Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500GB HDD

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Our samples were tested according to our standard hard drive testing methodology. Our methodology focuses specifically on noise, and great effort is taken to ensure it is comprehensively measured and described. Performance is not tested, for reasons discussed in detail in the methodology article. For comprehensive HDD performance testing results, we recommend Storage Review, who have a long established reputation as the specialist in this field. They reviewed the Barracuda 7200.9 on October 31, 2005.

Our test drives were compared against our reference drives, the Seagate Barracuda IV and Samsung Spinpoint P80, which are profiled in our methodology article. To get a good idea of where the drives in this review stand, it is important to read the methodology article thoroughly.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise

These types of noise impact the subjective perception of hard drive noise differently depending on how and where the drive is mounted.

Both forms of noise are evaluated objectively and subjectively. Both the subjective and objective analyses are essential to understanding the acoustics of the drives. Airborne acoustics are measured using a professional caliber SLM. Measurements are taken at a distance of one meter above the top of the drive using an A-weighted filter. Vibration noise is rated on a scale of 1-10 by comparing against our standard reference drives.

Unfortunately, AAM (Automatic Acoustic Management) is not supported as a user-configurable option on the Barracuda 7200.9, which means that our standard means of generating seek noise via the AAM test function in Hitachi's HDD Feature Tool could not be used. Instead, seek noise was generated by copying a large file set within the drive. Unfortunately, this task does not require as much random seeking as the AAM test, so seek noise was not as constant as usual. To compensate, we spent more time than usual listening to and measuring the seek noise.

A final caveat: As with most reviews, our comments are relevant to the sample we tested. Your sample may not be identical. There are always some sample variances, and manufacturers also make changes without telling everyone.

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 16 dBA. For the record, room temperature was 20°C.

Drive Model
Mfg date - firmware

Vibration at idle
(10 = no vibration)

Airborne Acoustics
Seagate Barracuda
7200.9 ST3500641AS
Oct 05 - firmware 3.AAB
24* [email protected]
8.3 W
26-29 [email protected]
11.7 W
Reference Drives
Seagate Barracuda IV
ST340016A - firmware 3.10
20 [email protected]
6.7 W
Seek (AAM)
23 [email protected]
11.3 W
Seek (Normal)
25-26 [email protected]
11.6 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (Nidec motor)
June 04 - firmware TK100-24
21 [email protected]
6.3 W
Seek (AAM)
23-24 [email protected]
8.3 W
Seek (Normal)
25-26 [email protected]
9.1 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (JVC motor)
Feb 05 - firmware TK200-04
21 [email protected]
6.2 W
Seek (AAM)
25 [email protected]
n / a
Seek (Normal)
27 [email protected]
9.3 W
Similar Capacity Comparison
Hitachi 7K400
March 04 - firmware KFAOA46A
25 dBA/1m
8.6 W
Seek (AAM)
27 dBA/1m
11.9 W
Seek (Normal)
27-28 dBA/1m
15.5 W

The idle noise level of the 7200.9 prompted a heated debate between Mike Chin (Editor of SPCR) and me. At issue was a high pitched whine that could only be heard under certain circumstances. In free air, the drive sounded fairly quiet for a four platter model. The idle noise consisted mainly of smooth air turbulence, and it was softer and more broadband than the Hitachi 7K400.

However, whenever the bottom of the drive was placed near a flat, solid surface, a whine could be clearly heard. I found this noise extremely irritating, and I could hear it as soon as I entered the test room. The noise was especially pronounced when the drive was placed on the aluminum box that we use to test for vibration noise. But, flipping the drive upside down so that the logic board was facing upwards eliminated almost all of the noise.

Intrigued, I decided to see if the difference could be measured. Ordinarily, we measure idle noise with the drive on its side, with the sound meter centered over the top face of the drive. A large piece of foam is placed behind the drive to prevent it from falling over. The foam has holes in it, and the whine could not be clearly heard when the drive was in this position.

Our standard setup for measuring acoustic noise.

To measure the whine, a single change was made to this setup: An aluminum box was placed behind the drive, with just enough clearance to ensure that they wouldn't accidentally make contact (about a quarter inch). This is the aluminum box we use to accentuate and amplify the effects of HDD vibration so that we can gauge it more clearly.

The whine could be clearly heard with a solid surface behind the drive.

This change in the way we measured noise made a huge difference to the end results. The SPL jumped to 28-30 [email protected] from 24 [email protected] The noise was variable, and a constant sound level could not be found. Obviously much of this increase can be attributed to acoustic reflection and reinforcement off the box, as the idle wind noise was also amplified. However, when our Hitachi 7K400 sample was measured in this setup, very little difference was noted with and without the aluminum box. The implication is that the noise exists all the time, but is dispered over a wide angle when the drive is held in mid-air, which makes it difficult to hear. The proximity of the aluminum box is enough to focus the tone and bring it to the fore.

We also made some recordings of the drive to illustrate what we could hear. Initially, the mic was placed three inches away from the drive as per our standard procedure, but these recordings showed very little difference between the two setups (with and without the aluminum box behind). Subjective listening confirmed that placing the box behind the drive did not change the noise character when we listened at a distance of three inches. So, another set of recordings were done at a distance of half a meter. This time, the difference was crystal clear: Without the box behind the drive, the recording only picked up the soft hiss that gave us the lower noise measurement. When the box was added, a pure tone was clearly audible. Frequency analysis graphs of the two recordings are shown below:

The frequency graph with foam behind the drive shows no obvious peaks.
MP3: Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500GB – NO WHINE – recorded at 0.5m

When an aluminum box was placed behind the drive, there was a clear spike at ~1500 Hz, audible as a loud whine.
MP3: Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500GB – WHINE – recorded at 0.5m

The frequency spectrum analysis clearly illustrates how the box changes the character of the noise. There is an obvious peak at around 1500 Hz, which corresponds to the pitch of the whine.

Even after all this analysis, Mike and I still disagree about how serious the whine is. Mike found it much easier to tune out the whine than I did, and he questioned whether it would be heard when installed in an actual system. He also noted that someone seeking very low noise would be quite likely to suspend their drive, which might soften the effect a little. I decided to install the drive in my personal system to see if I could still hear it.

My system is not as quiet as I would like, but it is still close to the ambient noise level in my home most of the time. It qualifies as quiet, but not silent. I am intimately familiar with its noise signature. The main sources of noise are listed below. A full listing of my system would require an in depth article of its own due to the large number of modifications I have made.

  • Antec P180
  • Nexus 80mm fan, undervolted with a Zalman Fanmate
  • Jamicon 80mm fan, undervolted with a Zalman Fanmate
  • Antec TriCool exhaust fan, set to Low and soft-mounted using rubber grommets
  • Nexus 120mm fan, undervolted to 7V
  • 2 x Samsung P80 hard drives, one 80GB (JVC motor), one 160GB (Nidec motor)

Two separate configurations were tried:

  1. The drive was placed horizontally on one of the drive trays in the top chamber of the P180.
  2. The drive was installed vertically in the lower drive cage next to my main drives.

In both cases, the standard silicone rubber grommets that come with the P180 case were used to mount the drive. These offer good vibration isolation, although not quite as good as full elastic suspension.

In the first configuration, the whine was clearly audible from my regular seated position, about three feet above and to the left of the case. The pitch and volume of the whine changed noticeably depending on which way my head was turned, but it could be heard clearly when I was looking at the screen in front of me. The quietest position was directly facing the case so that neither of my ears was facing it.

The drive sounded much the same in the second configuration, although there seemed to be a couple of positions where I could not hear the whine. This didn't make it any better than the first configuration though — I found it extremely irritating to be reminded of the drive's presence every time I tilted my head the wrong way.

In both configurations, the whine could be heard clearly above the baseline system noise. My ability to consume storage space nonwithstanding, I would not want this drive in my system.

Regardless of where the drive was located, seek noise was sharp and significantly louder than the idle noise. The volume of the seeks varied quite a bit, from a quiet clicking to sharp pops. The seeks on the Hitachi 7K400 were both softer and quieter, even without AAM enabled.

Power consumption was surprisingly low considering the number of platters and heads, especially while seeking. It's not the lowest we've seen, but it's certainly better than the Hitachi 7K400, the second most capacious hard drive we've reviewed thus far.

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