4200 RPM vs. 5400 RPM Hard Drive – Performance vs. Battery Life

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4200 RPM vs. 5400 RPM Hard Drive - Performance vs. Battery Life

Here at TabletPCReviewSpot.com we have had the subject come up time and time again. Readers want to know: Which hard drive should I get in my Tablet PC? This year more manufacturers than ever are offering a 5400 RPM hard drive option over the 4200 RPM found in most notebooks and Tablet PC’s.

The chart below (March 2003) illustrates the anticipated adoption of the 5400 RPM drive in notebooks/Tablet PC’s. In truth it seems that we are about a year behind the anticipated numbers in this chart.


First let’s clear the air on just what “RPM” means in terms of  hard disk performance. Just like a Dremel tool or a dentist’s drill, a hard disk’s speed is measured by “rotations per minute”. Although in theory a faster spinning hard drive is better, what really counts in regards to performance is the actual seek time or “access time” each drive model offers.

Below is a table which displays the various maximum and minimum  throughput of different drives (amount of work that the drive can do) and their corresponding spindle speed (RPM). Note that lower access times equal better performance.

Drive Max MB/s Min MB/s Access Time (ms)
Toshiba MK 1031GAS
100 GB 4200 RPM
28 MB/s 13 MB/s 18.7
Hitachi 4K80
80 GB 4200 RPM
30 MB/s 15 MB/s 20
Fujitsu MHU2100AT
100 GB 4200 RPM
32 MB/s 16 MB/s 20.1
Samsung MP0804H
80 GB 5400 RPM
32 MB/s 15 MB/s 17.9
Western Digital Scorpio WD800VE
80 GB 5400 RPM
34 MB/s 18 MB/s 18
Toshiba MK8026GAX
80 GB 5400 RPM
35 MB/s 19 MB/s 17.9
Seagate Momentus 5400.2
100 GB 5400 RPM
36 MB/s 18 MB/s 17
Hitachi 5K80
80 GB 5400 RPM
36 MB/s 18 MB/s 17.6
Hitachi 7K60
60 GB 7200 RPM
39 MB/s 19 MB/s 14.7

Based on this data, one can conclude that the performance boost of a 5400 RPM drive vs. a 4200 RPM drive is notable. What is truly discouraging though is that even with some models that are considered to be a ”faster” drive, you could wind up with negligible performance. This is the case with the 100GB 4200 RPM Fujitsu MHU2100AT which has a 32 MB/s maximum throughput and a 20.1 ms seek time. On the other hand, the 80GB 5400 RPM Samsung MP0804H has a matching 32 MB/s maximum throughput and a 17.9 ms seek time. The difference results in only a modest 2.2 ms (millisecond) performance boost over the Samsung which is 20GB smaller than the Fujitsu.

In looking at the overall performance differences between the 4200 RPM and 5400 RPM drives in the table, the extra speed may seem miniscule to some. However, one would assume that during large data tranfers, the extra performance boost can make quite a difference since the benefits can be multiplied several times. So if you are going to use your machine for large transfers necessary for video editing or DVD duplication, the investment in the faster drive could be well worth the money.

Battery Life

A constant debate concerning battery life and faster hard drives has been a hot topic among mobile computing enthusiasts. Will a 5400 RPM or faster hard drive take away from precious battery life?

Here is the answer: YES and NO!

After carefully researching this issue, we have found the lowdown facts. Just as the Pentium M processor has been designed to improve performance over its desktop cousin (the P4). Intel’s coveted mobile chip manages to squeeze out incredible battery life. In this way, the “best” of the faster hard drives have been designed with power saving technologies of their own.

The Pentium M has different “states” such as “deep sleep” and the ability to cycle down its own clock speed to save power. A similiar technology used in hard drives has been introduced by Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. Dubbed ABLE or “Enhanced Adaptive Battery Life Extender” by Hitachi, this technology provides significant power savings by allowing the hard drive to enter “idle” and “adaptive” modes. In the latest version of this technology (3.0), the following modes are featured:

  • Performance Idle
  • Active Idle
  • Low Power Idle
  • Adaptive Standby
  • So in going back to the original question regarding the effect that faster drives have on battery life, this factor is dependant on the type of technology used in the drive. Obviously if the drive is manufactured by Hitachi and features ABLE technology, battery drain should not be an issue. Although at this time we have not researched other hard disk manufacturers, it is a sure bet that they will follow suit with technologies similiar to Hitachi’s ABLE.

    For more information on ABLE technology, visit the offical link:



    Note: Currently we are reviewing the HP TC4200 Tablet PC which has a 5400 RPM hard drive…

    Hitachi San Jose Research Center
    Tom’s Hardware Guide



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