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Seagate Barracuda ATA II ST320420A

  February 29, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Seagate Technology.

For a period of time it seemed as though Seagate was sliding into a non-competitive mode in the ATA drive stakes. Though they pioneered the 7200rpm ATA drive with the introduction of the 2.5 gig per platter Medalist Pro, the manufacturer sat out the next round where drives such as the 4.6 gig/platter IBM Deskstar 22GXP and Quantum Fireball Plus KA hit the market. In the 5400rpm arena, Seagate matched the Maxtor DiamondMax 4320 with its Medalist ST317242A, but remained dormant when 6.8 gig/platter models such as the DiamondMax 6800 and the Western Digital Caviar WD205AA arrived.

More recently, however, Seagate has fervently rejoined the race, releasing its 7 gig/platter Barracuda ATA at the same time that the competition shipped similar drives. The company's 5400rpm U8 arrived just as 8-9 gig/platter budget units from other manufacturers started to appear on the street. ATA drives have yet again evolved to another level, this time packing 10.2 gigs of data onto a single disk. Has Seagate kept up? We're pleased to see that they have, both with the 5400rpm U10 and the 7200rpm Barracuda ATA II. Here we'll take a look at how the 'Cuda 2 stacks up as disks from Maxtor and Western Digital hit wide availability.

Last summer, Seagate caught the attention of many when it decided to retire the "Medalist Pro" moniker and instead leverage the "Barracuda" name for its new line of 7200rpm disks. The Barracuda ATA was a great success, providing a swift, high-capacity storage option at a very competitive price. The Barracuda ATA II reviewed here seeks to build on such heritage. Like it's predecessor, the 'Cuda 2 is an a 7200rpm ATA-66 drive. Matching offerings such as Western Digital's Caviar WD205BA and Maxtor's already-legendary DiamondMax Plus 40, Seagate's drive packs 10.2 gigs on a single platter to achieve a 3-platter flagship capacity of 30.6 gigs. Unlike the competition, the 'Cuda dares to spec its seek time well below the nine millisecond threshold at 8.2ms. Seagate has finally joined the ranks of other manufacturers by equipping its latest 7200rpm line with a 2 meg buffer. An industry-standard 3-year warranty backs the drive.

In the past, we've attempted to standardize on the "flagship" model (ie, the largest capacity 1" high member of the family) when it came to drive reviews. For some reason, however, Seagate sent us the ST320420A, the 20 gig version of the 'Cuda 2. As we've outlined before, drives within a given family will perform the same. Thus, the figures presented here for the 20 gig drive will be mimicked by both its larger and smaller brothers. This drive is the first Seagate unit shipped to us in the simple yet effective SeaShell container rather than a standard ESD bag. The SeaShell is a plastic clamshell akin to what one would expect to find a PCI or AGP card rather than a drive. Despite its simplicity, the SeaShell, combined with the standard foam packaging that protects all drives, is another layer of defense provided by the manufacturer to protect the drive in one of its most vulnerable states: shipping and handling. Surely our readers are aware that hard disks are to receive careful, white-glove treatment. How many shippers really share the same care and concern? SeaShell helps minimize the effect of rough handling that most drives certainly receive in transit; it's a much more visible precaution than the typical menu of "advanced protection features" that accompany ATA drives.

As we've done with all other ATA-66 drives, the Barracuda ATA II was tested using Promise's Ultra66 controller. The ATA-66 'Cuda 2 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.

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We assume that the unit folks want to see the Barracuda ATA II contrasted against is the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 40. We're amazed with the incredible race to obtain the new Maxtor drive outlined in usenet newsgroups as well as's own Discussion Forums. Does the 'Cuda 2 change our choice?

Low level results taken from the new Seagate compare very favorably against the Plus 40. We measured a maximum sequential transfer rate in the outer zone of 29.6 MB/sec, a figure just a hair slower than the Maxtor's 30.2 MB/sec. Access time, however, clocks in at 12.8 milliseconds, a full 1.4ms below the figure turned in by the Plus 40 (remember, lower is better when it comes to access time). Let's take a look at how these figures translate into higher-level performance.

In Windows 9x, the 'Cuda 2 is every bit the equal of the Plus 40. The Business Disk WinMark places the Barracuda ahead of the DiamondMax by a negligible margin of 1%. An even larger statistical coincidence occurs in the High-End Disk WinMark, where both drives clock in at exactly 13,933 KB/sec.

It's in Maxtor's traditional favorite playground, Windows NT, that the Plus 40 breaks loose. Here the Seagate drive trails the Maxtor offering by about 5% in both Business and High-End tests. Though still very close, it's a more significant difference than measured in Win9x. ThreadMark tests exhibit a bit more of a gap, measuring out the Barracuda 8%-12% below the DiamondMax.

The subjective noise level of the 'Cuda 2 was slightly higher than that of the Maxtor Plus 40. Though idle noise was the same (i.e., drowned out by power supply fan noise), the Seagate's seeks were just a wee bit louder. The drive is, however, still quiet enough to please all but the most demanding of users. Noise is certainly one area where the 'Cuda ATA series doesn't follow in the venerable SCSI line's footsteps. As a two platter drive, our evaluation unit ran cool to the touch.

The Safe Buy Award

Simply put, this designation means we'd purchase this product without regret. Sure, there may be a slightly better, slightly faster, and/or slightly less-expensive model from a competitor, but you can't go wrong with this particular unit. This award is applicable, of course, to all units at the top of their class, but also applies to units that, though not quite best-of-class, provide a strong showing nonetheless.Overall, the Seagate Barracuda ATA II isn't quite the DiamondMax-toppler that some may have hoped. Even so, it does provide exceptional performance in Windows 9x with NT performance that also is nothing to sneeze at. The flagship unit of the series utilizes only three platters, and thus can't match the 40 gig capacity of the top-end Maxtor. But if you're looking for a drive 30 gigs in size or less, and can't find Maxtor's drives, the 'Cuda 2 is a viable option.

Seagate Barracuda ATA II ST320420A
Estimated Price: $195
Also Available: ST330630A (30.6 GB); ST315320 (15.3 GB); ST310210A (10.2 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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