Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Western Digital's 'Green' RE2-GP 1TB hard drive

Western Digital's RE2-GP drive uses less power during startup, meaning that on average you save $10 annually on your electrical bill per drive

Western Digital Corporation is playing the total cost of ownership (TCO) card; it's also playing the maximized storage card; and just to cover the overall hard disk trifecta, it's layed down the power-saving "green" card as well. Disparate as those three can be -- minimal cost, maximum storage capacity, and minimum power consumption -- WDC has combined them into its line-up of RE2-GP drives and, in doing so, may actually have produced the first no-lose computer product since the IBM PC 5150.

On the ground floor, the RE2-GP is just a little more than your run-of-the-mill hard disk. Western Digital, as has, Hitachi, Samsung, and Seagate, bumped the data bar up to 1TB. (Both 500GB and 750GB models are also available, but they're passe for the techno-geek, or data center manager, as the title is sometimes applied.) The drive is rated at a relatively common 8.9 milliseconds seek time and has a 16MB cache -- half the size of that which accompanies Hitachi's Deskstar 7K1000, Samsung's Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ, and Seagate's 1TB ST31000340AS.

Before your brows furrow and your lips purse into the inevitable, "hmmm," just be aware that cache size helps burst speed -- the data rate from the drive's buffer to its interface (in this case, SATA 3.0GB/sec). And, that cache is most effective during sequential reads and writes. Video recording or playback, accessing consecutive database records, even streaming backups can benefit. Beyond that, you can end up with too much of a good thing that just uses power and adds price.

Looking at the RE2-GP through green-colored glasses reveals a trio of "Intelli-" technologies: -Power, -Seek, and -Park. The first balances spin speeds, transfer rates, and caching algorithms; the second optimizes seek speeds; the third unloads ("parks") the heads when the drive is idle to counteract drag and it also disengages the read/write electronics.

Tie those to Western Digital's pronouncement that the RE2-GP uses less power during startup and you arrive at a claimed $10 annual savings on your electrical bill per drive. While that's not much for the average single drive user to write home about, the 10,000 drive data center could, based on that estimate, save $100, 000 year. Even in a relatively puny 12-drive home network, the $120 per year savings might be enough to let you shed the sweater and raise the thermostat a degree or two during the winter months.

If you really want to focus on green power (the GP -get it?), then you need to reverse the presentation: Saving money on an electrical bill really means you're using less electricity. Multiply even a small savings across the millions of hard drives in use and the result is enormous. How much less energy? It's rated at 4.0-watt power consumption at idle, which is about 50% below the published specifications for most of its competition. Likewise, Western Digital's claim that the RE2-GP has an average operational power consumption of just 7.4 watts makes it between 22% and 33% more efficient than its three primary competitors. (The latter number is probably more useful to a busy data center while the idle rating typically affects consumer installations where drives spend most of their time waiting to be used. Also keep I mind that lower power consumption means more drives available in a fixed-power environment.)

Tested under Simpli Software's HDTach on a Vista Ultimate computer using an ASUS M2N-MX motherboard (GeForce 6100 Northbridge, nForce 430 Southbridge chips), with an AMD Athlon X2 6000+ AM2 processor and 4GB of memory, the RE2-GP's performance proved to be a mixed bag. Despite having only half the cache, the RE2-GP uses it quite effectively, clocked at 184MB/s Burst Speed. That's 59.3MB/s faster than the 1TB Seagate ST31000340OAS SD03 from last time. The RE2-GP fell back at Average Reads to 65.3MB/s, which is 20.1MB/s slower than Seagate's drive. That would seem to indicate that, in benchmarks at least, there is a price to be paid for going green despite all the enhanced algorithms and technical skullduggery that might exist in the world.

That said, we'd take the RE2-GP as a streaming drive any day of the week. We'd have to balance our power needs with our data requirements beyond that point. Best guess is that Western Digital has a hit on its hands given all the media files now in play and possibly an even bigger hit in crowded data centers. It's also helpful that the drive is priced at $330 (or $310 if you catch a special) direct and a 5-year warranty doesn't hurt either.
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