GSkillFalcon1A hard disk drive is the slowest component in your PC. While SSDs are freakishly expense (the G.Skill Falcon SSD 64GB costs around R2600) they do vastly improve the performance of the PC equation. But is price the only reason people aren’t more interested in them, or do people just not care about HDD performance? I did a huge poll (among 5 of my friends) and found that most people would always choose extra capacity over extra performance.

Well, what can you do if you want extra performance but aren’t willing to shell out the R2600 for a G.Skill Falcon? What you can do, is get yourself a Western Digital Black drive. I recently bought the 750gig version, which costs around R200 more than a 7200.12 1TB from Seagate. Or, for a little less than the price of the 1.5TB Seagate drive, you could buy a 1TB WD Black. Is it worth it losing 500 gigs of space for better performance? I’d say so. A faster hard drive will make your operating system boot up and shut down faster as well as making your games load faster.

Once you go black, you don't go back.

Once you go black, you don't go back.

Anandtech did a nice preview of the Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB: SATA 6Gb/s versus the WD 2TB Black drive. In four out of the six tests performed, the WD black drive was faster than the Seagate. The WD drive was between 3% and 28% faster, while in the two tests that the Seagate was faster, it was only between 3% and 7% faster.

Another way to get better HDD performance is enabling AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) mode in the BIOS, but bear in mind that only Vista and Windows 7 have native support for AHCI mode. For Windows XP, you will have to slipstream the AHCI driver in. AHCI mode enables features such as hot-plugging and native command queuing (NCQ), which allows your hard drive to rearrange the requests for best performance. Much like if you and two friends had to get on an elevator and push the floors 3,12 and 6, it would be terribly inefficient for the elevator to travel to floor 3 then 12 then 6. NCQ allows the drive to rearrange write/read commands that are transmitted randomly in order to optimize the movement of the drive heads. So going back to the elevator example, the requests will be rearranged so that the elevator goes to floor 3 then 6 then 12. On average, AHCI mode improves performance by about 5%.

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