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Seagate Barracuda 3TB Review; A 1TB / Platter Monster is Unleashed

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AkG

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With SSDs making inroads into territory previously occupied by standard hard drives, we’ve seen a renaissance of sorts as some manufacturers begin pushing the limits of spindle-based storage. Western Digital showed their hand early on in the game by introducing the Caviar Green 3TB . Even though it was far from the quickest drive available, the mammoth size of the new Green virtually guaranteed its popularity. Seagate meanwhile had attacked the high capacity market with their Barracuda XT 3TB which combined performance with more storage space than most people will ever need.

3TB products may no longer be all that unique but in order to achieve such large hard drives, some sacrifices had to be made. In relation to their lower capacity brethren, such massive storage capacity meant four 750GB or five 600GB platters needed to be used which ended up increasing overall latency and lowered performance due to higher seek times. Now Seagate is pushing areal density to the next level by introducing the Barracuda 3TB; the first 1TB per platter HDD that boasts three terabytes of space (Hitachi’s new Cinemastar and Deskstar lines are only available in 1TB capacity for the time being) along with 64MB of cache.


Don’t let Seagate’s dropping of the “XT” moniker for this drive fool you; it was bred for performance and has some serious innovation packed into a svelte frame. For many it will herald in a new age for spindle based storage as in order to reach the 1 terabyte per platter plateau, Seagate had to work some magic which may allow them to leapfrog their longtime rival Western Digital. For instance, the track width is only 75nm wide and there are 340,000 tracks per each linear inch width of the platter. In plain English this means the margin for error is next to nil but the payoffs are substantial as we will see later in this review.

A straightforward side effect of such high areal density is a performance boost over previous models. After all, if the drive’s arm doesn’t have to move as far to read the next chunk of data, the latency will go down as the overall performance goes up.



In what may be a head scratcher for some, leading edge benchmark numbers also go hand in hand with lower power consumption as well. Less spinning platters and a lower amount of drive head movement means higher operating efficiency so Seagate will be using this new line of drives to replace their “green” / low power 5900rpm LP models.

As we saw recently with the Western Digital 1TB Blue, this does put a second set of almost diametrically opposed requirements upon the Barracuda 3TB’s shoulders. To be a success it needs to be both fast and frugal or it could miss the attention of both markets. However, with an MSRP of $179 the Barracuda seems to be well placed from a cost perspective but we’ll have to see if the actual performance can keep pace. We've also been told that even in the face of rapidly increasing storage prices, this retail price should hold steady in the weeks following release.

From both an architectural and aesthetics point of view, the new Barracuda does not appear to be all that different from previous models. It has the same silver color scheme and even similar –albeit smaller - PCB on the underside as many of Seagate’s other drives. In other words there are no outside clues to the amazing engineering housed within other than its surprisingly minimal weight.


One thing which is obvious from the outside is the rated maximum power draw. The while the previous XT model was rated for a max power draw of 9.26W, this new model uses 8.91W at most. While this may not seem like too much of an improvement, it does make the new Barracuda one of the more energy efficient 7200rpm 3TB drives on the market. More importantly this reasonable energy use means Seagate has not abdicated the “green” niche to Western Digital, as the 3TB Green we reviewed was rated for 8.4 watts. Half a watt in difference for what should be a large increase in performance is a trade-off many will be willing to make.


By removing the PCB we can see that the Barracuda’s internals have shrunk since we last looked at the line. While the PCB itself is indeed much smaller than previous iterations, all the various chips are still laid out in a neat, precise and extremely rational manner with plenty of room between each of them to allow for heat dissipation. One very interesting tweak – which is hidden under a heatpad - is a new dual core controller built on 40nm technology which should allow for some additional speed at deeper queue depths.
 
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AkG

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Advanced Format “4K Sectors” Explained

Advanced Format “4K Sectors” Explained



There is one feature included on the Seagate XT 3TB we need to take a look at: “Advanced Format” or 4K sector formatting. This feature isn’t exactly new since Seagate implemented it with their 2TB hard drive a while ago, but it is and will be an integral part of higher capacity drives. The reasoning for this vaires, but it basically boils down to the fact that in order to move to larger and larger hard drives, 512 byte sector formatting had to be phased out and replaced with 4k sectors due to Master Boot Record limitations. If they had not done so, your fancy new 3TB drive would be at best be turned into a 900 GB drive since the system would ignore everything below the 2.1TB mark and “see” only the portion above it. At worst, it wouldn’t be recognized at all.



OS limitations are the main reason for going to 4K sectors, but there is a secondary side effect to this feature as well. Basically, using 4K sectors instead of the much older 512 byte sectors involves error correction or “Error Correcting Code” (ECC for short).

ECC is used overcome the inherent increase in “noise” that is introduced when making platters with higher densities. No matter how precise write and read heads are, the closer the bits are together the higher chances that there will be bleed over from one to another. In a nutshell, the bits are now so close together that when a drive goes to write in a given bit there is a small chance that the bit next to it will also be negatively impacted. Much like on a CD, ECC is literally additional bits added on to a sector that tells the controller what the data should be and how to correct it if there are deviations.



By going to 4K sectors, not only can manufactures use ECC that is more effective (estimated at upwards of 200% more effective) but it also take up less space. The “claim” of taking up less space and yet being more effective may at first seem counter intuitive since the data should take up just as much room in 4K sectors as it does in 512 byte sectors and be just as effective.

In the old 512 byte sector layout, each little sector had 40 bytes of ECC clustered which was responsible for that particular sector. On the surface, one would think you would need 320 bytes of ECC for the new larger 4K sector but since the implementation of 512 byte sectors, the algorithms behind ECC have become more refined and compact. By going with more advanced algorithms, the new 4K sector layout still requires one cluster of ECC at the end of a sector, but that cluster is now only about 100 bytes in size.



As an added bonus, 4K sectors are not only more compact but also quicker and easier to create and read. Since the hard drive controller only needs to make one ECC per sector but that sector is now 4 times as large, the overall ECC creation is faster. It takes processor cycles to create ECC, so the less time the controller has to work on ECC the more time it has for doing other things.

Years ago when storage size was actually at a premium the less “waste” you had between files, the more room you could use. This additional wasted space was called “slack space” and was essentially useless as it couldn’t be used. Moving to 4K sectors obviously means more slack space, but with monster-capacity drives it no longer matters since physical storage space has been gradually reduced in overall cost.

Sadly, not everything is wine and roses with 4K sectors and the additional wasted space is not the most significant downside either. The main issue is the potential performance impact of 4K sectors when used in conjunction with older operating systems.

As any SSD user will tell you, XP doesn’t use a “proper” offset when it formats a drive since it uses a less than optimal 63-bit offset. This was perfectly fine in the past but on any storage device that uses 4K sectors, this offset will cause issues since a single 4K write will use two sectors instead of one.



To get around this issue Seagate has taken a slight different approach than Western Digital. Unlike Western Digital that has specialty software plus an external hardware option, Seagate has opted to update their tried and true Seagate DiscWizard as well as updating the drive's firmware. This drive at the hardware level can overcome the typical MBR limitation and allow older systems to be able to boot from this drive.

However, the 32bit limitation of MBR is still alive and well, so unless you configure this drive to use GPT instead of MBR you will not have one 3TB partition no matter what the hard drive does; rather you will need to make two partitions one up to 2.1tb and the other consisting of the rest of the drive (~900GB). The easiest way to do this is via SeaTools DiskWizard. What this means in practical terms is unlike Western Digital which shipped their earlier 3TB drives with a physical 2 port daughter card adapter, these new Seagate drives have been designed at a hardware and firmware level to easily handle both native 4K sector environments and 512 byte emulation with aplomb. The end result is a cheaper drive which is a true stand alone solution.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

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 w/ 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 "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.



The average read speed of the Seagate Barracuda 3TB is simply phenomenal. These speeds are simply in a different league than any other drive we have looked at before and this includes 10,000RPM VelociRaptors.


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 speed, the sequential write performance of this new triple 1TB platter wielding drive is extremely impressive. Not only did we see a nearly 30MB/s increase in average write performance compared to the previous Barracuda XT 3TB model, the minimum write performance has also significantly increased. It was not until the last 300GB or so of space before the speed dropped below 100MB/s and even then it does not drop all that much. This allows the drive to have a nearly 90MB/s minimum write speed which is simply in a different league than any SATA hard drive we have seen, let alone used. To be blunt this drive not only starts out faster but also ends faster than anything in it class so you can fill it to full capacity and still not be disappointed with its over all performance.
 
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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.





Phrases such as “night and day” come to mind when looking at the power curve of this new 3TB Barracuda compared to literally anything else in our charts. Even a 10,000rpm VelociRaptor simply cannot match these power curves. This drive is a game changer for Seagate and it makes a Western Digital 1TB or 2TB Black look downright sluggish in comparison.
 
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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.





The new Seagate Barracuda 3TB may not have a dual aperture arm, but with numbers like this it doesn’t need one. The ultra dense platters coupled with improved caching performance pays off tangible dividends.


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.



Once again the only place you are going to find this drive in our charts is at the very top. Even the ultra fast Western Digital 1TB Black FAEX is no match for this new ‘cuda as it leaves it – and every other - drive in its dust.
 
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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 64. 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.





Unfortunately this result does end Seagate's kill streak somewhat. Of course, when the only drive that can beat it is not only 20 times smaller but has to rotate a lot faster (10k vs 7.2k) to do so, that does speak volumes about the power of the new Barracuda. More importantly, when you take a close look at the difference between the VelociRaptor and this new Barracuda the difference is not that large and certainly not worth the loss of 2.85 Terabytes of space.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER

IOMETER


IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more End User centric we will be setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per HDD (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,3xk,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.



The Barracuda is certainly much improved over previous models and once again the only drive which can beat it is the 10,000 rpm VelociRaptor drive.
 
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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.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/cuda_3TB/boot.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

While it may have stumbled a step in our more server orientated test results, the Seagate Barracuda 3TB is back on top. When the difference between a drive and its nearest competition is a full four seconds you can be bloody well certain you will notice this in the real world.


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.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/cuda_3TB/adobe.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

Once again the Seagate Barracuda 3TB is in a different league than anything else HDD-wise we have seen.
 
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Firefox Portable Offline Performance / Real World Data Transfers

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.





While these results are a bit grim for all hard drives in our charts, the reason for this is simple: this test was designed to stress high performance modern SATA 6 solid state drives. This test is for all intents and purposes a 100 que depth read test with data demands varying from ultra small to large data chunks. Nonetheless, the Barracuda is still tops.


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 far as we are concerned this seals the deal for the new Seagate Barracuda 3TB. It is not only better than previous Seagate drives, it is simply better than all SATA hard drives out there today.
 
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