hard drive history

2000: sea change

Western Digital Caviar WD400BB

Photo by kind permission of Western Digital.

Western Digital Caviar WD400BB Family

In a better year, drives like these might have gone without particular notice. In a year when new models were nearly always slower than their predecessors, the 20GB/platter 7200 RPM Caviars was refreshingly traditional: a new model unequivocally faster than the old model it replaced — and, indeed, faster than almost anything else in IDE. Only the elderly but still formidable IBM Deskstar 75GXP was in the same performance class.

Released late in 2000, the Caviar BB was an instant success here at Red Hill. It was remarkably quiet — quieter than many a 5400 RPM drive — cool to touch, and noticeably faster than most of the competition. It soon established itself as the most reliable 7200 RPM drive yet (this was before the faultless Samsung P40 and successors) and the BB quickly become our favourite 7200.

As always, the "demand" entry in the table below shows the popularity of each drive with one star indicating sales of a bare handful of units, five stars a really major mover. The market lifetime of many drives from this era had become so short that they would only span one market segment and there would be little change in the demand mix over the life of the product. Not so with a long-lived model like the 400BB: when these first arrived the 20GB size was the major seller, then as demand for bigger drives increased the 30, and finally, some months later again, the flagship 40GB unit.

Early in the year, while we were waiting on new releases from Seagate and IBM, we could see little reason to carry any other 7200 RPM model. After the release of the disappointing Barracuda ATA IV and the competitive but hard to find Deskstar 60GXP, only the new Samsung SpinPoint P40 gave us reason to consider other drives. For a full twelve months after its introduction the WD400BB remaind a top performer: quite an achievement.

(Agate Technology, the major Australian distributor for both Seagate and IBM, went out of business in mid-year 2001. Seagate already had alternative arrangements in place, but IBM drives remained difficult to source for a long time afterwards. We could perhaps have tried to track them down a little harder but, given our satisfaction with the 400BB, we felt no great need to.)

Data rate400 Mbit/secSpin rate7200 RPM
Seek time8.9msBuffer2MB
Platter capacity20GBInterfaceATA-100
WD200BB10.01GB1 GMR head**
WD200BB20.02GB2 GMR heads***
WD300BB30.02GB3 GMR heads****
WD400BB40.02GB4 GMR heads****