Last week, Redditors, right from / r / DataHoarder, got upset again with Western Digital — this time, for misrepresenting the rotational speed of their WD Red network attached storage hard drive. (Although the linked post brings things to a head, hardwareluxx.de, a member of the German-language forum, began investigating the issue more than a year ago.)
We found that this controversy is reminiscent of earlier complaints that Western Digital were not using shingled magnetic recording technology properly in their NAS drives. But the new complaint is that Western Digital calls the 7200RPM drive a “5400 RPM class” —and the drive’s own firmware reports the 5400 RPM via the SMART interface.
Recently, redditor / u / Amaroko set out to prove or conclude the first netizens. For each of the many drive models, Ameroco placed a sample of that drive on an empty cardboard box, with a blue Yeti mic mounted directly above it, then turned the drive on. The spectral analysis of the recorded audio using Adobe Audition showed a baseline frequency of 120Hz for two models of WD 8TB “5400 RPM class” drives.
120 cycles / second multiplied by 60 seconds / minute to 7,200 cycles / minute. So in other words, these “5400 RPM class” drives were actually spinning at 7,200rpm.
Who doesn’t want faster rotational speed?
At first blush, this may seem like a non-issue – who wouldn’t like a drive with faster spindle speeds? Unfortunately, faster spindles do not simply mean potentially lower latency – they come with a sharp increase in both noise generation and power consumption.
Increasing noise and power, many users found Western Digital’s spurious 5,400rpm spindle speed mark in the first place — users who bought drives expected to roll them lower and slower, but they received more noise, heat. And power consumption more than expected.
Comparing data sheets between the 5,400rpm Seagate Barracuda and the “5400 RPM class” Western Digital Red, which was tested by audio spectral analysis, actually rotates at 7,200rpm – we can see a clear difference in power consumption . When 8TB rad is activated, Barracuda’s 5.3W consumes 8.8W and in standby mode Barracuda’s 250mW consumes 800MW. The difference here is that for the most part, not the brand — Western Digital and Seagate’s drives consume almost the same power when they’re rotating at the same actual RPM.
To be fair to Western Digital, you can’t really buy an 8TB NAS drive that rotates at 5,400RPM – both WD’s Red and Seagate’s Ironwolf entry-level NAS lineup uses 7,200rpm spindles. But to be fair to the consuming public, “RPM” has a very specific meaning, and to explain what – if anything – the “5400 RPM performance class” actually means that the WD Red Datasheet But there is no footnote.
Western digital response
When we arrived at Western Digital to research this story, a representative confirmed the findings of various forum-goers and radiators — that is, the “5400 RPM class” doesn’t really mean that the drive rotates at 5,400rpm.
For select products, Western Digital has published RPM speeds within a “class” or “performance class” for several years rather than publishing specific spindle speeds. We also select hard drive platforms and related HDD features to create many different forms of such platforms to meet the needs of different markets or applications. By doing so, we are able to leverage the scale of our economies and pass those savings on to our customers. As with every Western Digital product, our product descriptions, including power, acoustics and performance (data transfer rate), are tested to meet specifications provided on the product’s data sheet and marketing collateral.
In our editorial opinion, however, this response is not useful — nor is it still the undefined “RPM class”. The user reading this data sheet will more Confused by marketing fluff, no less. And “typical consumers” who are Westerners trying to digitally shield information they don’t understand are unlikely to read the hard drive data sheet at first.
If you’d forgive an automotive analogy, it doesn’t tell us much different than a window sticker on a V6 sedan that declares it a “four cylinder square”, any indication of what’s actually under the hood Is not.
Image listed by Brian Wong / Flickr