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Hitachi pitted against Seagate in microdrive shootout

Battle of the lightweights
Thu Feb 01 2007, 06:57
I HAVE ALWAYS heard good things about Hitachi microdrives, but until now my experience was limited to Seagate's 8GB units. So when I found a 4GB Hitachi freebie included with a JVC camera I bought, finally everything was set for a benchmarking duel.

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4GB Hitachi and 8Gb Seagate. Both retail for ~ $150
The Hitachi is a bit more expensive in Blighty

Before the small but vocal chorus of nitpicking parrots floods my inbox with "it's an apples and oranges comparison, stupid" type of messages, let me start by saying that I k-n-o-w that one is a 4GB microdrive and the other has double its capacity, but the truth is that both are in the same price range, Hitachi's 4GB one selling for $144 at Amazon.com, and Seagate's one selling for $148, only four greenbacks more. So the question does become relevant, "given the same price, which one gives more bang for the buck?" and I mean not only storage, where the Seagate wins without question, but in speed as well. I decided to find out.

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Testing begins... using the CF reader port in the Gateway 7422GX

Oh and for the record, in Blighty the 8GB Seagate cannot be found new in Amazon UK, so you'll have to head over to eBay, where it's currently going for £94. The Hitachi is available on the Amazonian web retailer at the moment, with a price tag of £134 pounds sterling.

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Win XP SP2 settings "Optimize for Speed" in both instances to enable cached writes

Test begins
The test was performed on my Gateway 7422 AMD Athlon 64 notebook, running 32-bit WinXP SP2 with all latest patches applied. The system was running plugged into the AC wall outlet to minimize power saving interference in the benchmark results. Both microdrives were formatted as FAT32, and anti-virus software was disabled. The microdrives were connected to the notebook's CF slot, which specifically allows Type-II microdrives. The Windows Device Manager was launched and the CF reader was set to mode "Maximize Performance", in other words allowing for write caching. This was repeated twice, once for each microdrive, to ensure the setting change was applied.

The first part of the test involved manually copying a batch of JPEG files -five megapixel pictures taken with the Samsung U-CA5 digicam- scattered in several sub-folders, by manually dragging and dropping such set from the notebook's hard drive to the microdrive root folder, measuring the time, then deleting the files on the notebook HD and repeating the operation from the microdrive to the notebook. Here are the results of the manual file copy operation:

Hitachi 4GB Microdrive

Operation
Time (min)
Hard Disk to Microdrive
13:10
Microdrive to Hard Disk
11:04
SEAGATE 8GB Microdrive

Operation
Time (min)
Hard Disk to Microdrive
12:15
Microdrive to Hard Disk
8:56

The first obvious result is that microdrives are very slow, so don't expect miracles. Always keep in mind that these drives are created for saving and reading of very short bursts of data, reading mp3 files, saving photos, not for continuous random read/write/seek. In the file copy operation to the microdrive -write speed-, both had very similar times, but the Seagate was faster by about one minute. Remember that the copy operation involved just 600+ MB of data out of the drives 4GB and 8GB total capacity. So if you plan to fill a full microdrive, the difference will be more noticeable.

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Manual test, copying 600MB+ of pictures back and forth, and measuring copy times

Microdrive read speed -that is, copying data from the microdrives into the notebook- was where the Seagate had a clear performance edge, and surely the higher data density has much to do with it. The Seagate ended slightly over three minutes faster. Hitachi has a 6GB CompactFlash microdrive selling for $160 to over $200 depending on where you buy it, however, I was unable to get the attention of anyone at Hitachi Global Storage to evaluate the higher-capacity version. The firm has a 8Gb microdrive, but according to Steve's Digicams, the drive is not available in a CF flavour, only for embedded applications "(this microdrive) is available exclusively for embedded applications. It features a ZIF connector supporting PATA, CE-ATA, or ATA on MMC interfaces."

Second test: enter Passmark

To complete the shootout, I loaded good old Passmark Performance Test which produces some nice bar graphs that no comparison article can be good without. I ran the PT "Disk Test" on both microdrives, and here are the results:

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Passmark Performance Test results

As you can see, the Hitachi is surprisingly a bit faster (0.7%) in the sequential read test, but performed a lot worse in the sequential write. But then, the Hitachi was 32% faster in random seek and random RW operations. Still, Passmark PT gave the Seagate a higher Disk Mark score, probably influenced by the poor sequential write score of the Hitachi.

Conclusion
Comparing these two microdrives, and leaving aside for a moment the very important issue of reliability -none of the microdrives have died on me yet -crossing fingers, knock on wood--, the Seagate clearly gives more bang for the buck for photo and MP3 file storage. Both are slow as molasses compared to modern desktop hard drives, so you should keep that in mind too.

It would be nice to compare Seagate's 8GB one with Hitachi's 6GB -currently the largest one with a CF interface AFAIK-, but that will have to wait until a next article. Is anyone at Hitachi reading? :).?

See Also
Seagate makes waves in microdrive market
Seagate's "Photo Hard Drives" are true microdrives
Passmark brings the joy back to simple benchmarking

L'INQs
History and evolution of the Microdrives

 

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