Seagate Barracuda 7200.10: Desktop Drives go Perpendicular

Storage
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June 5, 2006 by Devon Cooke

Product
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3750640AS
750GB, 7,200 RPM Hard Drive
Manufacturer
Market Price
~US$450

Seagate keeps churning out new drives with ever-higher capacity. It's been only half a year since we reviewed the massive 500 GB Barracuda 7200.9, but even that milestone has now passed to make room for the Barracuda 7200.10. Seagate has boosted capacity by 50% in just six short months. The result is a drive that boasts 750 GB of capacity (698 GB when the operating system is counting) and increased performance to match.

The basis for this surge in capacity is a technology called perpendicular recording that increases data density. Seagate has already debuted a notebook drive that uses perpendicular recording; the Momentus 5400.3 pushed the record capacity for notebook drives to 160 GB when we reviewed it in February. A more complete description of perpendicular recording can be found in that review.

The 7200.10 encompasses a wide range of models for the retail market. Aside from the flagship 750 GB drive, there are five other capacities available, down to a minimum of 200 GB. With a variety of cache sizes in both SATA and PATA flavors, the number of different models adds up quickly: There are a total of 14 different 7200.10 models. Unfortunately, none of the 14 models is a single platter design, so the 160 GB Barracuda 7200.9 is still the largest single platter drive that we know of.

Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 (quoted from Seagate's datasheet)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT
The highest available capacity — up to 750GB — reduces system repairs and storage upgrades. A new high water mark... but for how long?
“One-stop shopping” with a broad range of capacity, cache and interface options The world's biggest drive company can afford to produce lots of different variations.
Best-in-class environmental specification and reliability features Ok.
New perpendicular recording technology enables higher areal density, fewer moving parts and increased dependability. See above.
Adaptive Fly Height offers consistent read/write performance from the beginning to the end of your computing workload. They've had this feature on trousers for ages <ahem>.
Clean Sweep automatically calibrates your drive. Exactly what it does is not clear, but the feature has been around since at least the 7200.8.
Directed Offline Scan runs diagnostics when storage access is not needed. Reallocates potentially bad sectors to improve reliability.
RoHS Directive-compliant design assures you an environmentally conscious product. Lead-free and environmentally friendly. And approved for sale in the EU.
Enhanced G-Force Protection defends against handling damage. Exact details are hard to come by.
Seagate SoftSonic motor enables whisper-quiet operation. Another long-time Seagate feature; this one since the Barracuda IV.
Backed by an unprecedented five-year warranty. Precedented only by Seagate's own drives.

SPECIFICATIONS

The specifications below are specific to model that we examined. Capacity, cache size, platter number, interface, and even performance vary from model to model even within a single product line. Acoustics and power dissipation also vary depending on the number of platters in the drive; smaller capacity drives tend to have fewer platters, and tend to produce less noise and use less power.

Specifications: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 (from Seagate's datasheet)
Capacity
750 GB
Cache
16 MB
Platters
4
Heads
8
Spindle Rotation Speed
7,200 RPM
Interface
SATA 3.0 Gb/s NCQ
Annualized Failure Rate (AFR)
0.34%
Weight
720 g
Operating Temperature
0 - 60¬įC
Power Dissipation: Idle / Seek / Operating
9.3 / 12.6 / 13.0 W
Acoustics: Idle / Seek
2.7 / 3.0 Bels

Seagate's specifications keep the actual performance of the drive a bit of a mystery. Only the most basic, easily verifiable performance attributes are specified, such as the interface speed, cache size and rotation speed. More variable characteristics, such as average seek times and average media transfer speed are conspicuously absent.

Although it is hard to imagine, withholding the performance information may actually be the most truthful way of putting things. Although easy to understand and compare, examining "average" performance is a very simplistic way of looking at drive performance. Actual seek times and transfer speeds vary widely even within a single drive depending on where the data is located and how it is being accessed.

By not declaring the usual performance specifications, Seagate is doing three things:

  1. They are making it impossible to directly compare the 7200.10 with other drives on the basis of specifications alone. This is a good thing, as it means that those who are interested are more likely to dig a little deeper when trying to gauge performance.
  2. They are discounting the relative importance of drive performance. Noise and power dissipation are considered important enough to declare publicly; average seek time is not.
  3. They may be hiding the information because the precise numbers would make the 7200.10 look bad. However, other early reviews of the 750 GB model suggest that this is probably not the case.


Only the label marks it as a 7200.10.


The logic board is almost identical to Seagate's earlier drives.

Physically, there is very little to distinguish the 7200.10 from Seagate's other desktop drives. Seagate has decided to differentiate it in other ways. For example, the marketing brochure for the 7200.10 makes reference to three unfamiliar technologies that are designed to improve reliability: Clean Sweep, Adaptive Fly Height, and Directed Offline Scan.

Unfortunately, Seagate does not provide more than a two line description for any of them, and technical information is difficult to find. We were a little concerned about Directed Offline Scan, which "runs diagnostics when storage access is not required". This poses an obvious question to for low noise enthusiasts: Are the diagnostics audible? A disc-wide scan in particular could produce seek noise when the drive should otherwise be idling.

To answer this question, we contacted Michael Hall at Seagate, who responded that the feature did not affect drive noise. Furthermore, the feature has been included on Seagate drives for about four years, which means his claim is quite simple to confirm. Unfortunately, a number of SPCR forum dwellers have noticed this feature making noise in the past, decribing the sound as a buzz that occurs when after the drive has been idle for a while. We did not encounter this noise on our sample during testing.

Clean Sweep is no better explained, but is unlikely to cause undue noise. It is intended to reduce wear on the discs and head crashes, and functions by sweeping the read/write head across the discs when the drive is spinning up. It has been a feature of Seagate's drives since at least the 7200.8, as attested by several Google references.

Adaptive Fly Height seems like an odd feature to advertise, since fly height is adaptive by its very nature: The drive's read/write heads float on a cushion of air that keeps them at a constant distance from the surface of the disc regardless of any imperfections. Perhaps the feature is similar to Hitachi's Thermal Fly-Height Control technology, which adjusts the fly height on the basis of temperature.



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