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Hard Drive Noise

I’ve had a few (maybe 2 or 3) MPG Pro Workstation customers request Western Digital hard drives because they’ve heard that the WD drives are quieter than the Hitachis. Well, it isn’t quite so simple.

I have three 2TB Western Digital RE4 enterprise grade drives in my Mac Pro (got ’em before the 3TB Hitachis became available). And I have about 24 Hitachi 7K2000 drives, three Hitachi 7K3000 3TB drives, and three Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB drives (the default drive Apple uses). And I’ve used many others in the course of testing over the years.

Drive noise isn’t so simple, but I can say this from personal experience (my Mac Pro sits on a hardwood floor, so it can transmit any vibration):

  • The Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB drives that I have cause a low frequency vibration that is super annoying. That this is true is obvious— just unmount the volume, and as soon as the drive spins down, the headache goes away. And it’s true for 2 of the 3 drives I have (I use them only for brief testing).
  • The Western Digital RE4 enterprise drives are super quiet, with low vibration. I run 3 of them in my main Mac Pro 14 hours a day, so if they were loud, I’d notice.
  • The Hitachis are also quiet. I used the 2TB 7K2000 (4 of them) for nearly a year. Nice and quiet, no issues there.

I really don’t care about seek noise when a drive is busy. What I care about is steady-state rumbles or vibrations., and particular frequencies that are obnoxious.

So I think it’s a mistake to assume that specific samples of any brand and capacity are all the same, notwithstanding claims one way or another, let alone the variables in enclosures in which the drives might live. I recommend what works based on my own experience, and I’m ultra picky about noise.

Isolation the vibration

Even the best drives have some vibration, and if you have 4 or 8 drives in a RAID, it gets worse. If you have a vibration problem, try 1.25 sorbothane bumpers. They work well to detach any vibrating something (Mac Pro, external whatever) from a hardwood floor or wooden desk or similar.

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