Last year's Thailand floods wreaked havoc on the storage industry, as the region accounts for about half of all hard drive production. Western Digital was among the hardest hit, announcing last October that, like many others, it would suspend operations at affected locations. In addition to inflating prices, the disaster slowed the introduction of new products as suppliers and manufacturers struggled to get back on track.

It's been a long year of supply shortages and wacky premiums, but things are finally stabilizing and new designs are trickling out of drive makers including Western Digital, which hasn't showed much since unveiling its first 3TB hard drive two years ago. Making up for that dry spell, the company has recently introduced new ultra-fast RE enterprise drives as well as a Red series for NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices.

Even more recently, WD expanded its Black series with a 4TB model. Being the company's flagship desktop range, Black drives are meant to deliver a balance between speed, capacity and price. Focusing on that latter point for a moment, we should note that although the WD Black 4TB has an suggested retail price of $339, most shops are currently charging between $350 and $400 for the drive.

Even so, at $350, a Black 4TB drive is slightly cheaper than a pair of WD Black 2TB drives and much more affordable than the previously released WD RE 4TB (enterprise oriented) drive, which currently retails for $480. Given that we've been spoiled by SSDs over the last few years, we don't expect to be blown away by the new drive's blistering speed, but it should be fun comparing its performance with other terabyte-plus hard drives if ample capacity is what you're seeking.

WD Black 4TB in Detail

The Black 4TB (model WD4001FAEX) is one of just a few 4TB hard drives available and meets the standard 3.5" form factor for hard drives measuring 5.78" (147mm) long, 4" (101.6mm) wide and 1.02" (25.4mm) thick, and it weighs 1.72lbs (0.78kg).

The Black 4TB has a 7200RPM spindle speed with an average access time of 4.2ms, and Western Digital says it has a drive to drive throughput of 154MB/s, making it the fastest Black hard drive yet.

Despite being considerably more affordable than the enterprise class RE 4TB (model WD4000FYYZ), the new Black 4TB is remarkably similar. The RE 4TB comes with a higher 1.2 million hour MTBF rating as well as extended factory testing to ensure reliability. The pricier version also features a short Time-Limited Error Recovery (TLER), which is beneficial for most RAID setups but a potentially bad idea for single drive configurations.

The technology is designed to prevent hard drives from prematurely dropping out of RAID arrays and forcing rebuilds, or worse, RAID volume loss. However, it can cause performance issues when used in non-RAID configurations. If a hiccup happens on a single drive and no error recovery is possible from the nonexistent redundant data, the operating system or device controller has to wait for the drive to report back. This can take anywhere from a few to several seconds and will cause a system to slow down or hang in the process, so it's obvious why Western Digital would remove TLER from the Black series.

Despite those differences, the two are still very similar in design and specifications. The WD Black 4TB still uses five 800GB platters rather than four larger 1TB platters, which is a more power hungry set up, but Western Digital says the five-platter design optimizes longevity. When reading or writing data, Western Digital claims a power consumption of 10.4 watts and this drops to 8.1 watts at idle and 1.2 watts in standby.

The Black 4TB still features the dual-actuator technology, 64MB of cache, 6Gb/s SATA support, and a Marvell dual-core controller. The 64MB cache is provided by a Winbond W9751G6JB-25 chip which meets the DDR2-800 spec using CL5-5-5 timings.

Western Digital has also included its StableTrac and NoTouch technologies. The former sees that the motor shaft is secured at both ends to reduce vibration, which helps to stabilize the platters for more accurate tracking during read and write operations, while the latter ensures the recording heads never touch the disk media, which allows for significantly less wear to the recording head and media as well as better drive protection when mobile.

Also of note, the Black 4TB is backed by a five-year limited warranty, which should make spending well over $300 on this drive a little more reassuring.