Hitachi Travelstar 7k320 320GB review

The standard aluminium MacBooks come with a 160 or 250GB hard drive, spinning at a speed of 5200 rpm. However, the new design of the MacBooks make it ridiculously easy to upgrade the hard drive. Simply take out the battery cover, remove the battery, remove the four screws holding the hard drive in and pull it out.

Don't take our word for it, take a look at Apple's MacBook manual. Instructions for changing the hard drive start on page 38.

So why upgrade your hard drive? Well, there's a couple of reasons. The first is size, Apple's 2.5in hard drive in the aluminium MacBook starts at 160GB, which is much smaller than the total possible to fit on a 2.5in hard drive. Notebook hard drives are readily available up to 500GB.

The second reason is speed. Apple's stock hard drives typically spin at 5200 rpm; whereas it is possible to get drives that spin at 7200 rpm. The physically faster spinning speed results in a faster data transfer.

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.

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 breath-sapping HTS723232L9A360 unit 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).

Our PC Advisor sister Web site also ran its WorldBench 6 benchmark for Windows PCs, and 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.

OUR VERDICT

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. If you have a MacBook Pro you can upgrade from a 320GB 5400 rpm drive to a 320GB 7200 rpm drive for just £40, but if you have a regular MacBook this drive is well worth looking at as an investment.

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