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Various MacBook Pro Internal Drives

Posted November 15th, 2006, Rob-ART Morgan, mad scientist

Many of you are trying to decide which drive to order with your MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo. We were able to obtain one of each drive offered in the 17" MacBook Pro. Since Apple tends to ship MacBook Pros with both Seagate and Hitachi drives for the 5400rpm and 7200rpm options, we tested both brands.

Legend of Graphs
Hit100 7K = Hitachi Travelstar 7200rpm 100GB SATA notebook drive
Sea100 7K = Seagate Momentus 7200rpm 100GB SATA notebook drive
Hit160 5K = Hitachi Travelstar 5400rpm 160GB SATA notebook drive
Sea160 5K = Seagate Momentus 5400rpm 160GB SATA notebook drive
Tosh200 4K = Toshiba 4200rpm 200GB SATA notebook drive
Hit200 7K* = LaCie Little Big Disk FW800 bus powered enclosure with two Hitachi Travelstar 7200rpm 100GB drives in a striped array

We didn't have five different MacBook Pros. Nor did we want to crack open our MacBook Pro and install five different drives. Rather, we connected the empty drives to an ExpressCard/34 SATA host adapter. Since that interface is faster than any of the drives can go, we are confident that the numbers are valid. Just to make sure we compared the numbers of two of the external drives with identical internal empty drives installed inside a MacBook Pro. The results matched.

These latest test results reveal that,
a) The 7200rpm drives are the fastest when empty...

b)... but if you have 74GB of data on each of the drives, the 4200rpm drive was actually faster. That's because 74GB of data puts the 7200rpm drive at 80% capacity while the 200GB 4200rpm drive is only at 40% capacity. (See "74G Mark" graphs above.)

When we compared a 5400rpm 160GB drive with 148GB of data with the read/write speed of the 4200rpm 200GB drive with 148GB of data, the 4200rpm drive is running 23% faster at that point. So as the amount of data increases, the advantage of the larger capacity 4200rpm drive grows. However, at that point, the transfer speed of the 4200rpm drive has dropped from 37MB/s to 27MB/s. So if you need to maintain a certain transfer speed , you might consider two 100GB 7200rpm drives in a striped array. (See "148G Mark" graphs below under STORAGE EXPANSION.)

b) There are differences in speed between brands. Hitachi tended to be slightly faster overall than Seagate. So if your MacBook Pro comes with a Hitachi 7200rpm or 5400rpm drive, you get the "lucky dog" award (as they say in NASCAR).

c) Though one PC site measured the 160GB 5400rpm drive averaging 130% faster than the 200GB 4200rpm drive, our tests showed it to be zero to 13% faster (depending on what brand of 5400rpm drive). The 7200rpm drives were 18% to 22% faster on average than the 4200rpm drive (depending on what brand of drive). All that to say that if capacity is just as valuable as speed, you're not foolish to go with the slower rpm higher capacity drive.

d) If you are concerned about battery usage (and heat generation), the 5400rpm drives had a lower wattage rating than the 7200rpm or the 4200rpm drives. Based on capacity, speed, and power usage, it's easy to see why Apple's standard drive choice for the MacBook Pro is the 5400rpm model.

If you want to further expand storage on your MacBook Pro, a cool way to do it is with a bus powered FireWire 800 enclosure with a SATA notebook drive inside. (If you go pure SATA enclosure or use the USB 2 port, you'll have to have an AC adapter.) Check with Wiebetech, TransIntl, and OWC for bus powered FW800 notebook enclosures that accept SATA notebook drives.

Another cool enclosure is the bus powered FireWire 800 LaCie Little Big Disk which stripes two 7200rpm 100GB PATA drives in a single enclosure producing a "roaring" 200GB 7200rpm volume. Check out what happens when you store 148GB of data on the Little Big Disk compared to the 160GB and 200GB internal MacBook Pro drives:

If you want to go big, Wiebetech makes the SATADock that lets you run a 500GB Hitachi 3.5" SATA drive off FireWire 800 bus power. They still sell the UltraGB+ and SuperDock which do the same for 3.5" PATA drives, assuming they don't draw to much wattage. Maxtor and Hitachi drives tend to work fine. (NOTE: These items may be in stock but are technically discontinued.)


Apple Online Store has the MacBook Pro with free shipping. Check the SPECIAL DEALS section for factory refubished MacBook Pros. (Click Apple display ads or text links and you help support Bare Feats.)

For noise suppression, nothing beats ear covering headphones like the Bose Quiet Comfort 2. For ear "fobs," we use the Bose In-Ear Headphones when listening to our iPod -- Help support Bare Feats by ordering your Bose headphones from Sharper Image.

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© 2006 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
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