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Seagate U10 ST320423A
  June 15, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Seagate Technology.

Introduction

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.]

WB99/Win2k Low-Level Measurements

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Click here to examine the STR graph for this drive

Seagate rates the U10 at a relatively peppy 8.9 milliseconds on seeks. Combined with the rotational latency of 5.6 milliseconds yielded by the drive's 5400rpm spindle, the U10's net specified access time is 14.5 milliseconds. It's thus with some disappointment that we recorded a WinBench 99 Access Time of 17.7ms... well out of spec.

Contrast this with the current seek time leader, the Quantum Fireball lct10. Quantum's drive is rated at 9.5ms. Add in the 5.6ms of rotational latency and we get 15.1ms. Interestingly, the lct10 beats its specified access time by nearly a full millisecond, weighing in at 14.2ms. Thus there is indeed a gap in between the U10 and the lct10... more significant than the specs indicate, and in the opposite direction that one would expect.

The U10 does excel in the area of sequential transfer rates. Here the Seagate bests the Quantum by 2 megs a second when it comes to outer-zone transfer rates. The difference is nearly as great in the inner zones, where the U10 posts a 1.5 MB/sec lead.

Let's examine the ramifications of these differences in WinBench99's high-level tests.

WB99/Win2k WinMarks

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The U10's slower accesses come to haunt it in the high-level WinBench 99 WinMarks. Despite its higher sequential transfer rates, the Seagate drive lags behind Quantum's offering by a margin of 8% in the Business Disk WinMark 99. The margin increases in the High-End WinMark, where the U10 trails the lct10 by a margin of 12%.

We should take a moment to note that the lct10, while our current 5400rpm Leaderboard choice, isn't itself a standout it ZD's benchmark. Drives such as Maxtor's DiamondMax VL20 and Western Digital's Caviar WD307AA outperform the Quantum by margins of 20% or more.

As we've indicated before, the real test lies with Intel's IOMeter. Let's take a look at how the U10 fares there.

IOMeter Performance

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The Quantum Fireball lct10's relatively swift access time keeps the Seagate U10 at bay in IOMeter. Under a Linear Workstation load, Seagate's drive lags behind Quantum's by 15%. The gap only widens under heavier loads, peaking at over 24% under a Light load.

Conclusion

As a 5400rpm drive with only two platters, the flagship U10 operates very quietly. Subjectively, only the Maxtor DiamondMax 60 is quieter. Likewise, heat is simply a non-issue at this level. The U10 has been designed to easily integrate into any system.

Overall, like most other value-class drives, the Seagate U10 doesn't offer the speed that performance-oriented users are looking for. Such readers would be better served with competing drives... even in the 5400rpm arena, one would be better served by the Maxtor DiamondMax 60 if one needed capacity or the Quantum Fireball lct10 if performance was the goal. The U10's combination of low heat, noise, and cost seems to have endeared it to OEMs, propelling sales to impressive heights.

We should also take a moment to note that the value-class hierarchy is about to go through a shakeup. Take the two players contrasted here, for example. Seagate will continue on its course, skipping the 15 GB/platter plateau in favor of releasing a 5400rpm drive that packs an incredible 20 gigs of data on one platter. Quantum, on the other hand, is charting a different path. The speedy lct10's successor, the lct15, features a 4400rpm spindle speed, in an effort to further minimize the "big three" issues: heat, noise, and cost. It will be interesting to see which tactic prevails as this new generation of drives hits the market.

Seagate U10 ST320423A
Estimated Price: $150
Also Available: ST315323A (15.3 GB); ST310212A (10.2 GB)
Specifications
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