Seagate Barracuda 3TB Review; A 1TB / Platter Monster is Unleashed

Author: AkG
Date: October 31, 2011
Product Name: Barracuda 3TB
Part Number: ST3000DM001
Warranty: 2 Years
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With SSDs making inroads into territory previously occupied by standard hard drives, we’ve seen a renaissance of sorts as some manufacturers begin pushing the limits of spindle-based storage. Western Digital showed their hand early on in the game by introducing the Caviar Green 3TB . Even though it was far from the quickest drive available, the mammoth size of the new Green virtually guaranteed its popularity. Seagate meanwhile had attacked the high capacity market with their Barracuda XT 3TB which combined performance with more storage space than most people will ever need.

3TB products may no longer be all that unique but in order to achieve such large hard drives, some sacrifices had to be made. In relation to their lower capacity brethren, such massive storage capacity meant four 750GB or five 600GB platters needed to be used which ended up increasing overall latency and lowered performance due to higher seek times. Now Seagate is pushing areal density to the next level by introducing the Barracuda 3TB; the first 1TB per platter HDD that boasts three terabytes of space (Hitachi’s new Cinemastar and Deskstar lines are only available in 1TB capacity for the time being) along with 64MB of cache.

Don’t let Seagate’s dropping of the “XT” moniker for this drive fool you; it was bred for performance and has some serious innovation packed into a svelte frame. For many it will herald in a new age for spindle based storage as in order to reach the 1 terabyte per platter plateau, Seagate had to work some magic which may allow them to leapfrog their longtime rival Western Digital. For instance, the track width is only 75nm wide and there are 340,000 tracks per each linear inch width of the platter. In plain English this means the margin for error is next to nil but the payoffs are substantial as we will see later in this review.

A straightforward side effect of such high areal density is a performance boost over previous models. After all, if the drive’s arm doesn’t have to move as far to read the next chunk of data, the latency will go down as the overall performance goes up.

In what may be a head scratcher for some, leading edge benchmark numbers also go hand in hand with lower power consumption as well. Less spinning platters and a lower amount of drive head movement means higher operating efficiency so Seagate will be using this new line of drives to replace their “green” / low power 5900rpm LP models.

As we saw recently with the Western Digital 1TB Blue, this does put a second set of almost diametrically opposed requirements upon the Barracuda 3TB’s shoulders. To be a success it needs to be both fast and frugal or it could miss the attention of both markets. However, with an MSRP of $179 the Barracuda seems to be well placed from a cost perspective but we’ll have to see if the actual performance can keep pace. We've also been told that even in the face of rapidly increasing storage prices, this retail price should hold steady in the weeks following release.

From both an architectural and aesthetics point of view, the new Barracuda does not appear to be all that different from previous models. It has the same silver color scheme and even similar –albeit smaller - PCB on the underside as many of Seagate’s other drives. In other words there are no outside clues to the amazing engineering housed within other than its surprisingly minimal weight.

One thing which is obvious from the outside is the rated maximum power draw. The while the previous XT model was rated for a max power draw of 9.26W, this new model uses 8.91W at most. While this may not seem like too much of an improvement, it does make the new Barracuda one of the more energy efficient 7200rpm 3TB drives on the market. More importantly this reasonable energy use means Seagate has not abdicated the “green” niche to Western Digital, as the 3TB Green we reviewed was rated for 8.4 watts. Half a watt in difference for what should be a large increase in performance is a trade-off many will be willing to make.

By removing the PCB we can see that the Barracuda’s internals have shrunk since we last looked at the line. While the PCB itself is indeed much smaller than previous iterations, all the various chips are still laid out in a neat, precise and extremely rational manner with plenty of room between each of them to allow for heat dissipation. One very interesting tweak – which is hidden under a heatpad - is a new dual core controller built on 40nm technology which should allow for some additional speed at deeper queue depths.

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