Ask Dan: VelociRaptor laptop?

Date: 14 June 2008
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


I have a new Asus M51SN laptop on order and I'm looking to upgrade from the standard 5400RPM drive to something a bit quicker. I was initially looking at the 200GB Seagate 2.5" 7200RPM drive (HD-ST9200420AS) [which Australian shoppers can order from Aus PC Market for $AU198 including delivery - click here to order one!], but then discovered that Western Digital are releasing their latest 10,000rpm Raptor drive in a 2.5" form factor.

I realise it's total overkill for a laptop, but I still want it!

So my question is, will the new Raptor even work in a laptop without shorting the power supply or melting its way through the casing like some out of control nuclear reactor?


In brief: No, I'm afraid the new, and extremely fast, 300Gb Western Digital "VelociRaptor" drive will not work in a laptop.

You might be able to use it in a tiny small-form-factor PC, though.

VelociRaptor drive with its lid off

The VelociRaptor's been out for a little while now, so the early-adopter loonies should all have theirs by now and normal people will be able to find them in stock. Here in Australia, Aus PC Market will deliver a VelociRaptor anywhere in the country for $AU390.50 (Australian shoppers can click here to order one!). The usual non-delivered retail price in Australia is about $AU400 (the US ex-delivery street price is hovering around $US300), so that's a good deal.

But not if you want to put it in a laptop.

The most obvious reason for this is that the VelociRaptor drive module, while it is indeed a 2.5-inch device bolted into a 3.5-inch-drive-sized holder, is considerably thicker than the standard laptop drive form factor, which is only 9.5mm tall. The VelociRaptor drive module is about 12mm in thickness, so it won't physically fit in pretty much any laptop.

If your laptop happens to have a tall enough SATA hard drive bay, the VelociRaptor drive module might actually plug straight in; its SATA connectors just can't be in the standard locations for a 3.5-inch drive, since they all have to be on the back of the small central drive module, but they do appear to be in the standard locations for a 2.5-inch drive. So the VelociRaptor won't plug into most, if not all, 3.5-inch SATA drive caddies or trays, but it might actually connect to a laptop OK.

Unfortunately, though, the VelociRaptor needs twelve-volt power instead of the five volts that runs normal laptop drives. I don't know how many laptops actually bother to run a 12V rail to a SATA hard disk power connector.

Heat is not actually likely to be a problem, though, even though the VelociRaptor's does indeed have that big intimidating heat-sink size-adapter doodad (and the warranty is void if you remove it). The faster a drive's spindle turns, the more friction there is between the platters and the air inside the drive; a normal "fast" laptop drive these days turns at 7200RPM and has a single platter inside it, so a 10,000RPM, two-platter drive like the VelociRaptor can be expected to make proportionally more heat.

But the VelociRaptor only, according to its spec sheet (PDF), draws a maximum of about six watts, or about 4.5 watts when idle but still spinning.

Six watts of electricity in means six watts of heat out (in one place or another), but I'm sure many laptops can handle a drive that hot. The peak power consumption for the 7200RPM Seagate drive you were previously considering is only 2.3 watts, or 1.9 watts when idle but spinning; another four watts probably wouldn't be a serious problem, unless the drive bay was unusually badly cooled, and/or you were using the laptop in a particularly hot place.

(Note that the little cooling vents in many laptops also clog up, over time, with dust and hair, making the cooling system work less and less well over time. If your 18-month-old laptop now always seems to be running its fans at full speed, you're probably going to have to take it apart to clean the vents.)

For comparison, a typical high-capacity 3.5-inch 7200RPM desktop hard drive these days is likely to have a peak power draw of nine to 12 watts, and idle-but-spinning power of something like five to eight watts.

The relatively low power draw, and thus heat output, of the VelociRaptor means that although it's a non-starter for laptops, you actually probably could use it quite successfully without its heat-sink/adapter module, in a small-form-factor PC or something. Removing the adapter will still void the warranty, and you shouldn't expect the VelociRaptor to be as resistant to vibration or shock as a proper laptop drive, but apart from that it ought to work fine in a small PC with a reasonable amount of cooling air flow.

Incidentally, the VelociRaptor is not all that amazing a technological development. It's worth owning, for much the same reasons that the previous Raptor drives were, but it's not actually all that different from them. Other very fast drives - mainly server hardware - have had platters not much bigger than those of a laptop drive for some time, now. The drive makers decided to do it that way mainly because it takes less time for the read/write heads to traverse a small platter. The price they pay is low capacity; the largest Raptor-series drive before the VelociRaptor only holds 160Gb, and the VelociRaptor's 300Gb isn't very impressive these days either.

The solution to this problem, of course, is to boot your computer from a WhateverRaptor, and have a large 3.5-inch 7200RPM drive as well for all of the bulk data that doesn't really need seven-millisecond seek speeds. The sustained transfer rate of high-capacity 7200RPM drives is actually very respectable, because their super-high data density means an awful lot of data passes under the heads per rotation.

Australian shoppers can buy the 300Gb SATA VelociRaptor drive from Aus PC Market.
Click here to order one!