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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