160G/8mb-cache Faceoff: Samsung vs. Seagate

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April 9, 2004 by Edward Ng

Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 and Samsung SP Series hard drives are topics of endless discussion in the SPCR forums. We have also featured reviews of these drives, some in direct comparison. However, this is the first time that we're considering the current ATA performance leaders of each series, head to head. This article is Edward Ng's debut as a writer in the main site of SPCR. Forum regulars will surely be familiar with Ed, who has been very active in the forums. -- Mike Chin, Editor.

This test compares the following hard drives:

  • Seagate's Barracuda 7200.7 series, model ST3160023A and
  • Samsung's SpinPoint SP1614N

Both drives are 160GB in capacity. Both drives have 8MB of cache. Both drives use dual double-sided 80GB platters, totaling four heads each. Finally, they both have UltraATA/100 interfaces.

The test took place across two separate platforms. I performed the performance tests on my system, Alpha Three, by disconnecting the optical drive and then installing each drive on its own channel on the southbridge PATA controller. Each drive rested on top of a Seagate SeaShell container on a wooden floor, as pictured above (that piece of foam was just to make sure the camera autofocused properly), and here:

The USB floppy drive was used to boot into Hitachi Disk Feature Utility to check Automatic Acoustic Management options on both drives. Many modern hard drives have AAM, which trades a bit of the drive's performance for much quieter seek operation by reducing head movement noise.

The reason why I chose to use Alpha Three as the performance test platform is because I wanted to eliminate the possibility of a system bottleneck affecting results. Alpha Three's performance is fast enough that there is no way it would hold the drives back.

The Samsung's feature listing showed as follows:

Whereas the Seagate's listing shows this:

Notice that the SpinPoint offers AAM control, while the Barracuda's AAM function has been disabled. According to this forum thread over at StorageReview, Seagate has the PATA version of the 160GB Barracuda permanently set for low-noise, while the SATA version is locked to high performance mode. I'm not entirely sure whether or not to believe it, but we can let the benchmark results speak for themselves.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Several commercial system integrators that I contacted were of the opinion that AAM is NOT enabled in any 7200.7 drive. Seagate's AAM is the subject of a lawsuit; their disuse of this feature is pending the outcome of the case. However, it appears that, at least until fairly recently, OEM buyers could order large batches of the Seagate drive custom configured to their requirements. This means, for example, that HP or Dell might purchase 20,000 80G Barracuda 7200.7 with AAM permanently enabled. If excess inventory is produced, and that inventory makes it to the grey market, then you'd find AAM enabled 7200.7 drives from a few retailers for a brief period.)

Here is a shot of the control screen for the Samsung's AAM function:

And this is what happens if you try to adjust the AAM on the Seagate:

SPCR's focus is silence; in the spirit of silence, I performed all tests on the Samsung for this comparison with AAM set for minimum noise.

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