Testing hard disk performance

Testing hard disk performance
Rick Cook

Although hard disk performance is only one component of storage performance, there are times when it is important to know the throughput of individual disks. Poor performance can indicate incipient disk failure, improperly set DMA parameters or other problems.

While most operating systems come with some built in performance checks for hard disks, they are usually pretty rudimentary and in the case of Windows, rely on operating system routines that may influence the results. However, a number of third parties make software that can provide more comprehensive information on how a disk is performing. Some programs, like HDTach from TCD Labs only test performance. Others, such as Hard Disk Toolkit for Macintoshes, from FWB also include utilities to tune disk performance.

These programs typically test features such as drive burst rate - the speed at which data can be read from the drive's on-board memory cache and the number usually referred to in manufacturers' specifications as the maximum data rate, such as 80 Mb/s in SCSI Ultra2 drives. While this isn't a sustainable transfer rate (or even achievable in many real-world situations) the number is particularly useful in detecting incorrect DMA settings. Hard disk performance software also usually reports the drive's access time, the average time it takes to access an area on the disk, including rotational latency and seek time.

And we also told you about Intel's free Iometer software, available from the Intel web site, in a previous tip.


Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last twenty years he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.

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This was first published in February 2001
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