Hard Drive speed explained

This question pops up often, so I thought I'd give you some real-world numbers.  Many people (especially laptop users) store their sample library on an external drive, but in many cases you will get slower performance.

People often look at the rpm of the drive, but there are many other factors to consider.  Most important is the fact that Firewire and USB 2.0 have a max data transfer rate lower than most drives are capable of.  Most newer laptop 5,400 rpm drives are capable of speeds faster than USB/Firewire.  Also, 3.5"; desktop drives are faster than 2.5"; notebook drives, and newer drives are much faster than older drives. 

Here's a real world example using QuickBench drive test.  I used the same 3.5"; 750 GB 7,200 rpm hard drive, and connected it with USB 2.0, Firewire 400/800, and eSATA 1.5. 

USB: [b]36 MB/s[/b]
Firewire400: [b]35 MB/s[/b]
Firewire800: [b]70 MB/s[/b]
eSATA 1.5: [b]91 MB/s[/b]

For comparison-

My internal 5,400 rpm drive in my MacBook Pro: [b]45 MB/s[/b]
5 year-old 40 GB Firewire drive: [b]16 MB/s[/b]

So I benefit from using Firewire 800 & eSATA, while it's slower to use USB or Firewire- even though it's a 3.5"; 7,200 rpm drive and my internal is a 2.5"; 5,400 rpm drive. 

If you want to connect an eSATA drive to your laptop, a few companies make an ExpressCard for around $20 for Mac/PC.  You can buy an external drive enclosure with eSATA for about $20.  1 TB drives (1,000 GB) are now around $80.  $120 gets you roughly twice the speed of your internal laptop drive.  If you have deep pockets, an internal SSD drive blows all of these away, but you're looking at $600 for a 256 GB drive.
Thanks for this. Jesse, always delivering the goods.
No problem- I wanted to see the numbers myself anyways.  Hard drive speed is usually bottleneck #1.

The speeds I listed are the max sustained speeds, as if you were copying a large file or watching HD video.  Random read speed (like loading lots of small samples) is not as fast, and can range anywhere from 5 to 50 MB/s. 

The guy who said using a USB flash drive sped his music up probably has a low-performing drive with random reads & small files.  I tested out two flash drives that only had a max sustained speed of 20 MB/s, but the random speed was also 20 MB/s which is a lot better than the low-end of internal drives.  I imagine a SSD drive + DFD would enable a huge number of instrument tracks.
Thanks Jesse. This is some helpful information!
Good stuff - thanks!
Login or Signup to post a comment