The WD Velociraptor: The Wicked-Fast Drive that Doesn’t Fit in a Server

Ever since they were released, I’ve had a thing for Western Digital’s Raptor hard drives. Although these 10,000 RPM drives have always been both pricey and hampered by storage capacities about 1/4 of their contemporaries, they were just crazy fast: about 50% faster than the next-fastest drives in the consumer sector.

When NewEgg ran a sale on the newest version of the Raptor: the 300 GB Velociraptor, I decided to bust out my credit card and see if I couldn’t buy myself some more speed for the ComicBase and Atomic Avenue servers. The drives arrived two days later, and I spent the morning conferring with various IT folks about the best way to stage the upgrade to our various servers (the RAID configurations we use make any drive upgrade an adventure; trying to schedule the maintenance window for the servers was another challenge). Still, after a bit more than an hour on the phones, I had an upgrade strategy mapped out, and I was ready to start the upgrade prep work…all of which stopped cold when I realized that the new drives don’t actually fit in a standard SATA drive bay.

The deal is this: in order to pull off their speed tricks with this version fo the Raptor, WD used a 2.5″ (notebook-sized) drive form factor, and surrounded it with a big heat sink to let it fit into a 3.5″ drive slot (as well as keep it cool and reduce vibration and noise from the rapidly spinning disk). unfortunately, the arrangement has the side effect of moving the relative positions of the SATA plugs about 1/2″ away from where they would otherwise be. So, when you try to slide the drive into a hot-swappable drive bay like those used on…well, pretty much every SATA-based server in existence…it won’t fit.

Belatedly, it looks like WD figured out that this might be a problem, and designed a “backplane ready” version of the drive some months ago which restores the relative positions of the SATA connectors to their normal placement. Unfortunately, this version of the drive (model WD3000HLFS) is harder to find than a parking spot in Manhattan. Even WD’s own online store didn’t carry them.

Frustrated at having been thwarted after all this, I began to look seriously at even SSD (Solid State Disk) and SAS (Serial Attached Storage) drives, despite their ruinous costs and difficult upgrade paths. In the end, I managed to track down one “backplane-ready” Velociraptor from an online retailer, which we’ll try out to see how much of a real world difference we’ll see in terms of server speed. If it works out, we’ll weigh the investment in buying more.

Realistically I only expect to only shave some portion of a second off most of our database requests, but every little bit helps, particularly as the user loads climb. Benchmarks show Velociraptors performing about twice as fast as our current server drives do, but I really don}t know how much of a difference even the Fastest SATA Drive in the World will make in terms of total web page load times, since so much of the total transaction is bound by other factors. I just can’t believe that I couldn’t even get the first batch of drives plugged in, for goodness sake!

One response to “The WD Velociraptor: The Wicked-Fast Drive that Doesn’t Fit in a Server

  1. Pingback: Bam! Atomic Avenue Gets *Much* Faster! « Release Notes

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