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Seagate Barracuda 3TB in RAID 0: Performance Unleashed

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AkG

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Seagate’s latest Barracuda -the triple 1TB platter 3TB monster we reviewed a little while ago- is without a doubt one hell of a drive. The capabilities were impressive, there's plenty of capacity for nearly anyone and it accomplished something we thought was almost impossible: got us excited (again) about hard drive performance. With SSDs burning up the charts, it seemed like spindle based internal drives were going the way of dinosaurs but their allure was cut short by an unassuming drive that was launched amidst a massive upheaval in the hard drive market.

Some may think that many HDDs have become unreasonably expensive lately and the Baraccuda 3TB hasn’t been immune to these fluctuations. With a current price of about $269 it is far from cheap but from a price and performance per GB perspective, there’s no contest right now. But what happens for those who want even more performance without having to look SSDs? Naturally, we just had to know how two of these relatively affordable drives performed when paired up in a RAID configuration.



Testing Methodology


Testing a drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller with dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our testbed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the Vista load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being a Kingston HyperX 240GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.

For all testing a Asus P8P67 Deluxe motherboard was used, running Windows 7 64bit Ultimate edition (or Vista for boot time test). All drives were tested using AHCI mode using Intel RST 10 drivers.

All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.


Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory:
8GB Corsair Vengeance LP "Blue" DDR3 1600
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: 1x Kingston HyperX 240GB, OCZ 480GB RevoDrive3 x2
Power Supply: XFX 850
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture. We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and thus we no longer included it. The most important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.



As expected the sequential read performance is basically double of that of a single 3TB Barracuda. This has always been a major strong point for RAID 0 and comes as no surprise. With that being said, these numbers are impressive and can easily compete against even 240 - 256GB Solid State Drives.


Write Performance


For this benchmark HD Tune Pro was used. To run the write benchmark on a drive, you must first remove all partitions from that drive and then and only then will it allow you to run this test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.



As with the sequential read, the write performance is close to double of what a single 3TB Barracuda can accomplish. This minor variation is in all likelihood due to margin of error and the fact that the second drive was not quiet as fast – on average – as the first Barracuda drive was. The minor variation is neither here nor there and as with sequential read performance does not tell us anything that we were not expecting: namely that sequential performance is always the strong suit of RAID – 0 and these numbers are impressive to say the least.
 
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AkG

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drives read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second.





As you can see, the performance curves of this RAID array are impressive but on the all important small end of the spectrum this raid array is nowhere close to being twice as fast as one Seagate drive. With that being said the boost in performance is noticeable and it does quickly ramp up to a performance level well beyond what any single hard drive is capable of – regardless of spindle speed.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5 and size at 100MB.





These numbers are certainly interesting. The large and mid file performance is first rate –and markedly improved – however the low end is not all that much better. Much like the sequential performance this too was fully expected due to the fact that Crystal DiskMark only uses 100MB files in its default configuration. This means small delays – i.e. increased latency – can have a large impact on the resulting synthetic performance.


PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.



Because of the increased latency which is associated with RAIDing drives, the PCMark 7 results are nowhere near double of that of the single 3TB Barracuda.
 
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AkG

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AS-SSD

AS-SSD


AS-SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.





As you can see the increase in performance on the low end is noticeable but it certainly is not double. With that being said these numbers are awfully damn impressive for 7200rpm hard drives and just go to show exactly how monstrously powerful these new Seagate Barracuda drives really are.
 
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AkG

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Vista Start Up / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Vista Start Up


When it comes to hard drive performance there is one area that even the most oblivious user notices: how long it takes to load the Operating System. While all the other tests were run with a Windows 7 operating system, this particular test uses another older test bed's “day to day” OS (copied over to our new testbed) which has accumulated a lot of crud over the months from installs and removals. We chose the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line as it is the last program to be loaded on start up.



While the boot times aren't halved by running two of these drives in a RAID 0 array, a ten second improvement is downright astonishing. These two drives are amazingly powerful and the resulting 6TB(!!) array is edging into Solid State Drive territory. If these are the kind of real world performance results we can expect, we can not wait for hard drive pricing to go back to normal as this amount of speed makes justifying a SSD a lot more difficult.


Adobe CS5 Load Time



Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the such you get a really great torture test which can bring even the best of the best to their knees. Let’s see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible!



The reduction in load time may not be in the double digits like it was in the previous test but shaving off seven seconds is nothing the sneeze at. We know that if we were doing a lot of Photoshop work which requires massive storage capacity we would opt for this kind of setup long before going towards a NAND based solution. 6TB worth of space with near solid state drive performance would be just too tempting to pass up.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Portable / Real World Data Transfers / Final Thoughts

Firefox Portable Offline Performance



Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting Firefox to reload the last session upon next session start and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to easily recreate a worse case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it simple to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repetition, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up into a .rar file and only extracted a copy of it to the test device.




As with Adobe and boot time performance, this RAID 0 configuration continues to impress us in this benchmark.


Real World Data Transfers


No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it can not really tell you how your hard drive will perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks strive to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s true capabilities and to this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how its performance relates to real life use. To help replicate worse case scenarios we will transfer a 10.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy (set to 1 file depth) and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.






As you can see the small file performance is not precisely this array’s strong point, but even these results are awfully good. We are once again seeing performance numbers which you simply cannot get with a single hard drive.

In the mean time, this setup certainly is not the most optimum solution for all situations and scenarios but it still is a very good solution for most and down right excels at some. With sequential large file performance this high we can see a lot of “prosumers” opting for this kind of setup when dealing with massive amounts of time sensitive data. For example if we were muxing/demuxing video – and thus a Solid State Drive solution would be cost prohibitive – this two drive configuration would be hard to beat. You will get nearly all the sequential performance of a SSD with all the capacity of a hard drive. That is a win-win scenario in our books.



Final Thoughts


Like most enthusiasts, when we feel a need for speed we opt for a Solid State Drive for the OS – and main applications - and use a Hard Disk Drive for everything else. This is our personal configuration of choice and while the Barracuda 3TB has become our “go to” drive for the spindle-based portion of that equation, two Barracudas in RAID 0 can certainly put forth some amazing numbers. Will this setup cause people to rethink their SSD purchasing plan? That’s a bit harder to determine since while RAID 0 performance is great and SSDs are still stupidly expensive for the storage capacity they offer, even a pair of hard drives just can’t keep up in small file 4K tests. The result is slightly more pedestrian benchmark results in real world applications.

What you get with this RAID solution is basic, no compromise space for all of your storage needs and performance that bridges the gap between SSDs and standard hard drives. Unfortunately, the current inflated pricing structure in the storage market means two Barracuda 3TB drives demand nearly $500 from your piggybank and that’s not an insignificant amount. That’s not to say that SSDs are well priced either since that same $500 will get you a 240GB drive and not much else. Buying two of these Seagate drives is a no brainer if you want an epic amount of storage capacity and a vast improvement in real world applications. However, for anyone on a budget, pairing a single Barracuda 3TB with a boot drive SSD is an excellent alternative.
 
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