Review: Western Digital WD740 Raptor

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.


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