Terabyte Round II: Seagate Barracuda 7200.11

Storage
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February 18, 2008 by Devon Cooke

Product
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000340AS
1TB, 7,200 RPM Desktop Hard Drive
Manufacturer
Market Price
US$265~380

Seagate came late to the terabyte landmark, and their Barracuda 7200.11 has not been without its flaws. However, it also came with the promise of lower noise, lower power consumption, and (predictably) better performance. That's welcome news here at Silent PC Review — for a long time, Seagate was respected as the maker of the quietest drive on the market: The Barracuda IV. The seven revision difference between the Barracuda IV and the 7200.11 should give some idea of how long it has been since they were in a position to brag about the quietness of their drives.

As an upgrade from the 7200.10, the differences seem to be mostly numerical: 32 vs. 16 MB of cache, 250 vs. 188 GB platters, 2.9 vs. 3.7 bel seeks. However, a physical inspection reveals some significant changes to the hardware, suggesting that the 7200.11 is more than just a capacity upgrade and a cache bump. Unfortunately, none of Seagate's marketing literature mentions these changes or what their purposes might be.

Notable changes include a redesigned base and top-plate, a more sturdy back connector, and new circuit topography for the control board. The control board has also been flipped so that most of the electronics (controller chip, RAM, etc.) are sandwiched against base of the drive instead of exposed to the air. It's likely that the redesigned base is at least partly responsible for the sizable decrease in the claimed noise level.


The 7200.11 — New and improved?

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000340AS
(from Seagate's product overview)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT
Up to 1 TB of storage capacity (also 500 GB and 750 GB) The industry's high water mark for a year now, though Seagate was late to the game.
Industry's most reliable hard drive with proven second-generation Seagate perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) technology Measuring reliability is far to difficult to find data to corroborate this. PMR is not intrinsically more reliable than older technologies.
Leverages best combination of technology (areal density, PMR) and proven components for volume shipping Kudos to anyone who can figure out what this actually means. Oh — and areal density is a measurement, not a technology.
Industry-leading acoustics and power consumption levels Industry-leading? We'll see about that — especially acoustics.
5-year limited warranty The best in the business.
105-MB/s sustained data rate Impressive ... but misleading — a nice number, but not necessarily a good indicator of real-world performance.
32-MB cache Another industry high water mark — but, again, Seagate was not the first.

Despite debuting with the largest cache yet seen on a desktop drive, the initial round of benchmarks for the 1 TB 7200.11 were somewhat disappointing. On paper and in synthetic benchmarks, the drive looks excellent, but most reputable sources using real-world benchmarks (i.e. testing actual applications rather than drive specifications) put it in the middle of the pack. Its high point is its sustained transfer rate, which helps when copying large, unfragmented files from one place to another, but few other usage patterns stood out.

However, some early revisions of the drive shipped with faulty firmware that only allowed 16 MB of the 32 MB cache to be used, casting in doubt many of the initial benchmarks seen on the web. The problem has been fixed in a recent revision (early adopters may need to download a firmware update), but it's difficult to gauge exactly where the drive stands in the performance race. As always, we recommend Storage Review as a reliable source for drive reviews; but, at the time of writing, no review for the 7200.11 had been published.

The large cache size is also subject to one other technical glitch: Most utilities report the cache size as 0 MB. The word from Seagate is that the full 32 MB cache is being used regardless of what is being reported, but it would appear that there are some configurations (or, perhaps, just specific drive controllers) that do not properly utilize the cache. Seagate's explanation is that a 32MB cache cannot be properly reported through the (admittedly aged) ATA interface — but it seems strange that Hitachi's 7K1000 has no problem reporting the correct 32 MB cache size. It's not clear whether or not this issue Seagate's fault, but given Seagate's record in dealing with the first cache issue, it seems likely that this problem will eventually be fixed if it is indeed a Seagate issue.


No legacy power connector here...

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 7200.11 ST31000340AS
(from Seagate's data sheet)
Capacity
1 TB (1,000.2 GB)
Cache
32 MB
Disks / Heads
4 / 8
Interface SATA 3Gb/s
Spindle Rotation Speed
7,200 RPM
Sustained Data Rate OD 105 MB/s
Average Latency
4.16 ms
Weight
0.64 kg
Power Requirements: Idle / Seek (avg.)
8.0 / 11.6 W
Acoustics: Idle / Seek
2.7 / 2.9 bels

Seagate achieves its 1 TB capacity using four 250 GB disks. Unusually, no seek times are listed in the performance specifications. Instead, something called "Sustained Data Rate OD" is listed — at a whopping 105 MB/s. Exactly what this number represents is difficult to say given how much transfer rate can vary depending on where the data is located within the drive.



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