Mobile technology should not be about cramming the office into your pocket but a way to enjoy your everyday life.

Silence no more


The most silent hard drive I have ever used - even after having been running 24/7 for 3.5 years. At 5400 rotations per minute, that makes about 10 billion rotations (9.900.000.000).

New hard drives are built to be silent, as consumer have become fed up with noisy computers, but with a rotation speed of 7200 rpm, they can not be as quiet as this last-of-its-kind 5400 rpm drive with sophisticated silencing solutions of its own.

On January 1st, 2003, I bought a new "home server" that I use for running my irc client, IM clients a web/php server I use for my personal projects and so on. This is very practical as I can keep my im and irc sessions all the time and check in on them remotely using Remote Desktop from work, trips, friends and so on.

But since it is on all the time and I have a small apartment, noise is an issue. I looked long and hard for a silent solution and finally settled for the passively cooled 533 MHz Via C3 Eden on a tiny Mini-ITX board. With a small case and a laptop-style external power supply with no fan, this is both a small and very quiet machine - the only moving part is the hard drive.

At the time, I had heard a lot about Seagate's Barracuda series being silent, but when I checked the specs of different models and brands, Samsung looked even better. Samsung was, at least according to the specifications, more silent and running cooler as it used less energy. I like the Samsung brand, I liked the fact that they had a three year warranty - unusually long at that time - and I liked the specifications for the drive. For my purposes, a 5400 rpm drive was fast enough and conventional wisdom told me it is was going to beat a 7200 rpm drive hands down in the noise-department.

And truly, the drive was silent, very silent. In a silent room, I had to put my head really close to the open computer to hear that it was actually working after I had installed it.

Back in 2002 hard drive manufacturers had only recently begun paying attention to noise and how to avoid it. The first drive I bought that was advertised by the manufacturer as "silent" was a 80 GB Maxtor. When I first started using the Maxtor, it was noticeably quieter than previous hard drives, but after only a few months it started sounding just as bad as any other drive. When I got the Samsung I was afraid the same would happen - and it did but not at all at the same scale. After being in constant use for 3.5 years I could hear it across a quiet room, but just barely. And the noise was not as annoying as that of a hard drive usually is. It was low-pitch and not the usual annoying high-pitch. Another difference was that I could not hear the movement of the heads, no clicking sound. I could see the disk activity lamp blinking but still I could only hear a constant low pitch sound from the spinning disks.

Not only was the Samsung very quiet, but the little noise it made was very easy to live with.

But all good things come to an end. I decommissioned the drive on the 13th of June and replaced it with a 300 GB Maxtor. Now, getting the Via EPIA 5000 mainboard to accept a 300 GB drive is a story of its own, but the point is that no drive today is as quiet as the 120 GB Samsung I bought in 2003. I tried the Seagate .8 and .9 series and they clearly make more sound than the Samsung did even at the end of its life. There really are no 5400 rpm drives, not any large ones anyway, available anymore and no 7200 rpm drive is as quiet.

Energy consumption, i.e. heat, is also going up and indirectly creating noise as the need to actively cool the computer case grows. The new Seagate .10 series drives consume over 9W even when idle and 13W whenever they do something. The Samsung on the other hand used only 5W to spin and 6W when reading/writing. In terms of heat, there is a great difference between those two drives.

The 300 GB Maxtor I now use instead of the old Samsung, is as good as a new drive gets in terms of noise and heat - but it can not compete with the old 5400 rpm Samsung.