Notebook Hard Drive Performance Lags Desktops
While processor performance and graphics performance of today's notebooks are not far behind desktop performance, what has yet to be improved are the hard drives, which are rather sluggish in comparison to their desktop counterparts. The main reason notebook components are frequently slower is due to the miniaturization of components, as well as heat and power requirements of the typical modern laptop. This is a particularly perplexing problem with hard drives, because they are not just silicon chips (such as processors and graphics processors), but are mechanical in nature. With the advent of the modern Windows operating system, the impact of hard drive performance on overall system performance is a key factor. Due to Windows' continuous use of virtual memory technology, which requires the hard drive to process the virtual memory swap file, the hard drive is used for more than just executing core files, programs, or reading user data.
The hard drive is one of the biggest bottlenecks in mobile technology today, as evidenced in most modern notebooks. Laptop hard drive manufacturers have attempted and continue to attempt to address this issue with faster hard drives. The rotational latency of the modern laptop hard drive is far behind what you find on a modern desktop, and when side by side with desktops, the numbers pale in comparison. Currently, the simple laws of technology keep most hard drives spinning at 4200 RPM, but IBM introduced the first 5400 RPM 2.5" drives (12.5 mm high drives only) already a year ago and, finally, the first of the thin 9.5 mm drives are starting to ship in 5400 RPM versions. .Today, 12.5 mm thick 2.5" drives at 5400 RPM are shipping in sizes up to 60 GB, while IBM recently announced a 40 GB 9.5 mm thick 2.5" drive with 5400 RPM, as well. We have seen an increase in performance with the movement from 4200 RPM to 5400 RPM, and although it is not as great an improvement as we would have hoped, it is still significant. The problem with 12.5mm hard drives is that they will not fit in many of the smaller laptop form factors. These notebook designs will only accommodate the newer 9.5mm form factor. Unfortunately, this means that you cannot use the 12.5mm form factor, which offers both greater storage capacity and 5400 RPM performance.
As we have already discussed, the mechanical nature of hard drives is such that major breakthroughs have been required to achieve 5400 RPM in a 9.5mm form factor. In addition to the 5400 RPM performance, much work has been done to improve the caching performance and transfer rate performance of the new notebook hard drives to help overcome the sheer deficit in RPMs. The 5400 RPM hard drives will help achieve better notebook performance overall, but these hard drives will still lag behind modern desktop hard drives. A real breakthrough in hard drive technology is needed to tap into the ultimate performance of some of these advanced desktop replacement and mobile workstation units. Currently, with the 9.5mm form factor you are limited to 40GB if you want a drive that is 5400 RPM. We congratulate the notebook hard drive manufacturers, as breaking the 5400 RPM barrier was clearly no small feat. We challenge them to produce 9.5mm 7200 RPM notebook hard drives as soon as possible, and think there will be plenty of us waiting in line to buy them.