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Seagate Barracuda ATA III ST340824A
  January 8, 2001 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Seagate Technology.


Introduction

Readers may recall that it was Seagate that brought us the world's first 7200 RPM ATA drive in the form of the Medalist Pro ST39140A. In addition to reaching previously unheralded ATA spindle speeds, the Medalist Pro was also the first unit to bring us motors based on fluid bearings rather than the conventional ball bearings found elsewhere. Fluid bearings ostensibly provided the twin benefits of lowered idle noise and increased reliability.

Afterwards, however, it seemed like the world's largest disk manufacturer went dormant as it ceded the 7200 RPM ATA lead to competitors such as Maxtor and IBM. Finally, nearly a year and a half later, Seagate stirred again with the announcement of the Barracuda ATA. Seagate's SCSI Barracuda line had long enjoyed a stellar reputation of performance and reliability; as a result, the leveraging of the Barracuda name for the manufacturer's 7200 RPM ATA line drew quite a bit of attention. The drive finally hit the channels in the third quarter of 1999 and didn't disappoint. It delivered what was at the time the highest-ever sequential transfer rate for an ATA drive- its 28 MB/sec was the first to seriously challenge ATA-33's limits. And though the access time we measured on our sample, the 28 gig flagship, wasn't outstanding, it became clear that access times of the smaller models were among the best out there... rivaling the Quantum Fireball Plus KA.

Naturally, the 'Cuda ATA's successor was eyed as a possible performance champion. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Seagate had scaled back a bit, reducing specified seek time from the incredible 7.6 milliseconds of the original generation to a more sedate 8.2 ms. Even so, the Barracuda ATA II turned in performance that made it a viable alternative to the then red-hot Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 40. Subsequent entries from IBM and Quantum, the Deskstar 75GXP and the Fireball Plus LM respectively, stole the hearts of performance-conscious users.

This brings us to Seagate's third entry, the Barracuda ATA III. This particular model features 20.4 gigs per [platter]platter, pitting it directly against units such as Western Digital's Caviar WD400BB and Quantum's Fireball Plus AS. Like WD's entry, the flagship 'Cuda ATA III features just 2 platters, topping out at 41 gigs or so. Claimed seek times continue to rise in the series. We've gone from the original 'Cuda's svelte 7.6 ms to the 'Cuda II's 8.2 ms to a third generation spec of 8.9 ms. A two-meg buffer rounds out the offering. The drive is backed by a standard three-year warranty.

With the Barracuda ATA III, Seagate has again come full circle in offering its "Fluid Dynamic Bearing" motors as an option. Using viscous oil in place of metal balls allows less spindle noise through reduced metal-to-metal contact. This also increases the drive's shock resistance through the natural buffering of the spindle shaft that arises through use of liquid.

The Barracuda ATA III ships exclusively with an ATA-100 interface. Remember that since ATA drives have yet to break sequential transfer rates greater than even 40 MB/sec that ATA-66 (and in most cases, even ATA-33) interfaces will run the drive with optimal performance. Our testbed remains equipped with a Promise Ultra66 controller.


WB99/Win2k Low-Level Measurements

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Click here to examine the STR graph for this drive

With an outer-zone transfer rate of 40.5 MB/sec, the Barracuda ATA III succeeds in displacing the IBM Deskstar 75GXP as the fastest ATA drive when it comes to sequential transfer rates. It's inner-zone score of 26.4 MB/sec is also easily the fastest we've encountered. The 'Cuda ATA III thus completes the yearly cycle in which ATA drives catch the fastest of SCSI drives... only to be outpaced as next-generation SCSI units arrive, of course .

Measured access time, unfortunately, is not nearly as impressive. The 'Cuda ATA III's score of 15.4 milliseconds yields a measured seek time of 11.2 ms... a figure that misses claims by more than 2 milliseconds. This is a phenomenon occurring too often these days in the face of ever increasing areal densities.

Let's see how this performance translates into the higher-level WinBench 99 Disk WinMarks.


WB99/Win2k WinMarks

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Despite its record-breaking transfer rates, the Barracuda ATA III is no match for the category-leading Western Digital Caviar WD400BB. Seagate's offering trails WD's by a margin of 11% in the Business Disk WinMark 99. The gap in the High-End Disk WinMark is even greater- here the 'Cuda lags by 15%.


IOMeter Performance

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The Barracuda ATA III's IOMeter Workstation Index (a normalized average of light, medium, and heavy loads) of 125.97 unfortunately can't keep up with the competition. Quantum's Fireball Plus AS, for example, outscores the Seagate by 16%. An IOMeter top-dog such as the IBM Deskstar 75GXP makes it even worse, with the 'Cuda lagging by 24%.


Conclusion

The Barracuda ATA III features nearly non-existent idle noise, something that's becoming more and more common as time goes by. Question is, is this a result of advancing mechanisms or of the slowly deteriorating platter counts in ATA drives? Who knows... both are probably factors. The 'Cuda's seek noise is noticeable when performing fully random seeks, but hardly obtrusive. The drive remains quite cool even after extended use.

Overall, the Barracuda ATA III's disappointing showing in WinBench99 and IOMeter leave Western Digital's Caviar WD400BB at the top of the current-generation heap. With the WD400BB offering better performance and the Quantum Fireball Plus AS offering higher capacities, its hard to see where the 'Cuda III fits in. One place may be in cost-sensitive applications that require little else other than high sequential transfer rates. In addition, we have to point out that the 'Cuda ATA series has traditionally excelled in price; the original, for example, shattered price barriers by being the first to deliver capacity at just one American cent per megabyte. Perhaps the 'Cuda III will enjoy a similar advantage. Nonetheless, sharp competition remains right around the corner with Maxtor's DiamondMax Plus 60 as well as a bit further off from manufacturers such as IBM and Fujitsu.

Seagate Barracuda ATA III ST340824A
Estimated Price: $155
Also Available: : ST330620A (30.6 GB); ST320414A (20.4 GB); ST315310A (15.3 GB); ST310215A (10.2 GB)
Specifications
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