Toshiba Clarifies Which of Its Consumer HDDs Use Shingled Magnetic Recording


After news broke that the major hard drive companies have all been shipping SMR drives into various consumer products, some of the manufacturers involved have been clarifying which of their own HDDs are actually SMR drives instead of CMR. Toshiba is the latest company to release this information, though there are limits to its report that make it potentially less useful than we’d like.

seagate-smr-vs-conventional-hard-drive-writing

Seagate has also deployed shingled magnetic recording to boost areal density of its drive platters, though the technology isn’t a great fit for consumer products.

As a reminder: SMR stands for Shingled Magnetic Recording and refers to the placement of tracks on the HDD platter itself. With conventional recording, a gap is left in-between each track, allowing the track to be individually read and written. With SMR, the tracks are layered directly next to each other, rather like shingles. This means that writing data to the drive requires reading and writing multiple tracks at once.

Data and graph by Anandtech.

The impact on read speeds is small-to-nil, but the write speed impact for using SMR can be significant. There’s not a ton of data on how this hits consumer use-cases because, up until now, reviewers haven’t been treating SMR drives as if they were likely to wind up being used for primary hard drives. I’d be surprised if we don’t start seeing more reviews on this in short order.

In any event, here’s what Toshiba has to say. The P300 6TB HDWD260UZSVA and P300 4TB HDWD240UZSVA are both SMR desktop HDDs that Toshiba only ships to bulk OEMs — which means any laptop you buy with a 4TB or a 6TB Toshiba HDD has to be checked to see if it uses one of these two models. Retail P300 drives top out at 3TB.

Now, unlike the desktop family, multiple bulk and retail L200 laptop drives also use SMR, including:

HDWL120UZSVA (2TB, bulk)
HDWL120EZSTA (2TB, retail)
HDWL120XZSTA (2TB, retail)

The 1TB drives at 7mm thick are also impacted (HDWL110UZSVA, HDWL110EZSTA, and HDWL110XZSTA). The first is a bulk drive, the second two are retail products.

Unfortunately, because Toshiba is selling these drives in bulk, it may be difficult to make certain you aren’t buying one. ExtremeTech does not recommend using an SMR drive in a consumer system as primary storage unless you are specifically aware of its likely performance characteristics and do not mind them. The dramatically lower write performance that SMR offers in some instances is of less concern for personal backup drives or similar applications, but hard drives are already poor solutions for storage speed compared with SSDs, and SMR drives are lower than CMR (conventional magnetic recording) in several additional aspects.

We are glad Toshiba came forward with this information, but we can only recommend buying a system with a Toshiba HDD if you either know exactly what you’ll be getting into or can confirm you aren’t buying an SMR drive.

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