September 21, 2001

Review: Seagate Barracuda ATA IV

Author: JT Smith

- By Jeff Field -

Every time I turn around, it seems hard drives have gotten bigger and faster.
But except for increases in interface, speed and size, we have not seen many other
noticeable changes in hard drives -- they are still the same physical size, are
packaged the same, and make roughly the same amount of noise. And now, sizes and
speed are hitting a plateau. How are hard drive makers to compete with one
another?Seagate, a leader in hard drive and storage technology for more than 20 years,
has decided that because speed and size have become relatively even across most
quality desktop drives of similar specifications, it will make other
changes to its drives in order to be competitive.

Sound barrier technology
Seagate's latest change to hard drives, its "sound barrier technology," is really
a combination of several design changes meant to decrease the operational noise
of hard drives, a pet peeve for those who want to build "silent" PCs that
operate without being obtrusive. The main part of this technology is the
SoftSonic motor. Present in the Barracuda ATA IV, the SoftSonic Fluid Dynamic
Bearing motor reduces seek noise down to about 2.4 bels, much lower than
that on other drives, with an idle spin noise level of 2.0 bels.

Combined with this is a set of new seek algorithms that are designed to decrease
noise while not impeding the performance of the drive, Seagate's fastest 7200 RPM
ATA drive yet.

Also included with the drive are Seagate's slightly older technologies, known as
SeaShell and SeaShield. SeaShield reduces damage to the drive electronics by
covering them up, so if a drive is dropped a small distance, the mechanics
themselves could easily survive because none of the sensitive drive electronics get
damaged. SeaShell, on the other hand, is a packaging technology that Seagate
claims reduces returns from handling damage up to 70%, something that benefits
resellers and Seagate more than the consumer, in the long run, because costs on
return processing can be quite high.

System Configuration
Athlon 1.4GHz
256 Megabytes DDR RAM from Crucial
Gigabyte 7DXR motherboard
Slackware 8.0
Kernel 2.4.9

bonnie++ results
Bonnie++ is a hard drive benchmark that tests the writing and reading
from both a single large file (such as that of a database) and many small files (like a proxy, or mail program). It is
useful for simulating performance under such applications.

Bonnie++ results
Sequential Output
Drive Per-Character Block Rewrite
Barracuda IV 15883 K/sec, 98% CPU 46820 K/sec, 30% CPU 10171 K/sec, 06% CPU
Sequential Input Random
Drive Per-Character Block Random
Barracuda IV 10622 K/sec, 58% CPU 40949 K/sec, 15% CPU 210.9 Seeks/sec, 0% CPU
Sequential Create
Drive Create Read Delete
Barracuda IV 21993 /sec, 99% CPU none 26431/sec, 100% CPU
Random Create
Drive Create Read Delete
Barracuda IV 16810 /sec, 84% CPU none 20601/sec, 100% CPU

To be honest, these are the fastest results I have ever seen for a drive -- even beating the 10,000-RPM Cheetah drives Seagate produces in many of these tests. For speed, you just won't find an IDE drive to match the Barracuda ATA IV, certainly not in the operations bonnie++ performs.

hdparm results

The hdparm tests give you the raw throughput of the device -- essentially, the best you can possibly hope for. Uncached is
the buffered speed of the disk, without the use of the operating system cache. Cached results test the perform of the RAM
and CPU more than they test the drive itself.

hdparm -t (Uncached)
ST380020A 37.43 MB/sec
hdparm -T (Cached)
ST380020A 181.51 MB/sec

Again, the raw throughput of this drive is the fastest I've seen so far. Most drives I test come in at around 23.70 megabytes per second in the uncached results, and the fastest I've seen in that result is a 10,000-RPM Ultra160 Cheetah which pulled in 36.47 megabytes a second, still slightly slower than the Barracuda ATA IV's score of 37.43. Again, amazing performance.

Seagate laid somewhat dormant in the "lower end" market of IDE drives for a while, dominated by Maxtor, IBM, and others. But Seagate has come back into this arena, and has come in swinging. With huge capacities and unparalleled speed, as well as nearly silent drives -- certainly quiet enough not to bother my sensitive ears -- Seagate has become the king of the ring for IDE speed, size and performance. Even better, the drives are not going to cost you an arm and a leg -- at present, you can find an 80-gigabyte Barracuda ATA IV (ST380021A) on Pricewatch for around $200, not bad for such a fast, large drive. If you are looking for an upgrade for your hard drive that will bring you both speed and capacity without breaking the bank, look no further than the Seagate Barracuda ATA IV.


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