July 17, 2001

Review: Seagate ST380020A 80-gigabyte HDD

Author: JT Smith

- By Jeff Field -

The U Series ST380020A is Seagate's new 5400-RPM 80-gigabyte hard drive. Overshadowed by the news
of Seagate's new "silent" 7200-RPM drives, the U Series drives are aimed at those who need moderate performance and large
amounts of space. It is ideal for people archiving MP3s, not those who are running busy databases.The drive
The first thing I noticed about the drive was how quiet it is, even when I was accessing it - most bigger drives tend to be noisy. Another nice thing about this piece of hardware is that the drive electronics are shielded by a thin, flexible rubber cover. This is the only drive on which I have seen something like this. It is interesting to note
that, with the relative similarities in performance between drives of various manufacturers, they are adding upgrades in order to try to be competitive, instead of just lowering the price. The drive is simple to configure, with a standard IDE jumper set to tell
whether the drive is master, slave or single.

The ST380020A has the previously mentioned "SeaShield" board protection for
the drive electronics, "SeaShell" (see a theme here?) packaging that claims to reduce returns from handling damage by up
to 70%, and G Force protection up to 350 Gs, which did not receive a clever "Sea" name. It seems to be
that where Seagate is adding value is not in vast speed increases (something you really should not be expecting out of
5400-RPM hard drives, no matter what generation of drive they are) but rather by making the drives last longer--certainly a worthwhile effort, because of all the components in a PC, the one many people worry about most is failure of the hard
drive. Sure, you probably don't want your CPU melting, but your hard drive (unless you keep
backups) is where your data is -- you can buy a new CPU, but it is unlikely you'll want to pay for data to be replaced (unless
it is really important data, then you can go to a data recovery place, but data that important should always be backed up).

System Configuration
AMD Athlon 750
512 Megabytes PC133 SDRAM
3COM 3C905TX-B 10/100MB NIC
3DFX Voodoo 3 3000 AGP 16MB Video Board
Western Digital 10gb 7200 RPM WD102BA IDE HDD (boot/OS) (ext2)
Red Hat Linux 7.1 - Kernel 2.4.5 with Adaptec dpt_i2o patch
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
Controller Per-Character Block Rewrite
ST380020A 2630 K/sec, 71% CPU 3507 K/sec, 70% CPU 1571 K/sec, 31% CPU
Sequential Input Random
Controller Per-Character Block Random
ST380020A 2381 K/sec, 28% CPU 3123 K/sec, 29% CPU 89.6 Seeks/sec, 0% CPU
Sequential Create
Controller Create Read Delete
ST380020A 10695 /sec, 99% CPU none 12860/sec, 99% CPU
Random Create
Controller Create Read Delete
ST380020A 10605 /sec, 99% CPU none 6243/sec, 56% CPU

As we can see from the bonnie++ results, the drive just is not meant for this type of access -- and Seagate never said it
would be. As the Enterprise's Mr. Scott always said, "the right tool for the right job." You wouldn't try to turn a screw with a potato, and you
should not try to run a database off of a drive meant for storing MP3s and video games and other things that do not
require you to have a lot of random accesses going on all over the drive.

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)
Results
ST380020A 3.03 MB/sec
hdparm -T (Cached)
Results
ST380020A 129.29 MB/sec

As you can see from the hdparm uncached results, the raw output of the drive is not very fast; yet it actually bests my
current 7200-RPM drive I use to boot the test system, something I thought was very interesting. I do not want to be unfair
here -- the drive is not slow, it is simply not fast. It's an adequate drive for most people, myself included. I do not
demand much out of a hard drive -- I demand that it spins up, and it delivers my data intact. Everything else is icing on the
cake.

Conclusions
After using the drive for a few days on the test machine, I have to say I am very pleased with it. Using it as a drive for
storage of MP3s, videos, and things of that nature, I have had no trouble. If you are in the market for a nice, quiet
drive to store data on for a machine that isn't being tuned for maximum speed, then go for the Seagate U Series ST380020A.
If you are looking for high performance, then you may want to go with a higher speed drive, such as 7200-, 10000- or even
the newest 15000-RPM drives. If you do want a ST380020A, they can be had on Pricewatch for around $250.

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