Western Digital's VelociRaptor drives used to be the default weapon of choice for PC performance enthusiasts. Then SSDs came along and the 'Raptor suddenly looked like, well, a dinosaur.
The fact that the real world gap between a 'Raptor and an SSD wasn't that huge didn't help. SSDs return big numbers in the synthetic benchmarks that grab all the headlines.
Nevertheless, Western Digital has kept faith with old school hard drive tech and its latest effort is a screamer. For starters, the VelociRaptor 600GB has a 10,000rpm spindle speed, a big step up from the 5,400rpm and 7,200rpm of nearly all desk top drives. It also has 32MB of cache and a dual-core controller chip.
What you might be surprised to learn, however, is that the VelociRaptor is only a 2.5-inch drive.
More accurately, it's a 2.5-inch drive mounted in a 3.5-inch chassis. Anyway, the smaller magnetic platters make for less distance to travel for the read heads. Along with the 10k spindle speed, that means more performance.
Admittedly, the VelociRaptor isn't terribly impressive in some of our synthentic benchmarks. Sequential read and write performance of 136MB/s and 130MB/s is hardly spectacular for a conventional spinning hard disk, much less enough to give an SSD the willies.
Likewise, a random access time of 7.2ms is several orders of magnitude slower than any SSD.
However, the VelociRaptor's burst rate of 305MB/s in HDTach is a bit better and hints at what this disk is capable of in real world applications. It tears though our file decompression test in just 35 seconds.
That's nearly three times quicker than Western Digital's Caviar Black 1TB and just two seconds slower than Patriot's Inferno 100GB SSD. It's not too far behind the SSD in our application installation and game-level load benchmarks, either.
The only slight worry is the 4k random writes. As synthetic benchmarks go, it tends to correlate fairly closely to day-to-day drive performance. At just 1.82MB/s, it's well off the pace compared to a quick SSD.
In a word, space.
Speedy SSDs are all very well. But big ones are still too expensive and in our experience constantly running out of space gets old very quickly.
OK, the Velociraptor 600GB isn't as zippy as an SSD. But it's very impressive for a conventional hard disk while delivering massively more storage. What's more, its performance shouldn't degrade significantly over time. That's a problem that most, if not all, SSDs suffer from to some extent.
Like any spinning hard disk, moving parts means the possibility of physical failure.
If you're used to the silent operation of an SSD, the graunches and grinds of the VelociRaptor will seem rather agricultural, too.
One day, SSDs will be both fast and cheap. Until then, the VelociRaptor delivers an attractive blend of capacity, performance and (relative) value.