The majority of gamers and enthusiast users are told that in order to get a faster system they need to upgrade to SSDs. In our past reviews, we have found that SSDs have, in general, been faster than conventional HDDs. This was especially noticeable in the latency and overall boot times as well as game load times. Now that SSDs have saturated the marketplace, consumers are more educated to the benefits and pitfalls of running SSDs or SSDs in a RAID array. One of these is that at this current moment, you cannot have TRIM enabled with an SSD RAID array running. TRIM simply will not function and the SSD RAID array will begin to lose performance over time unless it has BGC built into the firmware. This still does not improve the overall life of the SSD but it recovers most of the original performance.

Getting back to HDDs we notice that one company in particular has launched their own series of high-performance drives. This company is Western Digital. While many may criticize them for releasing an HDD in an SSD dominated performance market, there are some benefits to releasing a newer and faster HDD. Today we will evaluate whether or not the Western Digital 600GB VelociRaptor is really worth buying and in what instances it should be good to use.

First, there?s a little back story? the Raptor series of HDDs have been commonly associated with high performance and gaming. Ever since the 74GB 10,000 RPM drives came out, people had been equating  WD?s Raptor line of HDDs as the fastest HDDs on the planet bar-none. As such, WD built on this success and eventually made 150GB, 300GB and now 600GB drives. The great thing about the VelociRaptor line is that these drives are not only faster than the older ones with a larger capacity, but they are also physically smaller. This clearly illustrates WD?s drive to innovate and make their products better in every way possible. The VelociRaptor 600GB could in theory be installed into a laptop but WD strongly cautions against doing so, as these drives generate enough heat to require an ?IcePack? cooling module that these smaller drives are installed onto in order to fit the 3.5? form factor for most HDDs. They also draw too much power for most laptops to sufficiently be able to power them up and the drive is designed to recognize that.

Packaging
The packaging that we received the drive in was very simplistic as it was OEM packaging and not a retail box, so from our experience if you were to order an OEM directly from WD you should receive a product that is properly packaged against the abuses that UPS or FedEx may put it through. Other than that, there?s not much else to say about the packaging or accessories since this is OEM and we will likely skip straight to the meat of the review.

Performance and User Experience
Setup:
Intel Xeon X3350 (Q9450 Equivalent) CPU
4GB of Kingston HyperX 1066 DDR2 Ram (Provided by Kingston)
DFi LT X38 T2R Motherboard
Coolermaster Real Power Pro 850w PSU (Provided by Coolermaster)
2 x Corsair P64 MLC SSDs (Provided by Corsair)
2 x Seagate Barracuda XT HDDs (Provided by Seagate)
128GB Kingston Vseries Gen2 SSD (Provided by Kingston)
600GB Western Digital Velociraptor (Provided by Western Digital)
Note: The Seagate Barracuda XTs are SATA 6G drives, but this motherboard is not capable of SATA 6G support. We may leave that for another review.

For this review, we wanted to pit the Velociraptor against some similarly and not-so similarly priced SSDs and HDD solutions as listed above. These included HDDs and SSDs in RAID as well as those not in RAID arrays. We also wanted to make sure that there was quite a bit of real world experience as well. This means that along with running the typical hard drive benchmark programs, we also ran some real world tests to evaluate usability and performance.

Reviewer Experience and Testing
First, we did some synthetic benchmarks using ATTO and CrystalMark.

 

The speeds that we see here are faster than any other hard drive we’ve tested that wasn’t an SAS drive. They even beat out our single drive Barracuda XT 2TB.

Here we can see that the read and write speeds on the VelociRaptor are very high, near or higher than some SSDs. As such, we expect this drive to beat out some SSDs in the real world testing. When compared to the Seagate RAID array, we notice that the Seagates only benefit in sequential read/write tests and if we were to run the VelociRaptor in RAID 0 they would be faster.

Next, we ran SiSandra hard disk test to compare against other drives. This just gave us a good comparison of the drive we ran against other drives in their databases. Looking at this, you can see that the WD Velociraptor is only slightly slower than the Seagate 15K RPM Cheetah drives. When factoring in that the Cheetah drive is SCSI and that it is generally a little more expensive, the Velociraptor keeps up with Seagate?s 300GB Cheetah Enterprise 15k RPM drive. Unfortunately, we did not have access to a Seagate Cheetah 600GB 15k RPM drive? but the price for one is more than double the price of the Velociraptor for the exact same capacity and possibly slightly higher speeds.

Also, when looking at the SiSandra results you can notice that they also had the previous generation of drives most notably the 150GB and 300GB Velociraptor drives. If you look at the read performance, you can clearly see the improvements that Western Digital has made on going from the first iteration of the Velociraptor to this 2nd and newest one. The read access times on the Cheetah were slightly quicker than either of the Velociraptors; at 12% faster. Surprisingly enough, the Read performance on the Velociraptor was even faster than the Gigabyte iRAM drive which is already putting it into competition with solid state storage mediums.

When we look at the write tests[pictured above and below], we see more of the same from the Velociraptor over the previous generation. The older Velociraptors are 19% slower in write speeds when compared to the new 600GB Velociraptor. The only interesting thing that we noticed was that the older generation of Velociraptors had a slightly better access time than the new generation. The difference was 0.13 milliseconds, so not even half a millisecond difference. We believe that this could simply be part of the margin of error or that the newer Velociraptor have slightly sacrificed write access times for speed. Of course, none of the drives compared at all to the iRAM drive when it came to access time, but that?s to be expected when comparing hard disk to solid state drives.

Reviewer Experience and Testing Cont’d.
Next we ran some more realistic benchmarks of performance.

First we ran Cinebench of off a different series of storage solutions and compared the overall score and averaged out our results based on 3 tests each. This effectively gave us a different score on every different type of file medium as the processor must fetch all of the files directly from the drive that they were extracted to and the executable was run from. Here we can see which drive solutions are more effective in read speeds.

Looking at our Cinebench scores, we can see that the 128GB RAID array performs better in Cinebench than any of our drive configurations. But when comparing two single drive solutions, HDD vs SSD the difference is very narrow with the VelociRaptor getting 2.96 points and the SSD getting 2.99 points. This, we would consider to be a near virtual tie. So, when it comes to doing rendering… the VelociRaptor is just as fast as the SSD.

Next we ran a series of two different write tests that involved 1080P video files and a large 5GB folder of 3,133 high resolution photographs.

Looking at the results, we can see that when it came to a single large 3GB 1080P video file, the VelociRaptor performed worse than the 128GB SSD or the 4TB RAID array. The difference, though, was not much, but if we were to recommend writing large movie files we would probably still recommend the RAID array. Note, that this RAID array is not a RAID 1 array but a RAID 0 which does present an issue for some as it does increase the possibility of data loss. The VelociRaptor provides a more secure solution as it is less vulnerable than a RAID array, but at the same time still gives a fairly good level of performance when compared to an SSD.

When we compared the 5GB folder containing 3,133 pictures we noticed that the VelociRaptor was much faster than the 128GB SSD and a little slower than the 4TB RAID  array. Once again, though, the RAID array is a more expensive solution and also sacrifices security for speed. As such, the Velociraptor is in the middle ground giving you more space and speed than the SSD but costing less than a 4TB RAID 0 array.

Also, as a disclaimer we must mention that we did have a drive die on us post testing but the new drive confirmed all of our previous findings.

Value
The WD VelociRaptor provides value by filling a segment that SSDs cannot quite fill while at the same time giving performance levels that can only be beaten by RAID arrays that increase the vulnerability and cost of the storage solution. The VelociRaptor retails for $279 while two Seagate Barracuda XTs run at $398. As such, the Velociraptor is more bang for your buck if you want a single drive solution. When you also take into consideration the overall improvements that Western Digital has made over the previous version, you can see that these drives are a great value even if you’ve already purchased the old one and want to know if it is worth the upgrade.

Conclusion
The Western Digital Velociraptor is the fastest hard drive we have currently reviewed and it still proves that in many cases, hard drives are still faster than SSDs and the ever increasing size of SSDs still has not matched that capabilities and capacities of traditional hard disk drives. The Velociraptor is definitely a drive we would recommend if you want the best hard drive for almost any purpose, but would stop short of recommending it over an SSD for an OS/Boot drive. The great thing about these drives, though, is that Western Digital has not simply created a simple refresh of their old drives. It would be more of an overhaul considering the performance increases and the overall speed of the drive. Western Digital has spent quite a bit of R&D improving these drives and that’s why they’ve been growing so fast in the past few years. Western Digital is on a roll and appears to understand how to keep their products constantly improving at intervals that are worth upgrading to.