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Using hard drives to boost PC performance: myth vs. reality

PC Performance “myth buster” Justin James of Tech Republic recently offered great advice: “Don’t be fooled by these 10 PC performance myths“.

Hard drives accounted for 3 of the top 10 performance myths…

1: Vista and Windows 7 require many times more RAM than XP
2: More RAM is always faster
3: Anti-malware apps kill performance
4: If you clear the browser history, you’ll gain some speed
5: Registry cleaning is a miracle worker
6: Having more cores is always better
7: Drive RPMs are all that matter
8: You should empty the Recycle Bin for more speed
9: You need a fancy hard drive for ultimate performance
10: One big disk is fine

Drive RPMs are all that matter. Justin suggests that seek time, cache size, and transfer rates should also be considered when selecting the fastest hard drive upgrade for your system.  I tend to agree. RPMs have long been the de-facto standard when it comes to marketing hard drives.  Seagate for the longest time has used RPMs to distinguish one drive from the next:  Savvio 10K, Savvio 15K. Before that Cheetah 10K, Cheetah 15K.  Just a couple years ago, Seagate got away from spin speed on the Momentus line of laptop drives.  Momentus used to be Momentus 5400 and Momentus 7200, and now it’s just Momentus, Momentus Thin, and Momentus XT.  The same can be said for Barracuda. The desktop line used to be Barracuda 7200, and now it’s simply Barracuda.  Seagate is not alone in dropping the RPMs from the name…dare I say Green, Blue, Black? The enterprise mission critical drives are the only remaining families with the RPMs built right into the marketing name, and these too may go the way of dropping the RPMs because they just don’t tell the entire story anymore. Performance is measured more by the sum of the parts and firmware and less about mechanically how fast the discs spin.  SSD, and now Solid State Hybrid Drives (SSHD) have proven this over the past year or two.

image by: http://obieosobalu.wordpress.com

You need a fancy hard drive for ultimate performance. Justin builds the case for short stroking drives.  Techware Labs did a piece called “Modifying the Seagate 1.5TB Hard Drive: Unleash the Hidden Performance Within” that explained in a step by step way how users could use Seagate’s SeaTools to short stroke a 7200RPM high capacity drive and get performance that beats a 10K drive. The result: “It looks like Seagate inadvertently created something marvelous by creating arguably the best consumer drive on the market. As you have seen from the benchmarks, the Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS outperforms the Velociraptor in almost all categories.” Given that drives are now avaialble in 2TB, 3TB, and now 4TB versions coming, short stroking may be one of the best ways to boost performance for your buck. The other?  Solid State Hybrid drives (SSHD). These drives are not short stroked, instead they use the speed of SSD to add the performance you crave. (By the way, Seagate’s SeaTools is a free download)

One big disk is fine. Justin suggests that splitting your workload into two drives (one for OS and Apps, and one for data) does not prove to provide the performance benefits you might desire.  The better route is to deploy a RAID using multiple drives to boost performance. In the Seagate whitepaper “Add Value by Deploying RAID Technology“, Seagate suggests, “Purchasing a couple of inexpensive drives and striping them affords a significant boost in throughput without the prohibitive cost of a single, higher-performance drive.”  Again, there is always the hybrid route. Club Overclocker analyzed 2 Momentus XT drives in a RAID and found, “The performance of the Momentus XT really improved with the addition of a second drive in RAID.  The price and performance of these drives make them very attractive.  I got read performance that was on par with SSD’s, 1TB of space and the total cost was $260.” But, perhaps you don’t want to fork over the money for an additional hard drive, nor have the physical space in your system to do so.  A single hybrid drive that spins at 7200 RPM is still faster than comparable 10,000 RPM SATA drives in some tests. Hence, drive RPMs are not all that matter anymore.

My advice: Consider all of your options:  Short stroking, Solid State Hybrid Technology, RAID 0, and choose based on what you are willing to invest in a performance upgrade.  For the value conscious, short stroking or using a solid state hybrid drive may be the most cost effective if you are okay with sacrificing some capacity. For those willing to spend an extra $100-$200, go with a RAID 0 setup. And for those with no monetary constraints…well…you still can’t beat SSD.

What’s your recipe for boosting performance?

Related Posts:

RAID’ng Momentus XT? Looks like a no-brainer
Momentus XT – what the experts are saying
Barracuda XT – What the experts are saying

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