that or take your chances with a retail package.  WD started shipping these drives in mass at the end of January so odds are that retail kits will contain mixed stock at best.
We have had numerous requests to test this drive and fortunately our review samples recently arrived from WD.  However, what has not arrived yet are competing drives from Samsung (F1), Seagate, and Hitachi but those will arrive shortly.  In the meantime, we thought it would be prudent to post some early test results with this drive and provide a short synopsis of our experiences to date with Western Digital's latest and greatest.  Oh yeah, before anyone asks, WD is mum as to which drive will receive the 320GB platters next although they briefly had the specs up for a 640GB drive on their website.  Also, no new updates on the Raptor product family.
HDTune -
HDTach -
The average transfer rate of 87MB/s~91MB/s is exceptional in this drive class and exceeds the 73MB/s~75MB/s capabilities of the Raptor 150GB drive.  However, for reasons we are still investigating, the random access time of 16.3ms is poor compared to current desktop drives such as the Samsung HD501J that feature a class high 14.0ms random access time.  Although the performance of the drive in actual applications is not hindered greatly, it is perplexing to us why this drive has such high random access times.
Let's take a quick look at a few benchmarks and see how this drive compares to the Samsung SpinPoint T166 HD501LJ.  

Test Setup -
Not too much to say about the test platform except it is generally fast and we are utilizing Vista 64 SP1 as our OS of choice now.  This platform is slightly different from our standard test bed as we are in the process of comparing our NVIDIA based setup to the Intel X48 for future drive articles. However, performance differences between the two platforms were within 1% of each other so the numbers are comparable to previous results.
Quick Tests -
We are providing PCMark Vantage results today along with initial acoustic and thermal results.  The details about the PCMark Vantage HD suite tests and how results are determined can be located hereOur acoustic tests measure the decibel levels while the system is at idle and under load while running the Hard Disk test suite within PCMark Vantage.  We take measurements at a distance of 5mm from the rear and front of the drive in a separate enclosure.  The test room has a base acoustical level of 20dB(A).
Our thermal tests utilize sensor readings via the S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) capability of the drives as reported by utilizing the Active SMART 2.6 utility. We also utilize thermal sensors and infrared measurement devices to verify our utility results. We test our drives in an enclosed case environment.  Our base temperature level in the room at the time of testing is 24C.
The drive makes a good showing in the PCMark Vantage tests that basically simulate real-world performance patterns utilizing a variety of actual applications.  However, we expected more from the 320GB per-platter technology and it appears the high random access times is a culprit to some degree in a couple of the individual tests.  The WD drive compared favorably in performance to one of our favorite drive choices, the Samsung HD501LJ, except in the Windows Media Center tests where the Samsung exhibited exceptional results.  Scores that in our own off-line DVD (HD/SD) application benchmark testing showed similar results.
As far as acoustic and thermal testing, this drive has the best results outside of Western Digital's own GreenPower series in these particular tests.  Even during heavy seeks, noise levels remained muted and at idle the drive's acoustical footprint was near silent.  As much as we like the Samsung drive for HTPC duties, we would give a slight nod to the WD drive at this time based on acoustics and the fact that its video/audio performance in actual applications is still very good.
In actual application testing (results not shown) the drive has performed slightly better than the Samsung drive in areas such as program loading and digital image manipulation.  The drive is on equal footing with the Samsung in gaming and compression tests but falls behind slightly in our video/audio tests.  However, the differences are minor in all cases with no "actual" differences in performance being noted during application usage. This drive does excel in providing excellent acoustics and thermals and as such should be considered for situations where these attributes are important to the user. 
In the end, our expectations before testing the drive were high as we thought the 320GB per-platter technology would provide a measurable performance difference compared to current drives with 167GB~200GB per-platter designs.  There are some differences in early testing but not enough of a difference for us to declare the drive a winner yet (unless you need a high performance silent drive).  That will have to wait for direct comparisons to the latest drive technologies from Western Digital's competitors, something we will have for you in the coming weeks.

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