Today, Seagate consolidated three sub models of the Barracuda hard disk drive line into one. The new Barracuda is a 7200 rpm drive that the company claims combines the efficiency of their Barracuda Green with the performance of the Barracuda XT. It turns out that I had one of these drives in my hands for a few months, since they have been shipping in the GoFlex Desk external hard disk drive for a while.
The Green Revolution
See What Is The Secret To Efficient Hard Disk Drives? for more info!
“Green” hard disk drives were all the rage for the past few years. Market leaders, Seagate and Western Digital as well as challenger Samsung all produced “green” drives. The three manufacturers claims that these drives drew less power and were thus more appropriate for the bulk storage needs of end-users.
Each manufacturer used a different technique to accomplish this low-power trick. Samsung’s offering was a traditional 5400 rpm hard disk drive that squeeze out efficiency by using fewer platters, heads, and other drive components. Their EcoGreen F2 hard disk used three or fewer high density platters, but my own experiences were not all that positive. I had to EcoGreen drives called out in my Drobo.
Western Digital’s Caviar Green was much-lauded in the press, with many believing it was a variable speed drive. This turned out not to be the case, with performance gains due to firmware tweaks and a simple 5400 rpm mechanism. I had fairly good luck with my half-dozen or so Caviar Green drives, though I didn’t notice they were particularly energy-efficient or performant.
Seagate was the only vendor to try something really radical in the “green” space, introducing a 5900 rpm mechanism with generous and dense platters. Initially called the Barracuda LP but later wearing the Barracuda Green name, these drives were popular for a balance of performance and energy efficiency. I bought a number of them myself, and although they weren’t that fast they were just fine for bulk external storage needs.
I Feel the Need for Green
Consumers weren’t exactly beating down the doors of drive manufacturers asking for low-power hard disk drives. Rather, these drives were born from a need to conserve power mostly in external add-on storage applications. Although 3.5″ drives cannot be bus powered in a USB enclosure, low-power is still a major benefit. Smaller adapters, simpler electronics, and less heat enable the production of cheaper and simpler external drives.
And it’s not as if a USB 2.0 drive can actually benefit from a high-performance hard disk mechanism. With a maximum transfer rate under 40 MB/s and seriously reduced I/O performance, USB 2.0 just didn’t need much in the way of performance. Even today, USB 3.0 drives, like the Seagate GoFlex Desk poke along way below the capabilities of that interface. No rotating hard disk drive will deliver true USB 3.0 performance, and he remains a major concern in the extra drive market.
The New Seagate Barracuda
I already had one of these! See How To Open a Seagate GoFlex Desk Hard Disk Drive Case
Apparently, there just wasn’t enough market demand even for an industry leader like Seagate to produce three separate hard disk drive lines. So the company’s new lineup is consolidated on a single specification: 7200 rpm, 64 MB of DDR2 cache, and 1 TB platters. These drives will be available in 1 TB, 1.5 TB, 2 TB, and 3 TB capacity points and are apparently already shipping as the innards of GoFlex Desk external storage.
Note that these new drives apparently use the 4 KB “Advanced Format” sector size rather than the old 512 byte sectors. This means you’ll want to use them with new versions of Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X for compatibility and performance reasons. But my GoFlex Desk drive did not appear to be using 4 KB sectors when I examined it. I remain puzzled by this inconsistency. Seagate does include their “SmartAlign” technology, which helps avoid the performance impact of misaligned volumes, however.
Performance-wise, the new Barracuda exceeds its predecessors in terms of sequential read and write time, but it’s no great shakes when it comes to random I/O. Although somewhat faster than the previous generation 7200 rpm drive, not to mention the 5900 rpm Green, a generation spoiled on SSD is not to be impressed by these drives. In terms of bulk storage, however, they’re hard to beat. Considering that the 3 TB GoFlex Desk is available for under $150, these drives are a steal.
Seagate promises a hybrid flash-packing Barracuda XT in the future, and this should represent a serious performance improvement. But tests of the existing hybrid Momentus XT show mixed results, and many have complained of unreliability and buggy firmware. Hopefully this third-generation of Seagate hybrid storage technology will be a keeper.
It will be interesting to see how Western Digital reacts to this shift. Will they to drop their 5400 rpm “green” drive in hopes of simplifying their product line? Or will they continue on with no competition? The transition from USB 2 two USB 3 is well under way, and consumers will likely notice the difference in performance. Perhaps we have finally seen the and of 5400 rpm drives.
Increasing hard disk drive density always brought better performance, and Seagate’s use of faster spindle speed will help as well. My only concern is the increased heat generated by these new drives: My GoFlex Desk drives are definitely hot to the touch when in use. But the availability of 3 TB drives is to be welcomed at this price point.