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Seagate U8 ST317221A

  January 11, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Seagate Technology.

The emergence of a "value class" line of drives from several manufacturers isn't a brand-new trend. Before Maxtor's DiamondMax VL series and Quantum's Fireball lct line came along, Seagate introduced its "U series" line of value drives. The U4's launch (which we unfortunately didn't cover) coincided with the introduction of the Barracuda ATA. Seagate principally shipped these drives quietly to OEM manufacturers, strengthening an already dominant position in the OEM marketplace.

Maxtor and Quantum want a piece of that pie, of course. Their weapons are the aforementioned VL and lct lines, both of which bring contemporary areal densities to the table. Though its notable that Seagate seems to have slowed down in the performance ATA competition, they're certainly not standing still when it comes to the unheralded yet huge OEM market. The latest iteration of Seagate's value drive, the U8, hopes to continue the drive mammoth's pioneer status in this newest of markets.

On paper, the 5400rpm U8's specs are nothing to sneeze at. It incorporates 8.6 gigs per platter on up to 2 full platters to yield a flagship capacity of 17 gigs. No, it's not monstrous in size, but those in the market for a value unit likely aren't searching for 40 gigs. Specified average seek time slides in under the mystical 9ms barrier, measuring in at 8.9 milliseconds. The drive is equipped with a 512k buffer. Like its competition, the U8 includes a catch-phrase system (the 3-D Defense System) to better protect data. Like its competition, the U8 is protected by a value-standard one-year warranty.

As we've done with all other ATA-66 drives, the U8 was tested using Promise's Ultra66 controller. The ATA-66 unit does not work properly with our old-bios (kept old to control variables) LX-based motherboard. Though this shouldn't be an issue with most motherboards these days, Seagate provides a utility to force the drive into ATA-33 operation. No loss of performance would occur should this be necessary.

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The drive closest spec-wise to the Seagate U8 is the Quantum Fireball lct. Both units feature identical gigs/platter numbers, seek times, and buffer sizes. From a low-level perspective, the U8 offers a 3 MB/sec greater transfer rate than the lct. The Quantum disk, however, comes back with perhaps a more telling reduction in measured access time: 14.4ms vs the Seagate's 15.7ms.

In WinBench99 performance tests, the lct is a decisive victor, besting the U8 by similar margins in both Win9x and WinNT. Business Disk WinMarks place the lct ahead by about 9%, while high-end tests suggest a 12%-13% lead. ThreadMark reverses the situation, giving the U8 a small 3%-6% edge.

In the budget-OEM market, low heat and noise levels are arguably more important than raw performance. The U8 is a quiet drive, seeking away unobtrusively. When it comes to temperature, however, the U8 shines. Though some critics question our subjective heat impressions, we can say with complete confidence that the U8 is bar-none the coolest drive we've ever tested. We couldn't feel a difference in temperature between operation and powerdown.

The Seagate U8 isn't a performance leader. It isn't one even when the field is restricted to value-class drives. Then again, performance isn't the end-all when it comes to drives like this. SR caters to a large audience of hardware enthusiasts; our tests have evolved from the desire to pinpoint performance differences between drives. Our test suite, however, is unfair to value units. We run tests and evaluate these drives only to put the differences between value lines and performance units in stark, objective light. This isn't a drive that we'd recommend to the typical SR reader. That's likely not the point, however. The drive's low noise and heat levels combined with Seagate's infrastructure in the OEM market will hopefully allow for great volume sales that will put the drive giant in a position to continue innovation in the performance ATA and especially the SCSI market. Who can argue against that?

Seagate U8 ST317221A
Estimated Price: $149
Also Available: ST313021A (13 GB); ST38410A (8.4 GB); ST34313A (4.3 GB)
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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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