The world of enthusiast computing changed in 2003 when Western Digital Corporation launched its first generation 10k RPM hard disk drives. Prior to the Raptor, enthusiasts were limited to 7200 RPM drives or had to purchase expensive SCSI drives to attain the high performance they required. WDC saw opportunities in the nascent SATA interface for exceptional performance, and took a bold leap that no other HDD company has dared to follow.
Western Digital has had four generations of Raptor drives, including the latest VelociRaptor, as the fastest SATA drives available. It was only last year that Solid State Drives took the performance lead, and enthusiasts have since flocked to the most cost-effective upgrade available for computers. While access times of computer components are usually measured in nanoseconds, mechanical drives still have access times measured in milliseconds. SSDs have insanely fast access times due to their use of NAND flash memory.
However, there are still a few areas where the VelociRaptor can beat out SSDs, especially the lower range models which use inferior controllers and/or NAND flash memory. Raptors have traditionally been used as boot drives, in much the same way SSDs are now due to high costs. Most SSDs being sold today are in the 60GB-80GB range for that reason, with a growing shift towards the 120GB mark.
Raptors are targeted at performance enthusiast systems, workstations, and low-end servers. While many of these systems now use SSDs, WDC still believes that the VelociRaptor will continue to hold an important niche between SSDs and magnetic HDDs.
There are times when there is only enough room or budget for a single drive, in which case WDC believes the VelociRaptor is the right balance of capacity, speed, and price. The latest VelociRaptor is available in a 300GB capacity for around $250, which seems like a bargain compared to a 250 GB Vertex for over $700.
WDC has decided that it is time for a refresh in order to push its capacity advantage further, and is currently developing its fifth generation Raptor. It will also be a 10k RPM drive, but will utilize advances in areal density to achieve a 600GB capacity with two platters. The new drive will also have "a significantly larger cache", but our source won't specify whether it was 32MB or 64MB. The best part will be the pricing, as it will launch at close to the original launch price of the 300GB VelociRaptor. A new single platter 300GB version will follow later on.
Seagate recently released its latest Barracuda XT drive featuring 64MB of cache and a 6Gbps SATA interface. There is no information available on whether the new VelociRaptor will also use a 6Gbps interface, although it does seem likely.
"Western Digital will continue to deliver a balance of performance, capacity, and cost", stated a source close to the company. "This is an important market for the company, and Western Digital will continue to deliver the fastest magnetic hard drives available for enthusiasts".
The company is still hedging its bets, though. Western Digital recently entered the SSD field with its own series of SSDs, following the acquisition of Silicon Systems. It is currently developing its next generation of SSDs as well.