12 April 2011

These days, the fad is GREEN. Everything is “eco-this” or “green that”. Of course, we’re supposed to be terribly concerned about saving Mother Earth. Well, I’ve got news for you: Mother Earth is plenty capable of taking care of herself… Whether or not humankind survives her care is another question entirely. Frankly, if I were Big Mama, I’d be pretty pissed off that my occupants were continually dumping toxic crap on me and irradiating me. I don’t think I would care if they were using a certain type of hard drive or not.

But, I digress…

If you’re in the market for a new hard drive, you may have noticed that there are now tons of “green” hard drives out there. There are several reasons why you do NOT want one of these things. Perhaps the most important reason is that when you get right down to it, they do almost nothing to truly save energy – which kind of defeats the purpose of having a green drive, now doesn’t it?

Alrighty, here’s the deal: I have a 250GB hard drive sitting front of me. Max power consumption: 10.4W. I also have a newer 500GB drive. Max power consumption: 10W. I also have a new 1TB drive. Max power usage: 9.6W.

All the drives spin at 7200 RPM. Obviously, as platter density (and therefore drive capacity) has increased, so has the technology inside the drives. Thus, a newer, bigger drive generally uses slightly less power than an older, smaller drive.

Enter The Green, Eco-Friendly Hard Drive!

These green drives generally spin at 5400 RPM. As you probably know, the slower a drive spins, the slower data can be read from or written to it. It’s sort of like a record player. Spin the record faster, and Neil Diamond sounds like a chipmunk on speed.

Green drives usually also have “advanced power-saving features”. They sometimes have a larger cache to try to make up for the fact that they spin slower. And of course, they are supposed to use so much less power that by choosing to use one, you will save the planet… or at least some electricity.

Let’s take Samsung’s HD103SI drive. It’s a 1TB, 5400 RPM, 32MB cache drive. Its max power consumption according to Samsung’s web site is 5.6W during a read/write operation. That makes sense, since reading or writing to the drive requires that the platters be spinning and the heads are moving back and forth over the disk, and that the heads are energized to read/write data.  Simple enough.

So, let’s do a little calculation here. My 1TB drive uses a theoretical max of 9.6W. The green drive uses 5.6 W. That’s a savings of 4W when the drive is using max power. Let’s say that 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity costs $0.10. If we were to use our hard drives at full power constantly for 1 year, the cost difference would be:

0.004 kW  *  24 hours  *  365 days  *  0.10 $/kWHr = $3.50

WOW! What a huge difference that makes! I’m kidding, of course. Especially when you consider the fact that no one users their hard drive at full power all the time. Most of the time, your drive is sitting their spinning idly. Sometimes it’s either “sleeping” or turned completely off. Which makes that “huge difference” drop much, much lower…

Oh sure, it still IS saving electricity – but how much? Not much at all.

Consider that most modern desktop processors might use 30W on average, and 65W to 120W under full load. Consider that your graphics card will use about the same, and possibly much, much more. Consider that if you don’t have a modern power supply, you’re already losing way over 20% of the juice that goes into your computer because of the inherent losses in the power supply itself. Your LCD screen? 30W.  Your RAM and motherboard components also consume power. If you have an efficient system, your machine might use 70W at idle and 130W under load.

The numbers don’t have to be exact. The point is that 4W every now and then is nothing compared to at least 70W all the time that the computer is on.

What’s worse is that the performance hit you take from using a 5400 RPM drive instead of a 7200 RPM drive is definitely noticeable.

With a 7200 RPM drive, you might hit a data transfer rate of around 50MB per second on a good day – it depends on the type of read or write operation being performed. You definitely will not get that already paltry amount of speed with a 5400 RPM drive, and I don’t care how big of a cache they throw in the drive.

If you really want low power, get an SSD. Solid state drives with the first-generation Sandforce controller peak at 285 MB/s. And the max power they consume is 2.5W. Not bad for a 5X performance increase! That’s a performance jump you WILL definitely notice. Big time. Still, that’ll save you, what, $6.13 a year if both are used at max power all the time for 1 year? And that scenario, of course, should never happen.

SSDs are expensive though, and that’s the big down side. You’ll probably also need to know how to set up your OS on the SSD boot drive, and store files on a secondary, standard hard drive. SSDs are generally MUCH smaller in size than a traditional hard drive. But they are fast!

So if you must stick with a normal hard drive, at least go for the 7200 RPM version. You really aren’t doing Mother Earth any big favors by using a “green” drive, and you’ll preserve your sanity by at least having an affordable, faster, traditional hard drive. And then you can figure out real ways to save energy because your brain will still be working.

Because let’s face it: having a “green” drive doesn’t do much good, especially if you’re still commuting in your old-fashioned internal combustion engine-powered vehicle every day. The “green” hard drive thing isn’t about saving power or the planet. It’s about making you think that you’re doing something good for the environment so that you can keep doing all those things that are not good for the environment, and not feel so guilty about it.

Well, and it’s about selling hard drives first and foremost!

And if you really MUST be green, then just configure your faster non-green hard drive to turn off when you’ve been away from your computer.

Better yet, configure your computer itself to go to sleep or hibernate when you’ve been gone for, say, 1 hour. If everyone did the same, THAT would save a ton of electricity.

But I’m not holding my breath on that one. Alright, I’m gonna go hug a tree now just in case I pissed off Big Mama.

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Why You Don’t Want a Green Hard Drive
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9 thoughts on “Why You Don’t Want a Green Hard Drive

  • 17 April 2011 at 10:12
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    Good article, I agree with your conclusion. It is nice to see some very basic math to compute the amount of energy and money that the green choice is about.

    Reply
  • 28 April 2011 at 15:23
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    Taking the initial standard to green HDD comparison. Lets divide that by 48 and figure an average consumer level HDD gets 30 minutes of use per day.

    We’re now at just a difference of 0.73 KWh per year. But environmentally, it is more than just one person [or just one computer]. Lets multiply that by the 100M households in the US. Now were at 73 million KWh.

    Then what about the 10s of millions of work computers that have heavier workloads? Figure another 25M computers at 4x the usage and our total is now 146 million KWh. Then what about millions of servers that are active 24/7? Presumably not at peak HDD usage, but many will also be connected to arrays with 10+ drives in it.

    Lets go with 2M servers, with 8 hours of HDD activity on an average of two drives each. Now our grand total is just shy of 200,000,000 KWh saved. To produce that power at a coal plant would require over 80000 tons of coal.

    Reply
  • 4 May 2011 at 11:23
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    @Eric R

    I understand your point, but my point was partly that there are much better and more effective ways to save energy that do not compromise performance at all. For example, it is only recently that computer power supplies have started to become more efficient, and they still pretty much suck in the efficiency department.

    Despite the fact that everything is “Eco-” and “Green”, we are NOT really saving much energy. If somebody has a green HDD and a Chevrolet Volt, sure they’re getting 500-and-some MPG if they drive carefully, but they’re also sucking juice from the grid like mad. So then who cares about the green HDD? And that juice is produced either from nuclear reactors, coal-fired plants, and less often more eco-friendly power generation schemes like hydroelectric stations. Everyone using a green hard drive is not going to save the planet.

    What is needed is a massive change in the way we consume things, especially energy. And that most certainly will not happen unless there is some massive disaster that forces people to change. So instead, people buy a green hard drive so they pretend they’re helping to change the world when in fact they’re barely making a dent. They don’t even think about the fact that producing that hard drive still produced tons of pollution, and involved essentially Chinese slave labor. But that’s a whole other ball of wax.

    Of course, right now, weather across the world is going bonkers. There is obviously something going on, and it doesn’t look good. It seems to me that it’s too late to make any serious changes, and that Mother Nature will clean up our mess for us in the same way that our bodies fight illness: obliterate the infection!

    There have been so many “save the planet” fads over the decades, and none of them made a hill of beans of difference. And then, while everyone is trying to save the planet with their green HDDs, BP is dumping a gajillion gallons of toxic crap into the Gulf of Mexico, weather patterns are shifting, crops are starting to fail, food prices are skyrocketing, nuke plants are exploding and spreading radiation across the globe, etc.

    So, at the end of the day, I don’t see how green HDDs really matter – except as a tranquilizer for the masses so that they can pretend they’re actually doing something good.

    Reply
  • 15 June 2011 at 04:54
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    They are cheaper. And although they have lower performance using them as a external via USB then weakest link is the 480mbits link from USB not the HDD.

    They have their place.

    Reply
    • 16 June 2011 at 08:32
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      That’s a good point. They ARE perfect for external USB storage!

      Reply
  • Pingback: Seagate Agrees with Scottie about Green Hard Drives | Scottie’s Tech.Info

  • 13 February 2012 at 15:46
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    I think it would be a mistake to use one of these green drives as your main computer hard drive. The energy saved by using the hard drive would likely be outweighed by energy losses of having to keep your computer on for longer because everything would take that bit longer. However, as secondary or storage drives I think these green drives have their place. This is because there is not usually a need for speed when storing data and these drives are cheaper.

    Reply
  • 29 September 2012 at 09:32
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    having read all you have written about green drives, I have come to the conclusion that you are ignoring the huge number of drives used-sold worldwide.

    You underestimate that a drive saves $3 dollars a year, why don’t you take hundreds of thousands computers using these green drives

    suppose there are 100.000 computers using these green drives, with an avarage save about 1.5 dollars. That makes 150.00 usd worth of energy, and in your calculations 35 kw * 100.000 = 3.500.000 kw of energy!

    i think it is worth to consider!

    Reply

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