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External Hard Drives, 16mb buffer vs 32mb buffer


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#1
Denisejm

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Hi,

I have Windows XP Pro x64, SATA.

I've been looking to purchase another external hard drive. All of my external hard drives have 16mb buffers. I have a few questions because I don't know where the buffer size comes into play and what to expect when it interacts with my other 16mb buffer external hard drives and my 16mb buffer internal hard drive . . .

1. What, exactly does a buffer do? Would I see a noticeable speed increase when I use it?

2. Would the 32mb buffer act as a 16mb buffer when interacting with my other 16mb buffer ext hdds/16mb internal hdd?

3. Is a 32mb buffer ext hdd worth $30.00 more than a similar 16mb buffer ext hdd?

Thanks in advance for any info you can give me regarding this.

Denise
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#2
Kemasa

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The buffer is used to hold the data before it is written to the disk or after it is read from the disk and then transfered to the main memory. Depending on how much data you are read/writing will depend on how much of a difference it will make. There has to be some memory on the disk in order to transfer the data unless it can write directly to the machine's memory.

The buffers on each drive really don't interact with each other as the disks communicate to the system.

Only you can determine if the $30 is worth it or not. If you are using the disk for limited storage and not constant use, then it is less likely to make a difference and therefore would be less likely to be worth it. If you are reading/writing large amounts of data constantly, then it might be worth it. The larger buffer is most likely a newer drive, which might be worth it for that.

I personally would not pay extra since I would not constantly use an external drive due to cooling issues since typically the air flow is not as good. I also don't transfer lots of data, so even in the system I would not consider it worthwhile. For a server, I would consider it, especially a busy one.
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#3
Denisejm

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Hi Kemasa,

Thanks for responding. You've given me some things to think about.

Some of my ext hdds have their own fans, some don't. I have a small vornedo fan blowing on my ext hdds because some get extremely hot to the touch and I'm sure it isn't good for drives to get that hot. My ext hdds are on almost constantly and I store very large files on them, some over 1Gb. Half of my ext hdds are used for my original files and I back them up on the other half. I rearrange my filing system from time to time, either alphabetically or by date, so I do move files around a lot.

I recently purchased two 750Gb Seagate and one WD ext hdd (eSATA and firewire, same enclosures) that have their own fans for $99.00 plus $25.00 for s/h at eBay, and they seem very solid, dependable, but I don't know how they'll endure over time. I seem to have to purchase 4 ext hdds a year to replace some that stop working after a year or two, just after the manufacturer's warranty expires.

Thanks for the information about what a buffer does and that there won't be an incompatibility issue with my other drives. I think I'll purchase one to see what it can do. Since I have a fan blowing on them, I'm no longer concerned about heat . . . they're all cool to the touch after being on for days. If I see a difference in it's operation, whenever I have to replace a drive, I'll buy ones that have a 32Mb buffer. If it doesn't show much of a difference, I'll buy larger drives for the same amount of money.

Thanks again and happy holidays!
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#4
Neil Jones

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All other things being equal, a drive with a 32Mb buffer should be faster than a drive with a 16Mb buffer since the buffer will be faster than the drive (usually).
A 32Mb buffer should be better for an internal drive with Windows on it, but for an external drive in which you only want it to store stuff on if your main computer should fall over, it's probably not worth it.
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#5
Kemasa

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The only way a drive with a 32Mb buffer would be faster than one with a 16Mb buffer is if the additional buffer space is needed either by writing large files or by writing a lot of smaller files at a rate in which it would exceed 16Mb. It is based on use.

If you look to the past, the Intel Pentium CPU with a larger cache could actually be slower than the Celeron with a smaller cache. although in this case it was because the smaller cache was on the CPU chip whereas the larger one was on a separate chip. For many users this meant that the Celeron was faster since they were not running the processes which would benefit from the larger cache. This means that the design is important and make it difficult to make generalizations.

Denisejm, if you move the files around manually, then most likely you are not hitting the drive all that hard, at least not as an overall percentage.
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#6
Denisejm

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It might help to know that the files that I have are video files, mostly .avi. I watch the videos and copy them to backup drives/move them around (many, many gigs at a time), that's all I do with them. If watching a video doesn't need a 32mb buffer to make them play better in some way, and if files don't move or copy faster because of the larger 32mb buffer, then I'll stick with drives that have a 16mb buffer so that I can get a larger drive.


A 32Mb buffer should be better for an internal drive with Windows on it, but for an external drive in which you only want it to store stuff on if your main computer should fall over, it's probably not worth it.


This is good to know. I believe that my internal hdd has a 16mb buffer and Windows and all of my programs are on it. I bought it 3 years ago so it probably does have a 16mb buffer so, sometime in the future, I'll replace it with one that has a 32mb buffer.
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#7
Kemasa

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It might help some, but in part you need to determine the data rate in order to see if the extra memory will help or not. The slowest part will be the disk access, so that is most likely the bottleneck and so overall it might not really help much. The only way to really know is to test it by timing it accurately.
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#8
Denisejm

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The only way to really know is to test it by timing it accurately.

I've never heard of timing a hard drive. How is this done?
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#9
Kemasa

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There are benchmark programs like "bonnie++", but you can create a script to copy the files and have it record the start and stop times. You need to run it several times to see if there is variations. It depends on how accurate you want it to be.
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#10
Denisejm

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I misunderstood what you had said. I thought you meant that I had to "time" the hard drive, a setting of some sort, like timing a car, lol.

I'm not ready to buy one yet, but I've been looking around the net, just to get an idea about ext hdds with 32mb buffers. They don't look too promising. Reviews at Amazon show that Seagate has moved its plant to China and, since then, the drives have a lot of problems and break quickly. . . a lot of RMAs. They're also all OEM and don't come with a software disk. I'm not sure if this is important or not, whether the drive needs drivers.
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#11
Denisejm

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I just thought of another question. My pc is SATA I. Would a SATA II int hdd work in it?
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