Western Digital's 5400 RPM drives aren't what they seem

midian182

Posts: 7,782   +79
Staff member
A hot potato: When is a 5400 RPM drive not a 5400 RPM drive? When it comes from Western Digital, apparently. An investigation has revealed that several of the company's drives, which it calls "5400 Class," are actually rotating at 7200 RPM.

As noted by Ars Technica, this issue was first investigated by German-language forum hardwareluxx.de over a year ago. It was re-examined by redditor /u/Amaroko, who tested the drives by placing them on an empty cardboard box with a Blue Yeti mic held directly above. Spectral analysis of the audio showed these "5400 Performance Class" drives were actually spinning at 7200 RPM.

HDD spin-up frequency plots reveal if a drive is 5400 rpm or 7200 rpm

While an HDD rotating faster than advertised might appear to be a bonus, there are a few things to consider: more noise, heat, and power consumption. Ars compared the spec sheet of a "5400 RPM Class" Western Digital Red and an 8TB, 5400 RPM Seagate Barracuda, and WD's product consumes much more power while active, idle, and in standby mode.

Western Digital is no stranger to playing fast and loose with its product labeling. The company was found to be using shingled magnetic recording (SMR) technology in several of its HDD models earlier this year without informing customers. SMR tech can negatively affect performance, especially in NAS and RAID setups. As it was being used in Western Digital's Red NAS drives, WD was hit with multiple class-actions filed by law firms in the US and Canada over the practice.

Regarding the new findings, Western Digital gave the following marketspeak-filled statement:

For select products, Western Digital has published RPM speed within a "class" or "performance class" for numerous years rather than publishing specific spindle speeds. We also fine-tune select hard drive platforms and the related HDD characteristics to create several different variations of such platforms to meet different market or application needs. By doing so, we are able to leverage our economies of scale and pass along those savings to our customers. As with every Western Digital product, our product details, which include power, acoustics and performance (data transfer rate), are tested to meet the specifications provided on the product's data sheet and marketing collateral.

Despite the company's use of the word "class," this still comes across as deceptive. With the SMR scandal still fresh in people's minds, it's another PR blow for Western Digital.

Image credit: zentilia

Permalink to story.

 

Burty117

Posts: 4,461   +2,643
Due to their dodgy dealings this year, I've actually stopped buying WD drives and went to Seagate instead. Got 2x 8TB for a new home server I'm building and they've been flawless.

Lying to the customer is how to break loyalty immediately.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,347   +1,235
Do the WD drives meet their published specs as to noise and power consumption? If so, I really don't understand the beef. Certainly the shingled-drive debacle deserves criticism, but this seems a pony of a different color.
 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 6,270   +7,200
I love WD, specifically my MY Cloud NAS.

But I will never again use HDD for my computer beyond long-term, large capacity storage.
 

Adhmuz

Posts: 2,221   +1,040
Under deliver, get burned.

Over deliver, get burned anyways.

WD just can't get it right... Hope their SSD line up isn't the next.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 2,008   +1,202
Do the WD drives meet their published specs as to noise and power consumption? If so, I really don't understand the beef. Certainly the shingled-drive debacle deserves criticism, but this seems a pony of a different color.
It's literally in the article. They are louder, use more energy, and generate more heat. That might not matter you one-off consumers, but that is big deal for any kind a data center. Plus, if Western Digital can't sell me a product without straight-up lying about it, why should I ever trust them about anything they say? Read the warranty card; does it differentiate by "class" or "spec"? What about cache sizes? Or those in "classes" as well?

Naw, I am just going to buy Seagate for the foreseeable future rather than try to figure out the answers to these questions. I have better things to do with my time.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,347   +1,235
It's literally in the article. They are louder, use more energy, and generate more heat...
No it isn't:

"Ars compared the spec sheet of a "5400 RPM Class" Western Digital Red and an 8TB, 5400 RPM Seagate Barracuda..."

The underlying Ars article seems, if anything, to confirm that the drive is meeting published specifications.

That might not matter you one-off consumers, but that is big deal for any kind a data center.
I admit I haven't surveyed every data center out there, but they typically use 15K drives, or at least a high-MTBF 7200K-- not a consumer-level 5400K drive.

if Western Digital can't sell me a product without straight-up lying about it, why should I ever trust them about anything they say?
So if WD says the MTBF is one million hours, and the drive actually lasts two million, you're going to be upset? The drive is exceeding its specification, not failing to meet it. As long as it's not generating more noise or heat than advertised-- what's the beef?
 

Jpe1701

Posts: 86   +84
Yeah if the power and noise are as specified and just the spindle speed is off then what's the problem? It would be up to the consumer to figure out if they were acceptable.
 

Edster

Posts: 113   +85
Why would they advertise a 7200rpm HDD as 5400 in the first place? What benefit does it serve?

Pure speculation. They can use the same manufacturing facilities to manufacture 2 distinct products; proper 7200 RPM HDD and 5400 class drives. Is easier to slap a different label on a product than make alterations to the production process, if you can get away with it.
 

candle_86

Posts: 729   +730
Pure speculation. They can use the same manufacturing facilities to manufacture 2 distinct products; proper 7200 RPM HDD and 5400 class drives. Is easier to slap a different label on a product than make alterations to the production process, if you can get away with it.

It's more than likely cost. You can make a 7200 RPM Drive that performs just as fast as a 5400 RPM Drive by reducing the cache size. It's not rocket science now pulling very large files is still quicker on the 7200 RPM Drive because those files won't fit in the cache anyway but for small file transfers the 5400 RPM and 7200 RPM Drive should be very close on file transfer speed if they did it right. The point is as long as it matches the specifications for temperature and rights it doesn't really matter if I buy a Western digital Green Drive I'm expecting it to preform like a Western digital Green Drive, I don't care if it's 72 or 5400 RPM I know if it's green it's going to be slow.
 

bluetooth fairy

Posts: 175   +110
Agreed to the second part of comments, the one w/o jokes.

Users arent happy when WD underdelivers, they are unhappy again when now it rotates faster. Probably, there're certain users which are unhappy by itself.

PS Written by happy user of several Sheagate, ShIBM, Shitachi, ShWD, Shmaxtor etc drives in the past.
 

Athlonite

Posts: 305   +106
If you are buy a WD drive advertised at a certain spec ie: x rpm, x cache and x power usage along with x db noise then you'd be expecting to get just that. Otherwise why bother publishing a spec sheet in the first place and we'll just say the drives are 4, 6, 8, 12 etc etc Terabytes in size and that's all you'll know anything else is a gamble sometimes you win and sometimes you'll lose
 

Danny101

Posts: 2,026   +838
Due to their dodgy dealings this year, I've actually stopped buying WD drives and went to Seagate instead. Got 2x 8TB for a new home server I'm building and they've been flawless.

Lying to the customer is how to break loyalty immediately.
Been a longtime user of WD. Lying is not okay. Period. Now, 'what else have they been lying about?' one has to ask.