Terabyte Round II: Seagate Barracuda 7200.11

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TEST RESULTS

Our sample was tested according to our standard hard drive testing methodology. Our methodology focuses specifically on HDD 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 established a long reputation as the specialist in this field. At the time of writing, they had not yet reviewed the 7200.11, but a review of the drive's enterprise version, the Barracuda ES.2, was published in October 2007.

Our test drive was 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. It was also compared against a previous incarnation, the 7200.10, as well as two other large drives we've seen: The Hitachi 7K1000 and the Western Digital Caviar GP.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise.

These two 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 Seagate, 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 using the seek test of HDTach 3.0.4.0.

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 conditions at the time of testing were 18 dBA and 20°C.

DRIVE NOISE EVALUATION
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version
Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)
Activity State
Airborne Acoustics
Measured Power
Seagate Barracuda
7200.11 ST31000340AS
December 2007
firmware SD15
3
Idle
23~24 dBA@1m
7.8 W
Seek (Normal)
24~25 dBA@1m
11.6 W
REFERENCE DRIVES
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3750640AS
April 2006
firmware 3.AAC
4
Idle
24 dBA@1m
9.2 W
Seek (Normal)
28-34 dBA@1m
11.7 W
Western Digital Caviar Green Power WD7500AACS
October 2007
firmware 01.01B01
7
Idle
19~20 dBA@1m
3.3~5.9 W
Seek (AAM)
19~20 dBA@1m
5.4 W
Seek (Normal)
21 dBA@1m
6.7 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 HDS721010KLA330
June 2007
firmware GKAOA70M
5
Low RPM Idle
20-21 dBA@1m
3.6 W
Idle
24 dBA@1m
8.5 W
6.2 W (unloaded)
Seek (AAM)
24 dBA@1m
11.7 W
Seek (Normal)
26-27 dBA@1m
15.4 W
Seagate Barracuda IV
ST340016A - firmware 3.10
6
Idle
20 dBA@1m
6.7 W
Seek (AAM)
23 dBA@1m
11.3 W
Seek (Normal)
25-26 dBA@1m
11.6 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (Nidec motor)
June 04 - firmware TK100-24
4
Idle
21 dBA@1m
6.3 W
Seek (AAM)
23-24 dBA@1m
8.3 W
Seek (Normal)
25-26 dBA@1m
9.1 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (JVC motor)
Feb 05 - firmware TK200-04
6
Idle
21 dBA@1m
6.2 W
Seek (AAM)
25 dBA@1m
n / a
Seek (Normal)
27 dBA@1m
9.3 W

After years of drifting away from the high standard set by the Barracuda IV, the 7200.11 represents a turn in the right direction. The changes to the structure of the drive appear to have helped mute both idle and seek noise, and while it still has nothing on our old favorite, it's an improvement on almost every Seagate drive we've seen since then, the single-platter 160 GB Barracuda 7200.9 being the only possible exception.

At idle, the improvement was barely perceptible. Like most large, multi-platter drives, the 7200.11 produced a significant amount of turbulence noise in idle. At 23~24 dBA@1m, it measured just slightly lower than its predecessors, but still well above the 20~21 dBA@1m level that the best 7,200 RPM drives are capable of. In addition, the noise has acquired a slightly metallic sound that is a bit more tonal than previous Seagates. These are fine differences though; chances are the audible difference is nil in most real-life systems.

The seek noise, however, was a different story, dropping from a high of 34 dBA@1m (!) for the previous Barracuda generation to a level that only just nudged above idle. Subjectively, the seeks still sounded sharp and sudden, but the total noise level was acceptably quiet. As can be gathered by looking at the comparison drives, the maximum seek noise of 25 dBA@1m is not bad overall, though it's not quite on par with the current best-of-the-crop, represented by the Western Digital Caviar GP. Unfortunately, AAM is not implemented in the 7200.11 (or any current Seagate drive), so there is no chance of reducing the seek noise further.

All the noise measurements were taken with the drive resting on a piece of thick, soft foam. The results may well have been higher had the drive not been resting on a surface designed to prevent vibration noise. The 7200.11 vibrated. A lot. So much, in fact, that a 120 Hz hum could be heard clearly anywhere in the lab whenever the drive was not nestled on its bed of foam. It's not the worst drive we've seen for vibration — but second worst isn't something Seagate should be proud of.

To end this summary on some good news: Seagate has been good to their word and dropped power consumption noticeably compared to previous models. This was true under both idle and seek conditions, putting the 7200.11 back in the middle of the pack rather than at the bottom.

(A side note: The difference in seek power consumption is actually much larger than it appears due to differences in how the seek condition was achieved. Previous Seagate tests used disk defragmentation rather than HDTach's random seek test to generate seek noise — a less stressful, and therefore less power-hungry, mode of seeking.)

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here in MP3 format. The recordings below contains 5 seconds of ambient noise, and 10 seconds of idle noise followed by 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and 10 seconds without.

Keep in mind that the recordings paint only part of the acoustic picture; vibration noise is not recorded, and drives often sound different depending on the angle from which they are heard.

  • Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000340ASIdle: 23~24 / Seek: 24~25 dBA@1mOne Meter

Reference Comparatives:

  • Western Digital Caviar Green Power WD7500AACSIdle: 19~20 / AAM: 19~20 / Seek: 21 dBA@1m One Meter
  • Hitachi Global Storage Deskstar 7K1000 HDS721010KLA330Idle: 24 / AAM: 24 / Seek: 26~27 dBA@1m — One Meter
  • Hitachi Global Storage Deskstar 7K1000 HDS721010KLA330Low RPM Mode: 20~21 dBA@1m — One Meter
  • Samsung T Series HD400LJIdle: 20 / AAM: 21 Seek: 22-23 dBA@1m One Meter
  • Samsung P80 SP0802N (Nidec)Idle: 21 / AAM: 23-24 Seek: 25-26 dBA@1m One Meter
  • Seagate Barracuda IV ST340016A Idle: 20 / AAM: 23 Seek: 25-26 dBA@1m One Meter
HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Most recordings are made from a distance of one meter. The recording is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

Occasionally, we may include an extra recording from a distance of one foot. This recording is designed to bring out the fine details of the noise — typically when the source is so quiet that it is very close to ambient when heard from one meter. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed, it does not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio Recording Methods Revised.

CONCLUSIONS

Although the 7200.11 represents a step forward for Seagate's acoustics (the first in a while), it's still not quite good enough to compete with the quietest drives. A year or two ago, the single decibel difference between idle and seek noise might have been noteworthy, as would the 25 dBA@1m maximum noise measurement. However, times have changed, drives have gotten quieter, and Seagate still finds itself trying to recapture the acoustic goodness of the Barracuda IV.

There are other points of concern as well: The high vibration, the questions about the cache implementation, and the corresponding questions about performance. Unfortunately for Seagate, the 7200.11's closest acoustic competitor, Hitachi's 7K1000, features a very quiet low RPM mode that mitigates its otherwise noisy character. The 7200.11 would do well to imitate this feature.

Perhaps I am too negative. When it comes down to the line, the Barracuda 7200.11 isn't really a noisy drive. It is perfectly possible to build a quiet system using it, and our lack of praise for it is more a testament to how far drive acoustics have come than any specific complaint about the drive itself. It's just ... while it's possible to build a quiet system with a 7200.11, other recent drives make it possible to build a silent system. Our standards march ever upwards.

Many thanks to Seagate for the Barracuda 7200.11 sample.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR's Hard Drive Testing Methodology
SPCR's Recommended Hard Drives
WD Green Power: A New Benchmark in HDD Acoustics & Power
The Terabyte Landmark: Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10: Desktop Drives go Perpendicular
Seagate 7200.9 Single-Platter 160 GB Hard Drive

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