One of the most important hardware components inside your computer is obviously the drive that holds the operating system. If you have Windows installed on a slow hard drive, it doesn’t matter how powerful the other components like CPU and memory are, the system will boot and load programs more slowly, and lag quite badly while multitasking etc. This is a reason why high performance hard drives and especially SSD’s are so popular these days, because upgrading just that one part can breath new life into a computer and boost its overall performance.
The actual hard disk or SSD performance under Windows is determined not only by the speed of the drive’s rotation or memory chips, but several other factors also. Settings such as the mainboard chipset, controller drivers, SATA/AHCI mode and RAID configuration can all have an influence. Even CPU and RAM speeds play a very small part as well. But how do you know if your drive is performing well, needs tweaking or is even holding the system back?
1. HD Tach
HD Tach is a rather old hard drive benchmarking tool from 2004, but still produces good results for todays drives, although it needs to be run in XP compatibility mode for Windows Vista or above. Long (32MB) or Short (8MB) block tests can be run and the results will pop up within a minute or two. A window will show with a read performance graph across the whole drive in addition to a burst speed chart and information for CPU utilization, average access time and also the average read speed. There is a Graph Data button where you can view benchmarks for other drives in the database, although they’re mostly old scores from 2004 era hardware. HD Tach can be made portable if you extract the setup exe with Universal Extractor.
This is a very popular storage benchmarking tool because it’s versatile and can produce good results for just about everything from USB drives, to memory cards, RAMDisks, SSD drives and mechanical hard drives. CrystalDiskMark is very easy to operate too, just set the test size between 50MB and 4GB, the drive to test and the number of passes to run, more passes obviously should produce more accurate results. Then click All to run a full test or any individual buttons below to run single tests. A useful extra option for SSD drives is whether to fill the test data randomly or with 0’s or 1’s. This will affect the results on drives with hardware compression such as those with Sandforce controllers. Portable and installer versions are available.
3. ATTO Disk Benchmark
ATTO Disk Benchmark is a popular portable tool used by many hardware review websites, and is also recommended by manufacturers such as Corsair to run speed tests on SSD drives. All the tests are sequential and are taken for read and write operations using block sizes of 512 bytes up to 8MB with a test file length of between 64KB and 2GB, all selectable from drop down menus. Leaving Direct I/O enabled and the Overlapped I/O option selected will rule out odd results due to any system caching. Results can be saved out and loaded again at a later time. A look around the internet will likely find someone else who has posted ATTO results for similar hardware to your own. Almost all results you’ll find are taken using the default settings.
Download ATTO Disk Benchmark (via Softpedia, official site requires filling a form)
4. AS SSD Benchmark
AS SSD is designed primarily to benchmark SSD drives and is another popular tool being used by hardware sites such as AnandTech’s SSD benchmark charts (which also includes ATTO) to show their results. The program uses incompressible data so some SSD’s will show much lower scores than usual if they compress their data (as per the screenshot). Sequential and 4KB read and write scores will be shown along with access times and a final general overall score, the overall view can be changed to IOPS if you prefer. A couple of useful additional benchmarks are available in the Tools menu, a Copy benchmark which simulates copying an ISO, game and a program, and also a read/write compression benchmark. AS SSD is also completely portable.
Download AS SSD Benchmark (website is in German, download link at bottom)
5. HD Tune
HD Tune is probably the most well known hard disc drive benchmarking and diagnostic utility and will likely be in every tech users USB toolkit. The free version 2.55 is getting old now having not been updated since 2008 and might have minor issues with some of the latest hard drive models, although functions like error checking and benchmarking should still work fine. After a test, the benchmark result graph will show the minimum, maximum and average read speed along with the average access time in milliseconds and the burst rate. The block size can be changed in the options from 512 bytes up to 8MB and a slider can move between faster or slower more accurate test speeds.
6. Anvil’s Storage Utilities
For an SSD or hard drive benchmark and test utility that really puts drives through their paces, they don’t come much more comprehensive than Anvil’s Storage Utilities. While being able to perform a complete read and write test using sequential and random operations, it displays a full set of results including response time, speed in MB/s and also IOPS. A total overall score is in the yellow box. Also included are 3 extra IOPS tests, an endurance testing function and the ability in the settings to alter the amount of compression to use on the test file. More functions like a system information tab and a screenshot saver round off an impressive tool. Anvil’s Storage Utilities is not a final build yet and currently at the Release Candidate stage.
7. Disk Thruput Tester
DiskTT is a small and portable testing tool that uses Windows core read and write functions to write a temporary file to the specified drive, then read it back sequentially and randomly to get three resulting scores. The test file can be between 10MB and 100GB with a block size to test of 1KB up to 8MB. To test a different drive to C, change the path of the test file to “User defined path” and select a drive letter. Windows file caching settings are available as an option but will often skew the results if not set correctly, so are best left alone unless you have a specific reason.
8. Roadkil’s Disk Speed
Roadkil makes a number of small and useful utilities, Disk Speed is another one that simply does the job you expect with no frills or bloat (it’s only ~90KB). The program is simple to run, just select the logical drive letter or physical drive number and press the Begin button. It only runs read tests but you will get a range of scores from 512 byte blocks up to 1MB blocks for both random reads and linear reads for each block size. The “Results in Brief” box will show the average access time, maximum read speed, cached speed (also known as burst speed) and an overall score which can be compared online at Roadkil’s website with the same or similar model drives.
9. HD Speed
Like Roadkil’s tool, HD Speed is small and portable and around 90KB, but has more configuration options to suit different storage devices. It also has Read+Write and Read+Write+Verify modes, but be aware the data on any device you want to write test WILL be destroyed. Something useful not found on other testing tools is the option to test a specific position on the drive, 0% for the faster outer part of a hard drive, 100% for the slower inner. To run a benchmark and get the average speed on the graph, choose the drive, enter the time to run it in the box and press Start. Block size can be left at Auto or changed from 1KB up to 16MB, a log file can also be created to review the results.
DiskMark is a nice tool to run because it displays plenty of information about average, minimum, maximum and last read and write scores, laid out in both raw number format and a live graph. The one slight problem with the program is actually configuring the test to perform. You can obviously leave it at the default of 64KB blocks, in an 8MB test file which runs 320 times. But to get another score such as using 1MB or maybe 4KB blocks, you have to enter the Set Size (block size), then enter the Rounds (number of blocks to make up the test file), and then choose the number of times the test file is read and written to. Incorrect setup will either produce a very short test which is less accurate or a test which takes far too long. Separate 32-bit and 64-bit versions are available.
Benchmark Notes: For less experienced users, a lot of the numbers thrown up by any benchmarking tool can look a bit confusing because you might not know what you’re supposed to take notice of. A few simple things to look for are:
Sequential (also seq or linear) – This is the speed at which a drive can read or write continuous blocks of data in the form of large files. It’s better for data drives or games partitions to have a higher sequential speed where most files will be at least a Megabyte in size. Sequential tests will show the maximum possible read and write speeds a drive can achieve.
4K – The 4K results produced by benchmark tools show how fast a drive is at accessing small files, and are the most important scores for a Windows boot drive. Most notably the random 4K read and write speeds show how quickly the files are accessed when scattered across a partition, like in Windows. Higher 4K results will also produce a better and smoother Windows during multitasking. When looking at buying an SSD drive to install Windows on for example, study the 4K scores first and not the headline grabbing sequential speeds.