500GB, 5400rpm Laptop Hard Drive noise shootout: Seagate v. Hitachi v. WD

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by Jottle, Mar 22, 2009.

  1. Jottle macrumors 6502

    Oct 17, 2003
    So here's a follow up on my own question for those of you who are thinking of going with an aftermarket 5400rpm 500GB hard drive for your unibody macbook pro.

    Bottom line: each of the aftermarket drives has tradeoffs that you have to decide are worth it for your particular application. My main concern was not necessarily drive performance; instead, I was interested in getting a bigger 500gb drive that was just as quiet or quieter than the stock drive. I'm extremely sensitive to noise, so this was priority one for me. Given that there are manufacturing differences among all drive makers, my experience isn't necessarily generalizable for all of the makes of drives out there on the shelves. It's quite possible that I just happened to get slightly louder drives, though it's also not likely.

    Note: As you've all noticed, the unibody macbook pro hard drive sits right beneath a very thin piece of aluminum on the right handrest. If you put your hand on top of this area in a completely silent room, you'll note that the whirring sound of the hard drive is dampened considerably. Because aluminum resonates more than plastic and the fact that our computers are very thin, hard disk noise is more apparent once ambient noise around you is gone. This is also the case for faster 7200rpm drives that may cause more vibration in the unibody. So my comparisons are for environments that are very quiet where hard drive noise is obvious. Anyways, I'll compare the replacement drives I tried below. The following is a key for my observations:

    IDLE NOISE: Sound that the drive makes when not under any load and spinning at idle. This sound is the constant whirring (like an ocean) that the drive platters make.

    HEAD PARKING: This is the somewhat aggravating ticking sound that drives make (usually more often under OSX) when the heads are parking to save energy. This sound is like a random (usually 5-10 second) apart ping pong ball type, single "tick" sound. It only presents itself when the drive sits at idle. Some drives are louder than others with respect to this sound. Stock apple drives are just awful when it comes to this. An OSX application called HDAPM (http://mckinlay.net.nz/hdapm/) can eliminate this sound entirely but with the downside of possibly decreasing battery life. Use at your own risk.

    LOAD NOISE: This is the sound the drive makes when something is written to it or it is being accessed by the OS. This sound is usually a muted clicking noise that tends to be almost inaudible unless the task is heavy on disk access. You should be familiar with it.

    SPEED: I wasn't interested in this, but I ran some tests using SpeedTools utilities. This is the same suite of test programs used by barefeats.com.
    Comparison below:

    1. Stock Hitachi 320GB 5400rpm Hard Drive
    IDLE NOISE: This drive, believe it or not, is still the quietest of the bunch.
    In a completely silent environment, idle noise is whisper quiet. You can hear it from about 2 feet away. It's not entirely unpleasant. The whirring is constant with an almost imperceptible high pitch whine. I have pretty good hearing, and this drive's idle whirring noise is only audible when the room is completely silent (rare). It barely makes more noise than the virtually silent fans at 2000rpm.

    HEAD PARKING: This is where stock apple drives just suck. The Hitachi drive makes a pretty loud "tick" sound when it parks its heads at idle. This sound bothered the hell out of me until I found the hdapm application. Some people are more bothered by this sound than others, but the Hitachi made this noise more frequently and more audibly than the other two drives in my comparison.

    LOAD NOISE: This drive is also pretty quiet under load. You can hear some slight clicking when it's working, but it's nothing that would distract you.

    SPEED: Quickbench clocks this drive at 51mbps average read/write. Pretty sucky :)

    2. Seagate Momentus 500GB, 5400rpm Hard Drive:

    IDLE NOISE: This drive is perceptibly louder than the Hitachi. You can hear the drive from about 3 feet away in a silent room. The whirring isn't too high pitched, so it blends into the environment as white noise very quickly. I did perceive a slight whine, but I acclimated to it quickly. If I had to choose a 500GB drive, I'd probably choose this one based on idle noise and speed benefits alone. Again, this 500GB drive is louder than stock though. So don't go thinking you'll get a quieter drive.

    HEAD PARKING: Worlds better than the stock Hitachi drive. I actually could not hear any head parking "tick" sound using this drive. Seagate has done a great job making this drive virtually silent in this respect.

    LOAD NOISE: None that I could hear. Quieter than stock.

    SPEED: Clocks in at 76mbps average read/write. Nice.

    3. Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB, 5400rpm Hard Drive:

    IDLE NOISE: I wanted this drive to knock my socks off acoustically, but it just didn't. I didn't hear any whine from this drive's platters, but the idle whir was noticeably louder than the Seagate, and it tended to oscillate its volume randomly. This actually drew attention to the drive and made it hard to tune out. It sounds similar to ocean waves coming and going. The drive gets louder and softer over and over again. No good at all.

    HEAD PARKING: Like the stock Hitachi, this drive had a very perceptible head parking noise. It did not present itself as often as the Hitachi's (thank God), but it was particularly noticeable when it happened regardless of ambient noise. I would probably use HDAPM on this drive as well.

    LOAD NOISE: A little louder than the Seagate. I'd say on par with the barely perceptible noise the Hitachi makes when under load. It's fine according to my standards.

    SPEED: Quickbench clocks the drive at 74mbps read/write. Still faster than the sucky stock drive.

    There you have it. If you want a faster drive with more space, I'd go with the Seagate (assuming you don't want an even faster 7200rpm drive). Ultimately, I wanted to compare the 500gb drives to my stock 320gb. I don't need the space now, and I ended up sticking with the stock Hitachi drive because it's so very silent. Your requirements and hearing will likely be different. But if you prize as quiet a laptop as possible, you probably will sacrifice a little silence for a faster/larger aftermarket notebook drive. Again, manufacturing tolerances will vary for the macbook pros and aftermarket hard drives. So take my observations as one person's opinion among many possible. It is likely, however, that your computer may sound the same with these drives in it. And lastly, everyone has different hearing levels/sensitivities. So you might not notice or care about half the points I mentioned above. I hope this helps some of you who are thinking of going to 500GB but don't necessarily NEED the space right now :)
  2. pdxflint macrumors 68020


    Aug 25, 2006
    Oregon coast
    The Hitachi 500 gig (not the stock 320g in your comparison) was a lot slower than the WD 500 Scorpio Blue 5400rpm in a review at tomshardware.com.

    WD developed a two-platter 500gig notebook drive instead of mimicking the Hitachi three-platter design, which might explain the better access times and data throughput speeds for the WD (and I would have to assume the Seagate also, since it's a two-platter drive, too.)

    How did you get copies of the Seagate and WD 500 gig drives for comparison? Also, I wonder how much difference the acoustics would be in the unibody MBPs vs. the previous ones..?

    BTW: Thanks for the 1st person reporting.
  3. 01jamcon macrumors 6502a


    Jul 24, 2006
    OP, thank you very much for your hard drive reviews, its quite nice to see that others have similar...needs from their equipment :D
  4. Warranty Voider macrumors 6502

    Aug 27, 2008
    Maine, US
    I just bought the 500 gig WD from NewEgg and I agree with your results. It has a loud idling noise that seems to change pitch every so often. My stock drive (whatever brand the 250 gig is) was EXTREMELY quiet. I never even heard a sound when it was idling. However, the stock drive also made a very loud "click" noise when the head parked. I've noticed that with the WD drive, I can't hear the head park. Overall, I like my WD drive a lot. I haven't really compared it to anything else other than the stock drive, but I don't mind the little extra noise for a lot of extra space.

    Does anybody know how much louder the 7200 rpm drives are?
  5. michael.lauden macrumors 68020


    Dec 25, 2008
    iii'd probably stick with Hitachi. the Travelstar seems to hold up well. But i think it's time to switch to an SSD if you can afford it...
  6. steve31 macrumors 6502a


    Jul 20, 2007
    Edmonton Canada
    Seagate 5400rpm HD 500gb here in my MB and Seagate 7200rpm HD 500gb in my MBP. Love them!
  7. dlhuss macrumors member

    Mar 16, 2009
    I've got 4 of the 500GB 5400rpm Seagates and one of them is annoyingly loud.

    Edit: It's the scratching sound with every write, not the loud click.
  8. johnnj macrumors 6502a

    Dec 11, 2008
    Not here
    I also have a Seagate 500 in my MBP. I must have gotten a good one, because I can barely hear the idle noise. Everything else is as in the OP. No head park tick, and the thing doesn't seem to really get louder when its under load.

    Before this drive, I had a 320 WD Scorpio Black 7200rpm drive. The idle noise and vibration was fairly bad, but what drove me NUTS was the head parking tick.

    I'm curious how the Seagate 500gb 7200rpm drive does. Anyone have one of those?

  9. Jottle thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 17, 2003
    I just bought the Seagate and WD drives at fry's, and then I swapped them in and out of my mbp as quickly as possible. I also installed mac osx on them as well to make sure they sounded the same under normal use vs. when they are completely empty.

    As others have stated before, for us sound sensitive people the only way to go is the completely silent SSD drives. Unfortunately, they're pretty cost prohibitive right now. When they come down in price (substantially!), they'll definitely be worth getting. No more click noises!
  10. ViciousShadow21 macrumors 68020


    Mar 11, 2009
    To your left or right
    thanks for the post. im glad to "hear" that the seagate was your choice. always been a big fan of Seagate.

    on a side note, has anyone heard of Seagate and/or Western Digital getting into the SSD market? granted i havent been up on SSD's but i havent heard anything form them even in passing. they can't afford to miss out on the SSD market.
  11. LFC.SL macrumors member

    Oct 21, 2008
    Could you clarify which Momentus was tested here please
  12. machomer macrumors regular

    Jun 27, 2007
    How does the 7200rpm drive compare to the 5400rpm?
  13. Jottle thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 17, 2003
    This was the only 5400rpm, 500GB internal laptop hard drive that Seagate makes. It is the Momentus 5400.6 Model #:ST9500325AS
    LINK:click here
  14. Jottle thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 17, 2003
    Interested here as well. Please post!
  15. LFC.SL macrumors member

    Oct 21, 2008
    Ah thank you for the clarification

    I am reading this thread because I am toying with the idea of picking up a few OWC Mercury on-the-go enclosures and slapping a HD inside (they only give you 1 year warranty, so its cheaper and better to buy HD separately)

    http://eshop.macsales.com/item/Other World Computing/MSTG800U2K/

    Knowing how I work I will end up buying 1x WD and 1x Seagate and be done with it :p
  16. Sir Cecil macrumors 6502a

    Mar 31, 2008
    Can anyone with experience of the HDAPM download (mentioned by the thread starter) comment on the wisdom or otherwise of using this? Sounds like something I'd like to use to stop that annoying "parking" sound on my stock drive, but not at the cost of compromising other performance/reliability. And is it easily uninstalled if necessary?
    Thanks in advance for any observations.
  17. SecondDealer macrumors regular

    Feb 1, 2009
    I personally own the WD My Book 1 TB with firewire, I would agree that its idling noise and back up related noise can be quite distracting. Furthermore the constant light show going on out of the corner of my eye constantly attracts my attention to the wirr..
  18. Jottle thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 17, 2003
    I've installed it. Here are directions: click. (see the 11th post with directions by username honeysyd)
    It's likely that you'll have to do the more involved install route. It involves placing a small terminal application in an invisible folder, and dropping a startup item into you startup items folder. It's not too difficult if you're familiar with thsi kind of thing. I haven't tested battery performance with hdapm enabled, but I'm sure it eats into it a little bit considering the energy saving features are disabled. Still waiting for someone to do a comparison as well...
  19. golfhero macrumors member

    Nov 24, 2008
    I've got the Seagate 500gb 7200RPM. I have heard people complaining that it is too loud or vibrates too much, but I don't have any problems. I use my MBP in a quiet office and can't hear anything nor do I deel any vibrations through the body. The drive is super fast and quiet. When writing data it seems quieter than my older 320gb 5400RPM WD.
  20. Jottle thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 17, 2003

    When other HD manufacturers (besides Seagate) release their 7200rpm, 500GB laptop drives, someone should be brave and do a shootout like this one ;)
  21. pdxflint macrumors 68020


    Aug 25, 2006
    Oregon coast
    Latest feedback from my newly installed WD 500gig Scorpio Blue in a MBP Classic. After a day with it actually inside my MBP, I am more aware of it being there when I first get on my laptop in the morning. It doesn't sound bad, but has a low, low sound much like a fan and and is just loud enough to be a slight notch above the stock 120gig Fujitsu. It's clearly louder at idle, but anything at all would be since the OEM Fujitsu was damn quiet. And, I'm not getting those "clicks" that some folks have reported with WD drives. What I do notice is much quicker file transfers and app loading, etc. I guess it's really tough to judge a drive on it's own without ways to compare with others like Jottle. For me, the sound is not enough to make a difference, but I don't want to tell folks it's absolutely quiet when it's not. At least the hum or whir at idle is not high-pitched and irritating. A lot of the time I'm actually on headphones, so I may not be the best judge here...;)

    It's cool (no difference in internal temps) and quiet under load, or basically anytime. Yes, you can listen for it if you really try, but it's just fine.

    The nice thing is for a 5400 rpm drive it's really good performing, with a huge gain in read/write speed over the stock drive. According to tomshardware.com it outperforms most 5400 drives, and is just under the 7200 rpm drives on many performance tests. And it's one of the better energy efficient drives in use, whether idling or under load.

    Wish the warranty was 5 years instead of 3 years... oh well.

    Anyway, I can give it my recommendation to anyone considering this drive...with reservations. If hearing any low, hushing fan sound will turn you off, don't get this drive. If you aren't that sensitive to it, it's a really good performer. I got it at Newegg for $89 and they bundled an SATA 2.5" usb enclosure for free. For 500 gig and good performance, it was a bargain.

    Update: I edited this post to reflect my most recent observations...
  22. ooninay macrumors member

    Mar 19, 2009
    I'm a bit strange I guess because I actually like the sound hard drives make when they're reading and writing. When I get an upgrade I'm downright disappointed if I can't hear it... so this thread is helpful to me although I suppose in the opposite way that it was intended! Hate high-pitched background whirr though...
  23. ViciousShadow21 macrumors 68020


    Mar 11, 2009
    To your left or right
    i kind of have to agree to a point. for me it lets me know that something is going on. so its not that i necessarily like the noise more that it give me assurance that something is indeed happening. but i would happily give up the sound for another indicator.
  24. Jottle thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 17, 2003
    I'm curious if your idle noise is the same as the one I got. In a completely quiet room, does the "whirring" sound resemble the ocean in that it tends to get a little louder and a very little bit quieter on and off at idle? This isn't noticeable under everyday use. But I'm curious if your drive does the same. My theory is that this oscillating volume is similar to the Hitachi. But the hitachi is so quiet that you don't normally notice it.
  25. utsuri macrumors newbie

    Mar 26, 2009
    I just purchased a Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500 GB and tried and replaced my MBP 2.4 200gb Fujitsu HDD. However when I turn on the laptop and tried installing Leopard, the screen went DIM and cannot see the hard disk. I went back to Seagate and they say should not have this problem and replace a brand new HDD. I tried again and face the same problem. Any advice?

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