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Seagate Barracuda ATA ST328040A

  August 25, 1999 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1999 ATA Drive Roundup.
Evaluation unit provided by Seagate Technology.

Late 1997, Seagate shook up the marketplace by announcing the world's first 7200rpm ATA drive, its revolutionary Medalist Pro ST39140A. Before the Medalist Pro's introduction, ATA drives hovered around constant 5400rpm operation. 7200rpm was something reserved for enterprise-class SCSI drives. Combined with an areal density of 2.3 gigs per platter, the ST39140A promised to be a screamer.

The Medalist Pro ended up hitting general availability quite a bit later, around March 1998. Nevertheless, it was still fast enough to set new performance marks, displacing the IBM Deskstar 8 as the fastest ATA drive around. Seagate also debuted fluid bearings in the drive, an improvement that resulted in less idle noise (whine) and that supposedly made the drive more reliable. And what a short run it was, for since then neither Seagate nor any other manufacturer has incorporated fluid bearings into a disk.

Two competitors, however, did pick up the idea of 7200rpm spindle speed. The IBM Deskstar 14GXP and the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 2500 hit general availability in June, about three months after the Medalist Pro arrived. Through a variety of impressive features, the drives from the competition trumped Seagate's pioneer in performance by significant margins. The Medalist Pro quickly faded away into the background.

Strangely, despite being the groundbreaker in 7200rpm operation, Seagate's ATA arm remained unusually passive for nearly a year. The company's only major ATA release during that time was a relatively uninteresting 5400rpm drive, the Medalist ST317242A. Shipping several months after the similarly spec'ed Maxtor DiamondMax 4320, the Medalist simply couldn't keep up.

Finally, a year and a half after the ST39140A's debut, Seagate has followed up with another 7200rpm drive. This time around, however, the Medalist Pro moniker is gone. For this new drive, Seagate has leveraged a brand name that's perhaps the "Pentium" of the hard drive world: Barracuda. As the first 7200rpm drive around, the SCSI Barracuda line boasts a proud and distinguished lineage. Even today, where the latest iteration of the Barracuda isn't always the fastest around, few would dispute the name's implication of performance and reliability.

The Barracuda ATA's specifications read quite impressively. It is, of course, Seagate's second 7200rpm drive (though, to add to the confusion, it boasts "3rd generation ATA" specifications). Platters that squeeze just a little bit more in than the competition (7.0 gigs per platter) allow the four-platter flagship model to top out at 28 gigs of storage. Seek time is listed at 8.6 milliseconds, the third such drive to dip below the 9 ms barrier (Quantum's Fireball Plus KA and KX being the first two). Finally, like Quantum, Seagate has decided to stick with a 512k buffer for their latest ATA design.

Let the parade continue! Seagate has equipped the Barracuda ATA with the latest iteration of its SeaShield package, which includes a physical covering along the bottom of the drive to protect the delicate PCB and a set of data integrity enhancements. Finally, Seagate boasts of high-shock tolerance, akin to Quantum's Shock-Protection System. A three-year warranty protects the drive.

As an ATA-66 drive, the Barracuda ATA may pose problems to some motherboards running an Award BIOS. We are not aware of a utility to disable ATA-66 operation at the time of this writing. Be sure to upgrade your motherboard's bios to the latest available version before installing this drive.

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Despite its specified seek time, the Barracuda ATA posts a decidedly average access time. On the other hand, it does take the most solid swing at the ATA-33 barrier of any drive we've tested, weighing in with an impressive 28 MB/sec transfer rate. This allows for an interesting contrast with the Quantum Fireball KX, a drive which sports a lower access time but lower transfer rate.

In ZD's Business Disk Winmark 99 under Windows 9x, the Barracuda trails the Fireball by about 1%. The High-End WinMark places the Seagate about 2% behind the Quantum. When it comes to Windows NT, however, an almost perfect inverse is encountered. Here the Barracuda leads the Fireball in the Business test by 2%. High-End tests reveal the Seagate sliding by the Quantum by 1%. Talk about a dead heat!

ThreadMark 2.0 results are more decisive. Here the Barracuda rules. Under Windows 9x, the Seagate disk leads the Quantum by nearly 17%. The margin increases under NT, wich the Barracuda triumphing over the Fireball by 27%.

Despite its namesake, the Barracuda ATA turns in decent heat and noise levels. Seeks are of muted ATA-style, about the same level of noise emitted by the Fireball Plus KX. Idle noise is nearly undetectable. The drive also operates rather cooly, just warm to the touch outside a drive cooler. This is a marked contrast from the Medalist Pro ST39140, widely acknowledged as the hottest ATA drive ever produced. Seagate is fond of saying that it's "bringing 7200rpm performance to the mainstream." This may be a tacit acknowledgment of the demise of the "Medalist (Pro)" series- with the introduction of the "value" U-series, we may not see anymore 5400rpm "performance-class" drives from Seagate. The Barracuda ATA's heat and noise levels are probably the reason why!

So, what's the best drive around? The Quantum Fireball Plus KX is "faster" in Windows 9x, the operating system voted as "most important" by readers in a recent StorageReview.com survey. The Barracuda ATA, however, is "faster" under Windows NT, the technology found in the upcoming Windows 2000. It should be noted here that the term "faster" really is a farce; the drives virtually deadlock in all categories. ThreadMark places the Barracuda ahead; by now, however, regular readers should be aware that we don't weight ThreadMark results highly. What else distinguishes the two? Both turn in decent heat and noise levels. The Barracuda ATA will boast an incredible street price of $299. Notice the word "will." As of the time of this writing, we haven't yet spotted the drive offered from any retailer. Seagate claims the drive will ship "very soon." If it makes it out within the next couple weeks, it'll possess an $80 price advantage over the competition. If not, competition from other manufacturers will arrive en mass, and who knows what that'll bring ? Bottom line: The Barracuda ATA certainly is one heck of drive; we hope it hits general availability ASAP.

Seagate Barracuda ATA ST328040A
Estimated Price: $299
Also Available: ST320430A (20.4 GB); ST313620A (13.6 GB); ST310220A (10.2 GB); ST36810A (6.8 GB)
Specifications
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* Note: Threadmark 2.0 test results are the average of five trials.
WinBench99 test results are the average of three trials.


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