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Seagate Constellation ES.3 4TB Hard Drive Review

AkG

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Please note that we are experiencing some technical difficulties which will cause image errors in some reviews. Hardware Canucks is actively working to solve the issues and the images should display correctly soon.


One of the best known and respected manufacturers of enterprise grade storage hard drive is Seagate. They not only helped create this marketplace but have kept their prominent position via timely new releases which set the standard, routinely outpacing their competitors.. The latest addition to Seagate’s enterprise storage division is a series of seemingly benign 7200 RPM drives dubbed the Constellation ES.3 series which are available in capacities up to the 4TB SAS version we’re reviewing today. Also take note that Seagate has recently simplified their nomenclature, leading to this drive being called the "Enterprise Capacity 3.5 HDD V.3".

The ES.3 series’ goals aren’t solely focused upon performance but rather they’re designed to deliver a combination of elements specifically targeted towards the enterprise market. Longevity, efficiency and data retention capabilities have all been fine tuned in an effort to outstrip the offerings from the likes of Hitachi, Western Digital and others. Remember, efficiency may not matter when one, two or three drives are being used in parallel but when running arrays of several dozen HDDs, power savings really begin to pile up.


A new Constellation drive may not sound as impressive as Seagate’s blazingly fast 10K Savio or 15K Cheetah products but for many scenarios, its 7200 RPM speed is sufficient and actually optimal for its intended use. This class of drive runs cooler, consums less energy, can incorporate higher density platters for greater capacity and generally boasts a lower Total Cost of Ownership than their 10K and 15K counterparts. All of this is exactly what the new Constellation ES.3 has been designed to do: be the most efficient and effective storage tool available today for enterprise customers.


Like most drives in this class, the ES.3 line comes into a multitude of models with everything from SATA, to SAS, to self-encrypting AES 256 (FIPS 140-2 level 2 compliant) models. Today we will be testing the mid-tier Serial Attached SCSI models which have no encryption abilities. We have chosen this model as SAS drives are the ‘Honda Civics’ of the business world. Put another way, the ES.3 SAS version is as ubiquitous in this segment as it is capable.


From the exterior, consumers would have a tough time distinguishing this SAS version from the SATA equipped model. Both SATA and SAS ES.3 Constellation’s come in a standard 3.5” form factor and make use of the same color scheme. The only way anyone could reliably tell any of the ES.3’s apart is by reading the label on the top or taking a very close look at the ports.

SAS was created to be more user friendly version of SCSI and SAS data ports uses the same design as SATA but with a few minor tweaks. Basically, SAS cables can be used with SATA drives, but SATA controllers are unable to connect to and use SAS drives. Unfortunately, since Intel removed the rumoured SAS abilities from their newest PCH, this does mean that a dedicated SAS controller will be required for testing. To this end we have opted for an entry level LSI 9240 controller, but will be using it only for connectivity. All RAID work will be carried out via Microsoft Windows 7’s built in ‘software’ RAID abilities.


The SAS ES.3 may be similar in appearance to most drives we have looked at to date, but once the PCB is removed some obvious differences do become apparent. Like any modern high performance HDD, the ES.3 4TB makes use of a Marvell-based dual core controller and exterior ram cache. Like all enterprise drives there is also humidity, accelerometer and pressure sensors attached to the PCB. This too is par for the course and very similar to Western Digital’s RE-series layout.

Unlike Western Digital’s offerings this new model makes use of 128MB of cache instead of the industry standard 64MB. In most instances renewal of the old ‘cache wars’ would not be noteworthy, but these drives are meant for RAID environments and deeper queue depth scenarios. In such scenarios the added onboard cache is welcome and may indeed help the ES.3 out muscle the competition.
 
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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 Intel DC S3700 800GB 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 such as OS startup, Firefox reload and data transfer times. For data transfer 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.

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.

For all RAID testing an LSI MegaRaid 9240 was used; however all drives attached were configured as JBOD and MS Windows 7 built in drive management tools were used to create the RAID array.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory:
8GB Corsair Vengeance "Blue" DDR3 1600
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Intel DC S3700 800GB, Intel 910 800GB
SAS Controller: LSI MegaRaid 9240
Power Supply: XFX 850
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


For this benchmark, HD Tune Pro was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these storage devices. 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.



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.


Please note: Due to the way HD Tune tests write performance we were unable to test any drives in RAID configuration as such they have all been left out of this chart.

These new ES.3 drives are very, very quick but based on these results it is very likely Seagate has foregone the use of 1TB platters, rather opting for the slightly older 800GB platters. This would explain the slightly slower results when compared to a Seagate 3TB drive. Using slightly lower aerial density does make sense as the enterprise marketplace is extremely conservative in nature and if the ES.3 can continue to compete at this level we doubt many of the intended customer base will care one way or the other about platter size.

It is also worth noting that this drive is not only meant for the enterprise marketplace, but has been designed with RAID arrays and deeper than usual queue depths in mind. As such, the firmware has been tweaked with those situations in mind. When the ES.3 4TB drives were placed in RAID the results did scale very nicely and nearly linearly.
 
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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.



Once again the ES.3 posts some outstanding numbers with excellent single drive performance results and RAID throughput that's just spectacular.

As you can see, once the file size got beyond the 2KB mark the three results – single, dual drive and quad drive – did start to diverge nicely. Not only does the Constellation prefer to be in RAID configuration, it also scales much more linearly than even a VelociRaptor 1TB drive. The more ES.3 drives which are used the closer the power curves get to being four times better than the single drive results.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

Crystal DiskMark


<i>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. </i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/ES3/cdm_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/ES3/cdm_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

Once again the ES.3 posts some very good numbers in single and RAID configurations, but it really is only when in multiple drive array layouts that it really begins to shine. If we had to guess, it's possible the Constellation's firmware has been heavily tweaked for such occasions, fitting perfectly with the enterprise focus.

The additional cache also appears to be having a beneficial effect, which does explain the rather significant boost these drives get when in RAID scenarios. After all, four drives each with 128MB of cache is a full gigabyte worth, which is a lot of room for drive controllers to take advantage of.


PCMark 7


<i>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.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/ES3/pcm7.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

This result just underscores exactly how good Seagate's latest drive really is. It is not intended for single drive scenarios and yet it easily surpasses everything but a VelociRaptor 1TB. Even a 1TB per platter Seagate Barracuda 3TB is unable to match this score.
 
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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.



Much like the Crystal DiskMark results, the ES.3 posts very good numbers here. Of course, like any RAID 0 configuration the small 4K numbers do not scale at anything remotely resembling a linear fashion. However, the small file single queue numbers do improve across the range better than most drives.

Just as importantly the deep file queue depths numbers are downright excellent and improve as more drives are added to the array. This increase is directly caused by the large onboard cache and the highly tuned firmware.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER

IOMETER: Our Standard Test


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 device (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,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 queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments and workstation environments.


Our standard IOMeter test resembles a workstation or general purpose server environment rather than a true storage server, but even in scenarios outside its intended operating parameters the Constellation is unique in nearly every respect.

At deeper queue depths it even approaches the performance of some 10,000 RPM drives. Of course, the VelociRaptor has been tweaked for home users and not enterprise scenarios, but even taking this into account the ES.3 drive is a truly remarkable creation.


IOMETER: File Server Test


To test each drive we ran 6 test runs per device (1,4,16,64,128,256 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 6 subparts were set to run 100% random, 75% read 25% write; testing 512b, 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 6 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 6. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for file server usage.



File servers environments are the Constellation drives' ‘bread and butter’ so it comes as no surprise that this new ES.3 model thrives in such a scenario. In fact, not only does it scale in a very efficient manner, it also posts performance numbers that are amazing for platter based drives.

We never thought it was possible but the additional onboard cache this drive boasts makes a significant impact on performance.


IOMETER: Web Server Test


The goal of our IOMeter Web Server configuration is to help reproduce a typical heavily accessed web server. The majority of the typical web server’s workload consists of dealing with random small file size read requests.

To replicate such an environment we ran 6 test runs per device (1,4,16,64,128,256 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, 95% read 5% 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 queue depth that is heavily weighted for web server environments.



As with the other IOMeter test scenarios, these drives really do thrive once the queue depth becomes deep. At lower queue depths even four of them barely makes a dent in the overall performance. This however, is par for the course as only SSDs can produce higher performance at low queue depths.


IOMETER: Email Server Test


The goal of our IOMeter Email Server configuration is to help reproduce a typical corporate email server. Unlike most servers, the typical email server’s workload is split evenly between random small file size read and write requests.

To replicate such an environment we ran 5 test runs per drive (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 3 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 3 subparts were set to run 100% random, 50% read 50% write; testing 2k,4k,8k, size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these numbers add them together and divide by 3. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for email server environments.



Once again the Constellation really does scale nicely as the number of drives increases but once again it needs deep queue depths to really shine. All that onboard cache, and shear potential really is only going to shine through when the drives are nearly abused and overloaded.
 
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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.


The reason we have not included single ES.3 results is due to the fact that LSI's SAS controller does tend to add bit of time to system start-up, which would not have been indicative of real world performance. With that being said, using two or more Constellation drives does have the potential to drastically increase boot time performance.


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!


Unlike the start-up times these results are clear cut: the ES.3 drives are ridcioulsy fast at application loads. There are no if, ands or buts about it, the more drives you use the faster the results get.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Portable / 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.



It may take four drives but these results are entering Solid State Drive territory. That right there best sums up how good of these drives really are.


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 and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.




Once again we are seeing some very fine numbers from the ES.3 drive. It may not scale anywhere close to a linear fashion when dealing with small file sizes, but it is a lot better than any 7200 RPM drive we have seen to date.
 
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AkG

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Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


While it is important to know how a drive will perform under optimal conditions, more realistic scenarios are just as important. Knowing how drive will behave when partially or even nearly full than when it is empty is very important information to know. To quickly and accurately show this crucial information we have first filled the drive to 50% capacity and re-tested using both synthetic and real world tests. After the completion of this we then re-test at 75% and 90% of full capacity.


Synthetic Test Results

For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.



Real World Results

For a real world application we have opted for our standard Adobe CS5 test.


Thanks to an overall higher starting point, the Seagate Constellation ES.3 does post extremely good numbers at all capacities. However, these numbers make it clear that the ES.3 is relying upon 800GB and not 1TB platters.To be perfectly candid this is easily the best 7200RPM drive we have tested to date and if performance is a major concern these new Constellations are the drives to beat.
 
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