Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Samsung SpinPoint F3 Hard Drive

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fast, cool, quiet, reliable; good amount of space
Cons: A bit of a loud whirring sound during spin-up

Current System

AMD Athlon II X3 450 3.2GHz Processor
Antec 300 Case
ASUS DRW-24B1ST 24x DVD Burner
ASUS M4A87TD EVO AMD870 Motherboard
ASUS Radeon HD 6850 1GB Video Card
Corsair Builder Series CX600 PSU
G.SKILL Ripjaws X 8GB DDR3 1600 RAM
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB Hard Drive
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Samsung SyncMaster 2333T 23" LCD Widescreen Monitor

When I built my current computer I installed this 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F3 SATA-II hard drive as the main system drive. The price per gigabyte of hard drive space made 1TB drives the best deal at the time, and it allowed me plenty of space to partition the drive to install Linux beside Windows. Since I also threw in 2TB Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen SATA-II hard drive for storage, I will be making comparisons between them for the benchmarks later in the review.
I ordered this drive as a bare OEM from like I do the vast majority of my computer related purchases. It came in a clear plastic case without an SATA cable, but this was expected and the motherboard came with cables to use anyway. I don't recall if the drive came with mounting screws or not, but I use the thumb screws that came with my case instead of normal mounting screws anyway. Many computers these days have some type of drive rail or latching system to eliminate the need for screws either way; your mileage may vary.
A hard drive is typically simple to install depending on how it's secured into your case. Usually it just slides into the hard drive bay, and you plop two screws in each side to hold it in place. If you have a drive rail system you just set one rail on each side of the drive so that the pegs sit into the hard drive's screw holes and then slide it into the hard drive bay until it clicks. One of the cases here even has black plastic pieces with wing nuts on them, and you slide the hard drive into the bay and then put the two pegs on the plastic piece into the screw holes and tighten the wing nut to hold the piece to the case. Your case should either be pretty obvious or come with instructions, but it shouldn't be difficult no matter how you slice it.
The 1TB Spinpoint F3 is a 2 platter hard drive with four read/write heads. It rotates at 7200 RPM with an average seek time of 8.9ms, an average latency of 4.17ms, and has a decent sized 32 MB cache. The total capacity of the drive is 931GB (1,000,097,181,696 bytes) when formatted with a single NTFS partition.
The Samsung Spinpoint F3 hard drive is a standard 3.5" desktop hard drive. While it does warm up a little, it doesn't get hot at all -- at least not in my case. I have a 120mm intake fan in the front of my case that sucks in air and blows it into the case across the hard drives.
It features the same SilentSeek and NoiseGuard technologies that the F4 EcoGreen uses to help keep the drive quiet during operation, and they seem to work pretty well. The drive doesn't make any more noise than the fans in my case, except when it's first spinning up. Then, you can hear an audible whirring sound until the drive gets up to speed; after that it's back to calm and quiet operation. The F4 EcoGreen does this as well, but it seems to do it more often because I use that as a storage and backup drive. Since the F3 is my main system drive it usually stays spun up most of the time and I completely forget about it.
I've had this Spinpoint F3 drive running in my computer nearly 24/7 for about 16 months now, and I've had absolutely no problems with it. I can easily see this thing outlasting the 3 year warranty from Samsung, which is great because a hard drive failure is one of the most annoying hardware problems to have due to the loss of data.
Benchmarking of this hard drive was done using DiskMark from NetworkDLS. The first run was done with the default settings, using many runs with a fairly small set size to simulate copying multiple smaller files. This included 128 files of 64 KB each, and the test was ran 320 times for a total of 2.5 GB. The second run was done with a lot less runs, but a much larger set size to simulate copying a smaller number of much larger files. This included 128 files of 6.25 MB each, and ran 32 times for a total of 25 GB.
Hard Drive: Samsung Spinpoint F3 SATA-II (7200 RPM)
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 64.00 KB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 8.00 MB, Runs: 320, Total Set Size: 2.50 GB
Write Performance: Min: 59.37 MB/s, Max: 131.66 MB/s, Average: 127.63 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 63.38 MB/s, Max: 153.97 MB/s, Average: 151.30 MB/s
Hard Drive: Samsung Spinpoint F3 SATA-II (7200 RPM)
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 6.25 MB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 800.00 MB, Runs: 32, Total Set Size: 25.00 GB
Write Performance: Min: 91.91 MB/s, Max: 120.07 MB/s, Average: 116.03 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 112.78 MB/s, Max: 121.74 MB/s, Average: 120.15 MB/s

The same set of tests was then completed on my 2TB Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen SATA-II hard drive for comparison. The F4 EcoGreen is a 5400 RPM hard drive with Advanced Format 4096 byte sectors, while the F3 is a 7200 RPM drive with standard 512 byte sectors. Both drives were hooked up via SATA Rev 2.6.
Since both drives are Samsung Spinpoint drives, this should tell us a lot about how this drive compares to it's newer, larger cousin.
Hard Drive: Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen SATA-II (5400 RPM)
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 64.00 KB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 8.00 MB, Runs: 320, Total Set Size: 2.50 GB
Write Performance: Min: 98.68 MB/s, Max: 164.24 MB/s, Average: 153.68 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 88.17 MB/s, Max: 174.24 MB/s, Average: 168.09 MB/s
Hard Drive: Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen SATA-II (5400 RPM)
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 6.25 MB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 800.00 MB, Runs: 32, Total Set Size: 25.00 GB
Write Performance: Min: 97.73 MB/s, Max: 101.70 MB/s, Average: 99.25 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 99.17 MB/s, Max: 100.17 MB/s, Average: 99.79 MB/s

From the benchmarks we can see that this F3 isn't much different overall from the newer F4 EcoGreen. While the F3 was a little slower with small files, it was faster copying large files so it all came out in the wash overall. Each test was ran three times on each drive and the middle result was used.
Honestly this is probably the best hard drive I've owned. It's pretty fast and fairly quiet, doesn't get real hot and has been reliable. If you're not going with a solid-state drive then I suggest you give the Samsung Spinpoint F3 a shot. It's also available in a 500GB version, but the cost per gigabyte makes this 1TB drive more cost effective.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

SanDisk 2GB Cruzer Micro Flash Drive

Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: Dependable, slider mechanism instead of a cap
Cons: Ridiculously slow speeds, U3 software auto-install

The 2GB SanDisk Cruzer Micro is a flash drive that I've owned for a long time. I've upgraded flash drives a few times since owning it, and it's currently still in perfect working order and in the possession of my fiancee who keeps her documents on it along with a lot of pictures. While I'm not a big fan of the drive, it has been dependable, so the main reason I upgraded was because of the size; 2GB was enough space when I originally purchased the drive, but as time went on I found myself needing more.
The total drive capacity is 2,047,442,944 bytes (1.90 GB), which is enough for somewhere around 500 photos taken with the Motorola DROID 4's camera). This has been plenty of space for her thus far, but now that we have a child she's quickly filling up that room with pictures of him so I will likely have to pick her up a larger drive in the near future.
The main design feature worth noting about the Cruzer Micro is the fact that it has a sliding mechanism on the top of the drive, and pushing this forward extends the device's USB port out of the plastic housing. Pushing the mechanism back retracts the USB port back inside, effectively eliminating the need for a cap that can be easily misplaced. While you can still get a little bit of dust inside the end, it really takes no time to blow it out once in a while and not have to worry about a cap.
The Cruzer Micro is black in color and measures about 2.5" long, just under 1" wide and about .25" thick. While the drive is made entirely of plastic and feels a bit like a toy, at least it's a decent quality toy because everything is tight and sturdy. The matte black finish doesn't collect fingerprints at all, though between the white sliding mechanism and all the printed text (brand, model, U3,, U3 Smart, FCC and CE markings, etc) the surface looks pretty noisy and busy. The sliding mechanism even has an obnoxious bright amber glow when the drive is plugged in. Sigh.
My Cruzer Micro came with a dark blue lanyard to hang the device around your neck or whatever. When I was the primary person using the device I used to hang it from a tack on the wall near my computer, but then I removed the lanyard entirely and opted to use the tiny keyring on the bottom of the drive instead.
The SanDisk Cruzer Micro is a pretty slow drive though. Check Flash 1.16.2 records this USB 2.0 flash drive having a read speed of only 17.45 MB/s, and an even slower write speed of 7.37 MB/s. It's a pretty dismal showing as far as performance goes, easily the slowest of any of my flash drives. Obviously this isn't going to work for Windows 7/Vista ReadyBoost, and even filling the drive up is going to be painful. Best used for a lot of small files that you don't need to copy back and forth all at once.
One last notable thing about the Cruzer Micro is the U3 software that comes installed on it. This creates a virtual CD drive with autorun that pops up a little icon in your system tray every time you insert the drive. This icon acts like a miniature start menu, allowing you easy access to any U3 portable programs you have installed on the drive. Not exactly what I wanted when I purchased the drive, but I thought it was a novel concept that was worth further experimentation.
The drive came with some synchronization program, Skype and some type of antivirus installed for the U3 platform by default. I chose to also install OpenOffice, Firefox, 7-Zip, Notepad++, VLC Media Player and a number of other programs that I thought I might use at different times. It sounded like it would be really handy sometimes, but I realized a couple months later that I hadn't used a single one of those U3 programs even once. I really only use programs on my own computers, and if I'm somewhere else with my flash drive I'm there to copy files back and forth and not use random programs just because I have them.
At least the software could be uninstalled with a utility on SanDisk's website, though it did require a reformat of the flash drive. The U3 software automatically installs itself on every Windows computer that you plug the drive into (it thankfully does nothing in Linux or on a Mac), and why they opted to make their software act like a trojan and go installing itself willy nilly is beyond my comprehension. At least a little "Would you like to install U3 software?" box would have been nice.
The Cruzer Micro is Plug & Play on Windows 2000+, and apparently also in Linux (tested various versions of Linux Mint, Ubuntu, and Debian over the years). It has a long-expired 2 year limited warranty and is made in China.
While the Cruzer Micro isn't a terrible drive, it's not something I would recommend. Between the U3 software and the ridiculously slow speed, there were much better options back when it was new. These days that goes doubly so, as you can pick up a 16 GB drive for around $10 or a 32 GB drive for around $20 online at retailers like Newegg.