October 31st, 2005 by eugene
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9
Seagate's Barracuda ATA family has won a loyal following over the years. Some of the drive's earlier generations, however, left a few diehard fans jaded. At that time, the Barracuda brand remained associated with a workhorse SCSI design, and many a prospective upgrader was left disappointed that the family did not maintain the "SCSI drive in ATA clothing" design that defined the line's launch. Time passed, however, and Seagate eventually brought many of its market-leading technology advantages to the line.
The Barracuda ATA IV, for example, was the first drive (excluding the quirky 7200 RPM Medalist Pro of yesteryear) to bring modern fluid dynamic bearing motors to the table. Its successor, the Barracuda ATA V, was the first unit to ship with a SATA (and a native, non-bridged design at that!) interface. Interestingly, somewhere in the shuffle, the "Barracuda 6" was lost. A revised version of the 7200.7, however, brought SATA's long-awaited Native Command Queuing (NCQ) into the picture.
That said, what new features does the Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 bring to the arena? Most prominent is Barracuda's return to a four-platter assembly, a number not associated with the family since 1999's original drive. The upped count permits Seagate to be among the first manufacturers to hit the half-terabyte storage mark. Unfortunately, however, the travails of density continue to become apparent... per platter, the flagship 7200.9 actually stores less (125 GB) than the 7200.8 (133 GB). Smaller 7200.9s sport platters that cram up to 160 on their surfaces; implementing these disks with larger associated head counts, however, remains a problem.
The high-end (300+ GB) 7200.9s match the larger, 16-megabyte buffer found on today's contemporary SATA drives. Most of the smaller versions come standard with 8, while a handful of relatively tiny PATA drives incorporate 2 megabytes. Seagate specs the 7200.9's average seek time at a rather high 11 milliseconds. The 7200.9 is also among the first drives to ship featuring the 300 MB/sec SATA II interface.
Seagate targets the Barracuda 7200.9 almost exclusively at the desktop market where lighter loads and 8 hours-a-day, 5 days-a-week power-on cycles are the norm. Though a desktop unit, the 7200.9 nonetheless enjoys the best warranty around... 5 years of protection.
As a contemporary 7200 RPM drive, the Barracuda 7200.9 will be compared against these drives in the tests that follow:
|Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB)||High-Capacity competing desktop unit (80GB/platter)|
|Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB)||High-Capacity competing enterprise unit (100 GB/platter)|
|Samsung SpinPoint P80 (160 GB)||Competing desktop unit (80 GB/platter)|
|Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 (400 GB)||Manufacturer's previous-generation desktop unit (133 GB/platter)|
|Western Digital Caviar RE2 WD4000YR (400 GB)||High-capacity competing enterprise unit (100 GB/platter)|
Access Time and Transfer Rate
For diagnostic purposes only, StorageReview measures the following low-level parameters:
Average Read Access Time- An average of 25,000 random read accesses of a single sector each conducted through IPEAK SPT's AnalyzeDisk suite. The high sample size permits a much more accurate reading than most typical benchmarks deliver and provides an excellent figure with which one may contrast the claimed access time (claimed seek time + the drive spindle speed's average rotational latency) provided by manufacturers.
Average Write Access Time- An average of 25,000 random write accesses of a single sector each conducted through IPEAK SPT's AnalyzeDisk suite. The high sample size permits a much more accurate reading than most typical benchmarks deliver. Due to differences in read and write head technology, seeks involving writes generally take more time than read accesses.
WB99 Disk/Read Transfer Rate - Begin- The sequential transfer rate attained by the outermost zones in the hard disk. The figure typically represents the highest sustained transfer rate a drive delivers.
WB99 Disk/Read Transfer Rate - End- The sequential transfer rate attained by the innermost zones in the hard disk. The figure typically represents the lowest sustained transfer rate a drive delivers.
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With a 13.7 millisecond access time, the Barracuda 7200.9 posts virtually the same mark as its predecessor. Subtracting the requisite 4.2 ms to account for rotational latency nets a measured seek time of 9.5 milliseconds. Seagate specs the 7200.9 at a rather conservative 11 ms, so the drive's measured score easily arrives well under the firm's claim. Unlike the 7200.8, the newest Barracuda delivers a relatively reasonable average write access time of 14.9 milliseconds. Though still on the high side when compared with most of the competition, it is a great improvement over the 7200.8's 23.3 ms score.
At 125 GB/platter versus the 7200.8's 133 GB/platter, the 7200.9 takes a slight step back in areal density. As a result, the newer drive suffers a bit when it comes to sequential transfer rates. Outer-zone measurements weigh in at 62.0 MB/sec, a full 10 MB/sec lower than the record-setting 7200.8. Even more telling, the 7200.9's maximum score also falls below 100 GB/platter units such as the MaXLine and Caviar RE2. As data moves inwards, scores decay down to a low of 34.4 MB/sec and best only Hitachi's 80 GB/platter Deskstar. It appears Seagate chose quite a conservative zoning pattern in moving the Barracuda line back to a four-disc assembly.
It is important to remember that seek time and transfer rate measurements are mostly diagnostic in nature and not really measurements of "performance" per se. Assessing these two specs is quite similar to running a processor "benchmark" that confirms "yes, this processor really runs at 2.4 GHz and really does feature a 400 MHz FSB." Many additional factors combine to yield aggregate high-level hard disk performance above and beyond these two easily measured yet largely irrelevant metrics. In the end, drives, like all other PC components, should be evaluated via application-level performance. Over the next few pages, this is exactly what we will do. Read on!
StorageReview uses the following tests to assess non-server use:
StorageReview.com Office DriveMark 2006- A capture of VeriTest's Business Winstone 2004 suite. Applications include Microsoft's Office XP (Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, and Project), Internet Explorer 6.0, Symantec Antivirus 2002 and Winzip 9.0 executed in a lightly-multitasked manner.
StorageReview.com High-End DriveMark 2006- A capture of VeriTest's Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 suite. Applications include Adobe Photoshop v7.01, Adobe Premiere v6.5, Macromedia Director MX v9.0, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX v6.1, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0, Newtek Lightwave 3D 7.5b, and Steinberg Wavelab 4.0f run in a lightly-multitasked manner.
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The Barracuda 7200.9 achieves an SR Office DriveMark of 610 IO/s per second with NCQ disabled. Though a significant 10% gain over the 7200.8, Seagate's ninth-generation drive lags behind all of the competition in typical, everyday productivity performance. Scores slide by just an imperceptible 1% margin with NCQ enabled, a contrast to the significant hit the 7200.8 encounters with the feature activated.
Seagate's newest makes considerable strides when it comes to dealing with the large data files prevalent in the SR High-End DriveMark. The drive's NCQ-disabled score of 556 I/Os per second places behind only WD's ever-impressive Caviar RE2. Its improvements are significant enough to leapfrog the formerly nimble competition from Hitachi and Maxtor. Here, again, enabling NCQ results in a minimal performance loss.
Three decidedly different entertainment titles cover gaming performance in StorageReview's test suite.
FarCry, a first-person shooter, remains infamous for its lengthy map loads when switching levels.
The Sims 2, though often referred to as a "people simulator," is in its heart a strategy game and spends considerable time accessing the disk when loading houses and lots.
Finally, World of Warcraft represents the testbed's role-playing entry; it issues disk accesses when switching continents/dungeons as well as when loading new textures into RAM on the fly.
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A score of 667 I/Os per second in our FarCry capture improves upon that of the Barracuda 7200.8's by about 7% and yields an NCQ-disabled 7200.9 that edges out the MaXLine III and comes within striking distance of the Deskstar 7K400. Par for the course, activating NCQ does not elevate the 7200.9's showing but does not significantly hurt it either.
With NCQ disabled, the Barracuda 7200.9 again comes in third behind drives from WD and Hitachi in our trace of the massively-popular Sims 2's disk access. A 5% improvement over the older 7200.8 permits Seagate's newest drive to edge out Maxtor's drive in this test. Again, keeping NCQ enabled results in a minimal performance hit.
When it comes to World of Warcraft, the 7200.9 manages to muscle out even the Deskstar and places second only to the Caviar. As always, activating NCQ results in a slight but imperceptible decline in the drive's score.
Unlike single-user machines (whether a desktop or workstation), servers undergo highly random, non-localized access. StorageReview simulates these multi-user loads using IOMeter. The IOMeter File Server pattern balances a majority of reads and minority of writes spanning requests of varying sizes.
IOMeter also facilitates user-configurable load levels by maintaining queue levels (outstanding I/Os) of a specified depth. Our tests start with the File Server pattern with a depth of 1 and double continuously until depth reaches 128 outstanding I/Os.
Drives with any sort of command queuing abilities will always be tested with such features enabled. Unlike single-user patterns, multi-user loads always benefit when requests are reordered for more efficient retrieval.
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Under minimal load, the Barracuda 7200.9 delivers noticeably fewer IO/s per second than its predecessor in this simulation of a file server's disk access. Seagate's newest lags with 1, 2, and even 4 I/Os outstanding. By the time queue depths hit 8, however, NCQ's reordering ability kicks in and renders insignificant the distinction between the firm's 8th and 9th-generation units. Nonetheless, such performance lags considerably behind that delivered by the competition, especially under heavy loads.
Noise and Power Measurements
Idle Noise- The sound pressure emitted from a drive measured at a distance of 3 millimeters. The close-field measurement allows for increased resolution between drive sound pressures and eliminates interactions from outside environmental noise. Note that while the measurement is an A-weighted decibel score that weighs frequencies in proportion to human ear sensitivity, a low score does not necessarily predict whether or not a drive will exhibit a high-pitch whine that some may find intrusive. Conversely, a high score does not necessarily indicate that the drive exhibits an intrusive noise profile.
Operating Power Dissipation- The power consumed by a drive, measured both while idle and when performing fully random seeks. In the relatively closed environment of a computer case, power dissipation correlates highly with drive temperature. The greater a drive's power draw, the more significant its effect on the chassis' internal temperature.
Startup (Peak) Power Dissipation- The maximum power dissipated by a drive upon initial spin-up. This figure is relevant when a system features a large number of drives. Though most controllers feature logic that can stagger the spin-up of individual drives, peak power dissipation may nonetheless be of concern in very large arrays or in cases where a staggered start is not feasible. Generally speaking, drives hit peak power draw at different times on the 5V and 12V rails. The 12V peak usually occurs in the midst of initial spin-up. The 5V rail, however, usually hits maximum upon actuator initialization.
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The Barracuda 7200.9 tacks on a couple extra decibels in our objective sound pressure measurement. A reading of 43.6 dB/A means that the Barracuda line goes from being quiet to, well, a bit less quiet. Subjectively speaking, at idle the drive maintains the tradition of Seagate's mature FDB motors and is inaudible when installed in a typical machine. Seeks are barely perceptable over our testbed's fans, just enough to let us know requests are being answered.
Despite the addition of another platter, the 7200.9 matches its predecessor by dissipating 8.6 watts of power while idle. When actively seeking, however, the larger actuator assembly draws a bit more power, consuming 12.6 watts versus the 7200.8's 12.1. In the end, however, the latest Barracuda maintains the series' position in the middle of the ATA pack.
Spinning up the extra platter apparently does not require additional power. Despite its four-platter assembly, the 7200.9's 12 volt rail peaks at 27.9 watts and is slightly more efficient than than the 7200.8. Even so, like its predecessor and like the enterprise-oriented NL35 (not shown, see the Performance Database, the newest Barracuda continues Seagate's SATA trend of high-peak power draw.
The StorageReview.com Reliability Survey aims to amalgamate individual reader experiences with various hard disks into a comprehensive warehouse of information from which meaningful results may be extracted. A multiple-layer filter sifts through collected data, silently omitting questionable results or results from questionable participants. A proprietary analysis engine then processes the qualified dataset. SR presents results to readers through a percentile ranking system.
According to filtered and analyzed data collected from participating StorageReview.com readers, the Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 is more reliable than of the other drives in the survey that meet a certain minimum floor of participation.
According to filtered and analyzed data collected from participating StorageReview.com readers, a predecessor of the Seagate Barracuda 7200.9, the Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 , is more reliable than of the other drives in the survey that meet a certain minimum floor of participation.
Note that the percentages in bold above may change as more information continues to be collected and analyzed. For more information, to input your experience with these and/or other drives, and to view comprehensive results, please visit the SR Drive Reliability Survey.
Perhaps due to its 16-megabyte buffer, Seagate's Barracuda 7200.9 exhibits significant performance improvements across the board that finally make the family competitive with performance oriented designs from the likes of Maxtor and Hitachi. Though purists will undoubtedly be disappointed with the lower transfer rates of the flagship unit, the fact remains that transfer rate is to hard drives as memory bandwidth is to CPUs- a spec and not a "real world" test such as the SR DriveMarks.
It does not do much to improve upon its predecessor's multi-user scores, however, where the competition maintains a solid lead. Seagate, of course, would argue that the 7200.9 is hardly intended for multi-user applications and steers those seeking server performance to the Cheetah and Savvio lines.
In the family's favor, the 7200.9 is a massive product line refresh that combines interfaces and capacities that formerly spanned multiple generations. If you're a loyal Seagate customer and like what you've seen here the good news is that there is a 7200.9 with the interface and capacity to meet your needs.