Travelstar is the name of Hitachi's range of 2.5in hard disk drives, designed for use in notebook computers. The latest Travelstar range includes high-performance 7200rpm models, now available in capacities up to 320GB.
Spinning at the same speed as most 3.5in desktop drives, these drives have the potential to ease one of the principal bottlenecks in laptop performance, namely read/write speeds from disk storage.
Most notebook drives now spin at 5400rpm, and can boast good energy efficiency, low heat output, and are quiet in operation. Moving to the higher performance 7200rpm drive, however, can potentially spoil all these desirable features.
We tested a drive with the breath-sapping name of HTS723232L9A360 from the 7K320 series, a 320GB capacity drive without Hitachi's optional Bulk Data Encryption (BDE) technology. This is a standard-fitting 9.5mm-high 2.5in SATA hard disk drive, incorporating two disk platters each of nominal 160GB capacity. Unlike some notebook drives, this model does not include any intrinsic free-fall-sensing mechanism.
It was fitted to an Apple MacBook Pro 2.4GHz notebook, replacing a stock Fujitsu 200GB 5400rpm drive. After reinstalling Mac OS X 10.5.6, the system certainly felt faster, with apps opening more quickly and the OS generally feeling snappier. But to get an objective measure of performance, we tried some benchmark software.
On the Mac side, we used Xbench to record overall system performance. This tests overall system performance, including sequential and random disk read/write speeds. With the original 5400rpm drive, best score was 124.51, rising to an impressive 138.57 with the Hitachi drive. Looking more closely, sequential writes almost doubled in speed, from 41MB/s to 81MB/s (4k blocks); and from 38MB/s to 60MB/s (256k blocks).
Turning to our usual WorldBench 6 benchmark for Windows PCs, we used Boot Camp to create a 100GB partition for Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit. In standard trim, the MacBook Pro score 86 points. With the Hitachi 7K320 hard drive, the laptop could boast a WorldBench score of 91, demonstrating a tangible boost to overall system performance.
Compared to the original near-silent internal hard disk, the Hitachi was now audible in quiet conditions, with a slight but noticeable increase in low-level vibration on the chassis' left where the hard disk is sited.
Exchanging the original 5400rpm hard disk with the Hitachi 7200rpm drive introduced a clear and measurable increase in system performance. The trade-off is a slight increase in disk noise and vibration, but this should only be apparent in quiet conditions.