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Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB Hard Drive Review

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AkG

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Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB Hard Drive Review




Manufacture Page: Click Here
Part Number: ST33000651AS
Warranty: 5 years



In the cut-throat and slowly contracting world of spindle based storage drives, there has been an on going arms race between companies. The end result has been the introduction of faster and faster hard drives alongside ballooning storage space. Currently, price per GB is the only way HDDs can compete with SSDs but this hasn’t stopped manufacturers from pushing the boundaries of speed either.

Not that long ago we looked at the very first internal 3TB HDD available on the market – the Western Digital Green 3TB – and walked away very impressed considering it was a 5400 RPM drive. With that being said we were left wanting even more as the toned down 3TB Seagate XT we had “salvaged” from a Seagate GoFlex Desk external device hinted at the future of high performance drives. Today we get to find out as we now have an official, full power Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB to test.

The Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB is brand new product but it is already widely available at most retailers. As with any drive befitting of “flagship” status, expect to pay a slight premium for the biggest of the big as it has a real world price of about $240. Considering the aforementioned Western Digital Green 3TB goes for $199, it should be interesting to see how Seagate’s drive stacks up.

We have almost no doubts about this drive being a leading-edge hard drive since the Seagate XT 2TB was darn good. Rather than worrying about its performance, what we’re most anxious to see is whether it is worth its price premium over the $170 Seagate XT 2TB.


 
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Specifications

Specifications





 
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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 a hardware option, Seagate has opted to simply update their tried and true Seagate DiscWizard.

The upgraded version of this venerable setup and installation program will allow older XP computer users the ability to partition their 3TB beast into two (or more) partitions. It will also install a driver allowing the XT to be a bootable drive. Of course, you will not be able to use all 3TB in one partition on 32-bit operating systems, but it certainly is impressive and goes a long ways towards making up for the fact that Seagate does not include a HBA adapter card like Western Digital does nor a 4K offset jumper option on the drive itself.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB

A Closer Look at the Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB



From an aesthetics point of view the Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB does not look all that different than any other Seagate 3.5” form factor hard drive.


While the Barracuda XT design is fairly mundane in a business like way, the heft of it is anything but. To get 3,000,000,000,000 bytes of data into this drive Seagate had to use five 600GB platters, instead of the four 750GB platters Western Digital uses. This means the areal density is lower, but luckily the only Western Digital 3TB available on the market right now is a 5400rpm Green 3TB. We can foresee this becoming an issue later for Seagate, but for now this is the only 3TB, 7200 RPM high performance device with no real equal in its class (as Western Digital has recently acquired Hitachi).


The biggest issue with five platter designs is not in performance area (though all things being equal a lower areal density platter will not perform as well as a higher areal density platter) but in power consumption, as it usually takes more power to operate a five platter design than a four platter design.

The Seagate XT 3TB has a max power draw of .58amp off the 5 volt line (2.9 watts) and 0.53 off the 12volt line (6.36 watts) for a total off 9.26 watts. While this is certainly higher than the WD Green 3TB, it is actually lower than the Western Digital 2TB Black we reviewed awhile back (9.26 watts vs. 9.45 watts). It also favorably compares against the Seagate 2TB XT (9.26 watts vs. 9.84).


The Printed Circuit Board is a single sided affair which houses the chips necessary for this storage device to function. Unlike Western Digital which uses s Marvell controller for their 3TB, Seagate has opted for an LSI chip and a 64 Megabyte (512 megabit) Winbond DDR2-800 ram chip for the external ram cache.
 
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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 Phoenix Pro 120GB 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 Vanatage.

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 490 subfolders.


For all testing a Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD5 motherboard was used, running Windows 7 64bit Ultimate edition.

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

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.


Processor: 1090T @ 3.3 GHZ (turbo core set to 3.8GHZ)
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD5
Memory: 16GB Mushkin DDR3 1300
Graphics card: Asus 580GTX
Hard Drive: 1x G.Skill Phoenix Pro, 1x OCZ 120GB RevoDrive
Power Supply: XFX 850
 
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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 this goes double for SSD based drives. The main reason we include it is to show what under perfect conditions a given drive is capable of; but the more 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.




This hard drive really is fast when it comes to its average read speed. With an average read speed in excess of 122MB/s there really is nothing to say but: impressive.


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.


With an average speed of nearly 124MB/s there is no getting around the fact that this is one impressive drive. While this in and of itself is impressive what was even more eye opening was the fact that the read speed did not dip below 100MB/s until a touch over the 2TB mark.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark Vantage

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.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Cuda_XT_3TB/cdm_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Cuda_XT_3TB/cdm_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

The Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB’s results in this test were not as one sided as they were with the previous two. While it did dominate the read test portion, its low end 4K write speed was only good enough for 5th place. Helping to balance this was its extremely impressive sequential performance and its overall increase in performance compared to the last generation Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB drive. The combination of a wider bus which can fully take advantage of this drive’s burst speed capabilities coupled with five fairly dense platters does make for some blazingly fast sequential write transfer speeds.


PCMark Vantage


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark Vantage, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of 8 tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista startup time to game load time is tested in these 8 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.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Cuda_XT_3TB/vantage.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

It seems that in PCMark Vantage only the latest 6GB/s Western Digital 1TB Black is able to best this Seagate powerhouse and even here the results were awfully darn close.
 
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AkG

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AS-SSD / Access Time

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.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Cuda_XT_3TB/asd_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Cuda_XT_3TB/asd_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

Much like the Crystal DiskMark results, the AS-SSD results highlight the obvious weak link in the Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB design: small file performance is not really all that good when compared to other current generation HDDs. A brand new high performance drive should outperform an aging 2TB drive or even a modern 1TB drive, yet the Seagate is only able to consistently finish fourth.


Access Time


To obtain an accurate reading on the read and write latency of a given drive, AS-SSD was used for this benchmark. A low number means that the drive’ data can be accessed quickly while a high number means that more time is taken trying to access different parts of the drive.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Cuda_XT_3TB/latency.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

Based on the AS-SSD and Crystal DiskMark small file performance numbers, this middling result didn’t come as a huge surprise. It does however further explain exactly why this flagship drive is not able to dominate every benchmark. To be blunt, while the access speed of the XT 3TB is good, and much improved over the last generation Barracuda, Western Digital’s dual stage actuator design is simply faster.
 
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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 que 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,32k,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 que depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.



Once again we can see that while this is a very, very powerful drive it is not the best nor fastest we have ever seen in this test.
 
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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.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Cuda_XT_3TB/atto_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Cuda_XT_3TB/atto_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

The power curves of this device certainly are good, but as with all other synthetics which test small file performance the power curve of the Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB is only slightly above average. Luckily, its high end performance is down right eye wateringly fast.
 
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