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Western Digital WD1200JB With 8 MB Cache:
Outperforms SCSI Drives

Summary:

Thanks to a huge buffer memory (8 MB instead of the typical 2 MB), the WD1200JB performs similarly to high-performance SCSI drives, thereby leaving its rivals in the dust. Though the access time and the CPU utilization are still a ways away from SCSI levels, this drive offers superior performance and tremendous capacity at attractive prices.

Huge And Fast: Western Digital WD1200JB With 8 MB Cache

Introduction

Western Digital makes the headlines on a regular basis - in a positive way. Once the company began focusing on high-end IDEs around the end of 1999, it wasn't long until we saw the results: WD was the first manufacturer to offer an IDE drive with 100 GB and 7,200 rpm. Some weeks later, a 120 GB version followed. To increase the performance of these drives even further, the top models (-JB, instead of -BB) are equipped with 8 MB rather than 2 MB cache memory. Will this be enough to compete with the fastest SCSI drives as well?

We already reviewed the 100 GB drive a couple of months ago, and it performed fairly well. Today, Western Digital ships the 120 GB model with 8 MB. Let's see how it compares to other models.

It Doesn't Have To Be UltraATA/133!

Some might criticize that the Western Digital drive is not ATA/133. But the fact is, many people don't really know what to think about ATA/133. Is ATA/100 still fast enough? If it is, then when is the right time to upgrade? Are there any advantages at all? Right now, UltraATA/133 is nothing more than a marketing catchword.

According to Intel and the vast majority of the manufacturers that deal with storage devices and controllers, Ultra ATA/133 might never have been introduced. Rather, everybody is working on Serial-ATA to finally replace the parallel ATA protocol. Unfortunately (or fortunately), Maxtor, strengthened by the acquisition of Quantum, revived Ultra ATA by single-handedly introducing Ultra ATA/133 and convincing several companies to support it. Motherboards with VIA chipsets will soon support ATA/133 by default, and controller cards from HighPoint and Promise are already available. Nonetheless, Intel does not support UltraATA/133 at all, and neither IBM nor Western Digital offer ATA/133 drives - though it would only be a matter of days until the current models could be adapted.

There are several reasons why most companies are impatiently waiting for the successor to ATA. The limited cable length (max. 40 cm) and the rather small bandwidth increase are the two most important ones. When UltraDMA/33 was introduced, it doubled the bandwidth that PIO mode 4 was able to offer. UltraATA/66 doubled the bandwidth again, while UltraATA/100 provided only a 50% boost. The step from ATA/100 to ATA/133 is even smaller (only 33%), showing that the margin for higher bandwidths is pretty small. So, is it all much ado about nothing?

Indeed there's not much that speaks in favor of the new standard. Even the latest hard drives do not deliver more than 50 MB/s, and the limit at 127 GB due to limited addressing possibilities has nothing to to with the interface. Another issue is the limited bandwidth of the PCI bus: at 32-bit and 33 MHz, 133 MB/s are available. As the IDE interface is not the only PCI device, there is usually only 2/3 of this bandwidth left. 64-bit slots or 66 MHz operation are a requirement for any new standard!

WD1200JB: What A Trendsetter!

WD1200JB: What A Trendsetter!

If you expected a spectacular new exterior design (following the trend of the motherboard manufacturers), you will be disappointed. The 1200JB looks much like any other Western Digital drive. A dark gray case contains the platters and the electronic parts.

WD1200JB: What A Trendsetter!

The PCB and the chips are not protected by an aluminum plate as with Seagate drives, but the chips are placed at the PCB side that is turned towards the drive. If something hits the PCB, it will be unlikely to damage vital components.

WD1200JB - The Features

 

Western Digital WD1200JB - 8 MB Cache
Capacity 120 GB (3 platters)
Rotation Speed 7,200 rpm
Seek Time 8.9 ms
Cache Memory 8096 KB
Warranty 3 years
Website http://www.wdc.com

8 MB Cache - A Winning Tool

Some of you may wonder how this cache memory is used. Generally, it works like the cache memory of a CPU: it is a fast buffer, faster than the actual device (this is the drive logic, in case the processor or the memory interface becomes the bottleneck). The practical use of these caches is determined by complex algorithms.

The cache algorithm usually knows the requests that it has to process. If some access wants specific data, the drive logic may anticipate that more accesses will ask for this product. In order to avoid reading from the hard drive several times, the logic will put this data into the cache memory, so that the drive will be able to handle future requests immediately. Another smart move of cache algorithms would be to read some additional data that is usually requested afterwards.

Reading data from the cache memory is much faster than going the troublesome way through the physical hard drive. Here, the burst transfer rate is the limiting factor (see benchmark section).

As you can imagine, the efficiency of such a cache memory highly depends on the algorithm that is used, as well as the cache size. The more data is cached, the better the chance for cache-hits, and performance will increase.

Configuration: Simple, As Always

Configuration: Simple, As Always

Configuring IDE drives takes only a matter of seconds. You only have to specify the drive to run as the master (first drive attached to an IDE channel) or as the slave (second drive). Since only two drives can be installed per channel, there is no other option. Some drives, like the Western Digital models, also have a jumper setting that has to be used for single drive configuration (master without a slave).

Test Setup
 

 

Test System
CPU Intel Pentium 4, 2 GHz
Motherboard MSI 845 Ultra, i845
RAM 256 MB DDR-SDRAM, CL2,
Corsair Microsystems
IDE-Controller i815 UltraDMA/100 Controller (ICH2 / 82801BA)
Graphics Card nVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200,
32 MB DDR
Network Adapter 3COM 905TX PCI 100 MBit
Operating System Windows 2000 Pro 5.00.2195 SP2 + SRP1
Benchmarks and Measurements
Office Applications Benchmark ZD WinBench 99 - Business Disk Winmark 2.0
Highend Applications Benchmark ZD WinBench 99 - High-End Disk Winmark 2.0
Low Level Benchmarks HD Tach 2.61
Performance Tests HD Tach 2.61
Settings and Drivers
Graphics Drivers nVIDIA Detonator 4 (23.11)
IDE Drivers Intel Bus Master DMA Driver 6.2
DirectX Version 8.1
Screen Resolution 1024x768, 16 Bit, 85 Hz Refresh

Test Results

Noise Level Measurements

Noise Level Measurements

The very best drive for low noise levels is Seagate's Barracuda ATA IV (40, 60, 80 GB), but the WD drives have no reason to be ashamed, either. Subjectively, the idle and access noises are not intrusive, so the differences in noise level generated among the latest models can be considered quite small.

Surface Temperature

Surface Temperature

Our temperature measurement reveals excellent work for Western Digital: 45 degrees Celsius is the lowest value that we have ever measured with a 7,200 rpm drive. Though the drives from IBM and Seagate are not much hotter than that, a low-temperature drive is quite important in order to keep the whole computer as cool as possible - particularly in times of CPUs that heat up with 40 Watts or more.

Benchmark Results

Data Transfer Rates: Almost 50 MB/s!
 

Data Transfer Rates: Almost 50 MB/s!

 

Data Transfer Rates: Almost 50 MB/s!

In the reading process, both of the 120 GB drives from WD are just below 50 MB/s - a number that will be outperformed in a few months by the next generation of drives.

By the way, the Seagate Barracuda ATA IV still is the drive that offers the fastest minimum transfer rate: at the end of the medium, you can still read 27 MB/s or faster - while many other drives drop to ~ 20 MB/s.

Data Transfer Rates: Almost 50 MB/s!

In future hard drive tests, we will publish both read and write transfer rates, as the latter are quite important for applications that work with data streams (such as video or audio editing), as well as backup solutions (how fast can I copy data onto this drive?).

The 1200JB writes up to 40 MB/s - that's an excellent result. At the end of the medium, the performance of all of the drives was pretty much the same. Once again, only the Barracuda ATA IV shows that the drop in transfer performance does not have to be as big as it is sometimes.

Burst Transfer Speed

Burst Transfer Speed

Here, the transfer rate of the interface is measured by reading data directly from the cache memory.

Drive Access Time

Drive Access Time

The access time is quite an important factor for performance evaluations. Both 120 GB drives from WD are in front here, only the IBM DeskStar 60 GXP is slightly faster.

CPU Utilization

CPU Utilization

"Performance has its price" is a statement that is usually valid for most cases. This test determined how much CPU time is consumed by the IDE drive when copying data. Here, the WD1200JB scores more points, because 4.2% is much less than what the 100 GB drives require (6.8 and 7.2%) - almost half the time! Given today's processor speeds, this may not necessarily be a relevant argument for you, but this test is quite a good assessment of the drive logic quality.

Application Performance: WinBench 99 2.0

Application Performance: WinBench 99 2.0

The WinBench 99 by eTesting Labs (formerly Ziff Davis) is still one of the best application benchmarks today. Here you can see the real-world impact of 8 MB cache memory: particularly in the HighEnd Disk WinBench, the huge-cached drives are ahead.

Conclusion: Best Buy!

People who continue to demand IDE drives with 10,000 rpm should consider that higher noise levels and higher temperature levels are the price for the performance benefits of faster access time and higher transfer rates.

The WD1200JB is indeed an excellent choice that combines several benefits: high capacity, quick access times, high transfer rates, acceptable noise level, acceptable temperature level and fast application performance. The only disadvantage may be the price: at approx. $250, this is not necessarily affordable for everybody, though the value is still pretty good.

Those who rally for UltraATA/133 are certain to remain unheard, since even the next drive generation will be unable to reach either the theoretical (100 MB/s) or the practical (~ 85 MB/s) limit of UltraATA/100. In addition, 120 GB is a capacity that is still below the critical size of 127 GB and certainly won't cause trouble with popular IDE adapters.

Once again, Western Digital confirmed its status as a dominant player in the high performance IDE arena. Let's see what comes next!


Western Digital Caviar 1200JB Hard Drive

If you've never heard of Western Digital then where the hell have you been? These guys have been producing hard drives for years-end drives to high performance SCSI units. With this drive, their flagship model of the Caviar range - the Special Edition (I'll explain what is so special later) they aim high and hit the target right in the centre.

First off lets take a look at some specs:

Rotational Speed: 7200 RPM

Capacities: Up To 120 GB

Interface: Ultra ATA/100

Average Read Seek Time: 8.9 ms

Data Lifeguard: WD's exclusive hardware, software and services designed to protect your data

Buffer Size: 8MB

Now that final figure in the list, the buffer size is what makes this drive so special. Most hard drives out on the market today will come with a 2MB buffer but with the 1200JB the buffer size is increased to a performance boosting 8MB. "Oh, so what does the buffer do?" I hear you say. Well the buffer plays an important role in the transfer of small files and also in readying data that your hard drive thinks you might need. When you save data to your hard drive it is often stored in the buffer being being moved to the disk platter. This principle is employed in reverse with regard to reading data. The hard drive interprets what data you are likely to be requiring soon and moves that to the buffer thus boosting the time it takes to retrieve the data (ie. the drive read speed). So the bigger the buffer you have the more data the drive can cache ready for use or store ready for writing to the platter. A bigger buffer usually means increased performance.

Plugging the drive into my Soyo KT333 Dragon/Ultra mainboard caused so problems and the BIOS correctly picked up the drive and its 120GB capacity. Turn over the page to see how the drive performs.

Armed with SiSoft Sandra 2002, HD Tach and my old Maxtor 20GB ATA100 7200rpm drive I set out to see what performance figures the 1200JB could deliver.

First off here's the score the drive reported in Sandra 2002.

Impressive figures from Western Digital. The 30GB reference drive is beaten by a fair margin.

My old Maxtor drive trails in the destructive path of the 1200JB. Surely Western Digital have a winner on their hands? Lets take a look at some HD Tach benchmarks to get some more evidence.

Good sequential read speed's from the 1200JB. The random access time is rather high at 13.3ms but if you look at other HD Tach benchmarks out there on the web you'll see that most report a high RAT, software bug or just the way HD Tach tests? I don't know but I'd suggest you take that score with a pinch of salt if you catch my drift..

On the sequential read speed the Maxtor is taken for a ride by the 1200JB at every step. The random access time however is better at 12.7ms but as I just stated take this figure as anything you like because its mostly likely incorrect.

Well what can I say to sum this drive up? Well quite a bit actually. It's manufactured by a well-known and reputable company that have been in the industry for many many years now, the performance is stunning not to mention the specification, 120GB of space to play with and an 8MB cache. What more can you realistically ask for in an IDE drive.

The Western Digital Caviar 1200JB is a superb drive that could easily be integrated into any system, be in a games machine or a low-end file server. With masses of storage space and great technology to back it up Western Digital have a winner in the form of the 1200JB.

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Copyright © 2002 Øyvind Haugland
Sist endret:  25 mars 2017
 

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