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Seagate Desktop HDD.15 4TB Hard Drive Review

AkG

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Seagate’s hard drive lineup is in the midst of some significant changes and their new Desktop HDD.15 4TB drive is the headline act. Gone are the Barracuda, Constellation, Barracuda XT and Momentus lines of yesteryear, all of which have been replaced with a simplified naming scheme. For example, the Barracuda 7200.14 lineup is now being rebranded Desktop HDD.15 while the Baracuda XT series will now carry the SSHD branding. These changes are being carried out in parallel with the inclusion of new, next generation drives like the Desktop HDD.15 4TB in today’s review.


This unique drive’s design has been reworked from the ground up and is radically different than Seagate’s previous fourteen generations, allowing the HDD.15 to take an entirely different approach to consumer storage. The new philosophy can best be summed up in two words: efficient performance.

While power consumption hasn't been overly affected, quite a bit of work is being focused on optimizing data throughput and efficiency. Even acoustics have been analyzed and improved, perfectly avoiding the loud, clicking drives that Seagate released a few years ago.


Even though every generation of consumer-grade high performance HDDs has become slightly more efficient and have typically consumed a touch less power, none could hold a candle to the - now defunct – Barracuda LP line in the efficiency category. They used a unique 5900RPM rotational speed while other models like the Barracuda and Western Digital’s Black series hovered at 7200RPM. Much like Western Digitals ‘Green’ line, this approach tended to translate into lower power consumption, though with a rather large performance hit.


Believe it or not, the new Desktop HDD.15 4TB isn’t a 7200RPM drive, but it doesn’t stride into the low performance territory of 5900RPM models either. Rather, it takes key ingredients from both high performance and high efficiency segments to create an all new fusion which should offer reasonable power consumption with great performance.

Seagate has been able to accomplish this by taking the 1TB platters of the previous 7200.14 Barracuda and pairing them up with a lower spindle speed of 5900RPM. However, Seagate states that a good portion of this reduction in spindle speed should be mitigated by more intelligent caching algorithms – ‘OptiCache’ – and 64MB of local cache space.


Of course, the four 1TB platters will also help boost the overall performance of this drive as it is the only 4TB drive on the market which doesn’t use five or more platters. In practical terms, less platters allows the tracking heads to find information quicker across each spindle. This fact alone should help boost the performance over typical 2TB and 3TB models.

With an online average asking price of only $179 – or about $35 less than a Western Digital Black 3TB – these factors may indeed allow the HDD.15 4TB to perform above most consumers’ expectations. However, compared to the Seagate Barracuda 3TB – one of the few 7200rpm drives available with 1TB platters– this reduced rotational speed will indeed be seen as a major weakness considering the Desktop HDD.15 4TB does come with a ~50% price premium.
 
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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 520 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 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 formated to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory:
8GB Corsair Vengeance "Blue" DDR3 1600
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Intel 520 240GB, Intel 910 800GB
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.


Even though Seagate's new 4TB model makes use of a more stately rotational speed of 5900RPM the ultra dense 1TB platters do somewhat help make up for this handicap. By the same token, there is a significant drop in overall performance between the older 3TB and new 4TB model.

Obviously, Seagate radically changed their design goals between the release of these two capacities. However, synthetic testing is rather inaccurate and will never tell the full story of a drive's real world performance. It is more than possible that the refinement of firmware and caching algorithms can help make up for some of this difference.
 
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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 saving grace of this new 4TB model is its ultra dense platters. Unless you actually knew that this was a 5900RPM model you could easily be excused for thinking it is working at 7200 RPMs.

Unfortunately, the power curves are once again noticeably lower than the 3TB model and this unfortunate. This four platter device does have 33% more read/ write heads and 33% more platters to spread the data load out over, yet it can't hit the performance numbers of its predecessor.
 
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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 rather low results were not unexpected as caching algorithms play almost no role in the synthetic performance. Simply pu,t Crystal DiskMark sidesteps any possible performance advantage Seagate’s improved OptiCache features offer in real world scenarios and shows only the actual raw performance of the platter and spindle designs.


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.



While PCMark 7 does try and replicate real world scenarios it is still a synthetic testing suite. Hopefully, the real world performance difference between the HDD.15 4TB and the previous 14th generation Barracuda 3TB is not as large as PCMark would lead us to believe. Once again though, this rather slow 5900RPM drive is posting results much better than expected.
 
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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 with Crystal DiskMark, any improvements in firmware and caching algorithms are rendered moot by scenarios such as these. When stripped bare of such potential performance boosting features, the 5900RPM spindle speed kneecaps overall performance.
 
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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.


Using any drive which utilizes such a low spindle speed for IOMeter tasks is asking for trouble and that translates perfectly here. IOMeter’s tests easily saturated the 64MB of cache this drive has and when that happens even the dense 1TB platter design cannot help.
 
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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.



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!


In real word scenarios, the HDD.15 does prove to be a fairly good performer. It is certainly slower than its direct predecessor but the level of performance it does offer is still reasonably good when compared against 7200RPM versions and downright astonishing for a 5900RPM model.
 
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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.



Since the Desktop HDD.15 4TB is a 5900RPM model its small file performance and latency does tend to suffer, reducing its placement in our FireFox test. The end result is a fairly decent performer – one similar to older 7200RPM drives – but one that is more in tune with storing and loading massive amounts of data rather than loading applications.


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 expected the large file performance of this drive is quite impressive for a 5900 RPM model but it just can't compete with 7200RPM alternatives. The small file performance on the other hand is still OK, but nothing ground breaking. No matter how dense the platters this drive is simply slower than many lower density, but higher RPM models available today.
 
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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.

Please note: due to the unquie nature of the Seagate Momentus XT it has not been included with these charts as the drive decides what to place on the NAND and keep performance elevated.


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 the HDD.15 4TB's ultra dense platters the performance fall-off here isn't overly significant and it holds its own against much ‘faster’ models available today. While this will be of little concern to consumers using an HDD.15 as a ‘OS’ drive, it will be of great significance to those using it for its obvious intent: as a data drive. For these consumers, the consistent performance at most capacity levels will be very, very impressive.

Unfortunately, the 3TB Barracuda is faster and this is troubling. An older model should never outperform a newer model, but thanks to Seagate’s massive change in design priorities that is exactly what happens when the HDD.15 is compared to the 3TB Barracuda.
 
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