Review: Western Digital WD740 Raptor

By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2004-03-02 Print this article Print

Western Digital's new Raptor hard drive more than doubles the current capacity. ExtremeTech tested the latest SATA hard drive and took a stab at RAID performance.

When we reviewed the original WD360 Raptor 10,000RPM hard drive a while back, we lamented its relatively small capacity. Just shy of 37GB, the original Raptor lacked the mega-capacity that todays desktop PC users crave. In fact, most 36GB drives found their way into SATA RAID configurations. The new WD740 doubles the capacity to 74GB. Its not huge, but it is a more usable capacity in a single drive format. Like its older sibling, the new Raptor is a single-platter drive sporting two heads, so the areal density has essentially doubled.
There have been other, more subtle changes. The original Raptor was aimed at the low-cost server market, seeking to supplement or replace SCSI hard drives.
The Raptor is built to enterprise usage standards, so the firmware was tuned for server-style access patterns. One of the little-appreciated facts about hard drives is the firmware, that onboard software that manages access patterns, communication with the outside world, cache management, and general drive operation. Desktop drives are often optimized to move large chunks of data efficiently. In a media-rich environment, this offers the best performance for most users. Server drives, on the other hand, are optimized for quick access to small, randomly scattered chunks of data. The good news is that the new Raptor seems to default to a desktop access pattern. As well see shortly, performance in desktop applications seems substantially better than in the original version. The WD740 also seems to be more tuned for desktop and workstation applications. When the 36GB Raptor was initially rolled out, its small capacity and its rugged construction attracted performance enthusiasts, who would often combine a pair into one 72GB striped array. Striping the WD360 would often yield impressive throughput numbers—but, as it turned out, with a hidden cost. More on that in a bit. To read the full story, click here.
Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.

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