Choosing the Storage Drives
The Western Digital Raptor has been our choice of hard drives for the last several years. That's because it is the only consumer-grade drive to spin at a blazing 10,000 RPMs. This year is no exception. We chose the Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB 10,000 RPM 16MB Cache Serial ATA150 Hard Drive. We only need 150GB, because we tend to run a tight ship. However, if you plan to store many movies or record a lot of broadcast HDTV, then you might want to add additional drives.
In fact, some authors have recently suggested that the reign of the Raptor may be coming to and end. See the article "Cheap RAID Ravages WD Raptor: Is The Raptor Still The Ideal Hard Drive?" by Patrick Schmid and Achim Roos (March 12, 2007). A RAID array of two 7,200 RPM drives might offer more storage for less money and greater reliability.
We will test this more over the coming year. It may be that the Raptor doesn't make our list next year, for the first time in a long time. However, this year it still makes the cut. That's because the 150GB model remains a relative bang for the buck, due to its speed and responsiveness. There is still a palpable "feel" of increased speed when you use it. Make sure you get the model above and not the one with a clear window on the top. The "windowed" drive version is much louder due to attenuated acoustic dampening.
We did have one minor disaster during installation. As you’ll see in Part 3 of this article series, the case that we chose, while exceptional, does tend to be cramped at some points. While we were installing the hard drive and SATA connector into the case, there was a sudden audible "pop." We stared in horror at the remains of a broken SATA connector on the Raptor hard drive. This is not uncommon, as many people report that this flimsy piece of plastic is subject to easy breakage on any brand of drive. The SATA connector spec is simply a bad engineering design. However, rather than give up on $150, we tried to fix it. Soldering the wires was out of the question, because they are too closely spaced and delicate. Fortunately, after much experimentation, we were able to find a thin piece of plastic which, when jammed into the connection, was able to hold the ends together enough to reestablish the data connection; testing showed it to hold steady during hard drive operation. The take-home lesson—be careful with SATA connectors! There are also SATA cable connectors you can buy which are pre-bend at a 90-degree angle, thus helping to fit in tight spaces.
For the choice of optical drive, there are many good candidates. DVD burners are cheap and well made these days. For example, we like the LG model line, such as the LG Black 16X DVD-ROM 52X CD-ROM E-IDE/ATAPI DVD-ROM Drive Model GDR-8164BK.
LG makes smooth, relatively quiet drives that won't toast your CDs or DVDs while burning.
At the time of publication, however, the top LG models were out of stock. We were very pleased to test a NEC burner (NEC Black 18X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 8X DVD+R DL 18X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2M Cache E-IDE / ATAPI DVD Burner). This has performed reliably, with no "coasters" (disc corruption during the burning process). It is also quiet and fast.