Though the market for low-cost 5400rpm drives doesn't interest power-using hardware enthusiasts, the market for low-cost disks has exploded in the last year or two. The reasons are multiple. Though the rage has died down a bit lately, demand for "value class" PCs under $800 is still quite high. Such budget machines must cut costs at every angle; low-cost hard drives allow shavings off of what usually is the most expensive single component in the system.
A second reason is the unmitigated increases in areal density. Even with the advent of high-resolution video, MP3s, and other capacity-hungry data, the logarithmic increases in demanded capacity we witnessed during much of the PC's history is starting to level off. For the vast majority of users, 15 to 20 gigs of storage represents ample capacity. These days, drives can deliver such capacities utilizing only two (or even one!) platters. Drives featuring two platters or less are very inexpensive... usually $150 or less. Such value has not gone unnoticed.
Riding the success of (and instrumental in founding) the value-class drive is Seagate with its U-series of ATA drives. Though not often seen for sale as stand-alone units, the U-series has met such tremendous success in OEM channels that it's claimed the title of the "most popular drive ever" in the measure of unit sales. Hence, it would be foolish to ignore the U-series current incarnation, the U10.
The U10 promises quiet operation and the capacities demanded by users and OEM at a low cost. It features a tried and true 5400rpm spindle equipped with either one or two 10.2 gig platters. The flagship two-disk model is evaluated in this review. Despite its value-class status, Seagate rates the U10's seek time at a relatively swift 8.9 milliseconds. A 512k buffer rounds out the package. Since the drive's target market rests primarily in value-oriented PCs, it's backed by a shorter one-year warranty (to match the average warranty on a complete system) rather than the three-year lengths often seen on ATA drives. [Editor's Note, 6/22/00: We stand corrected by Seagate- the U10's warranty is indeed three years in length, matching the industry standard for all ATA Drives.]