Seagate standardizes desktop drives on 1TB platters at 7,200 RPM


— 7:00 AM on November 1, 2011

Solid-state drives may get all the attention these days, but big things are afoot in the world of mechanical storage. Seagate is completely revamping its line of Barracuda hard drives with the same 1TB platter technology used in its GoFlex external drives. New platters typically come to the 3.5" desktop world in low-power form, which means sluggish spindle speeds in the 5,400-RPM range—and slow access times to match. Seagate's own Barracuda LP has lived in that low-power space, and it's being phased out in favor of the incoming family of 7,200-RPM 'cudas.

Seagate claims low-power drives don't deliver meaningful power savings in desktop environments. The LP is being dropped to simplify the company's product mix—and to bring the performance benefits of 7,200-RPM spindle speeds to all, of course. Hitachi's recently announced Deskstar 7K1000.D also spins its terabyte platter at 7,200-RPM. However, the Deskstar can only be had in single-platter form, while the new Barracuda will be available with up to 3TB of storage capacity. A 4TB version is planned, as well.

Platter capacity obviously plays a big role in dictating how much storage a hard drive can offer, but it can also influence performance. The relevant metric is the areal density, a measure of how many bits are squeezed into ever square inch. The more bits per square inch, the more data passes under the drive head with each revolution of the platter. Here, Seagate has a substantial edge over Hitachi. The Deskstar's terabyte platters have an areal density of 566 Gb/in², while the Barracuda's cram 625 gigabits into every square inch.

Since the Barracuda name hasn't changed, the new drives will have to be identified by their model numbers, which all end in M00x.  Seagate claims the fastest of this fresh crop can read at up to 210MB/s and write as fast as 156MB/s. The rest of the Barracuda's particulars are summarized in the table below.

Interface 6Gbps
Spindle speed 7,200 RPM
Cache size 64MB (750GB-3TB)
16MB (250-500GB)
Platter capacity 1TB
Areal density 625 Gb/in²
Available capacities 1, 1.5, 2, 3TB
250, 320, 500, 750GB
Max transfer rate 210MB/s (750GB-3TB)
144MB/s (250-500GB)
Average transfer rate 156MB/s (750GB-3TB)
125MB/s (250-500GB)
Average read seek time 8.5 ms (750GB-3TB)
11 ms (250-500GB)
Average write seek time 9.5 ms (750GB-3TB)
12 ms (250-500GB)
Operating power 6.2-8.0W
Idle power 3.4-5.4W
Warranty length Two years

As you can see, the smallest members of the family have lower performance ratings than the drives with the sorts of capacities most enthusiasts will be considering. All of the drives use the same platters, but those lower capacity points are missing a couple of features and a boatload of cache. They only get 16MB of onboard memory, while the rest are equipped with 64MB.

The 64MB cache is part of Seagate's so-called OptiCache tandem, which includes a dual-core controller chip built with 40-nm process technology. Although it wouldn't be more specific, Seagate told us that fabbing this new chip at 40 nm allows its clock rate to be raised without increasing its heat output. Seagate also revealed that an updated caching scheme allows the entirety of the 64MB to be addressed as a single unit; previously, Seagate's caches were split up into chunks.

In addition to OptiCache, Seagate has another new buzzword for the higher-capacity Barracudas: AcuTrac. This cleverly capitalized bit of marketing lingo refers to a dual-stage actuator similar to what Western Digital introduced with the Caviar Black 2TB. Complementing the actuator that drives the main drive arm, a second actuator provides fine-tuning at the tip. This second stage has a resolution of just seven nanometers, helping it accurately to target tracks packed onto the platters at a density of 340,000 per inch.

For a period of time, Seagate was the only hard drive maker offering five-year warranties on all of its internal desktop hard drives. The company cut back to three-year coverage for non-XT models a few years ago, and now it's trimming further—the warranty runs out on these new 'cudas after just two years. Desktop Product Marketing Manager David Burks characterizes the move as a business decision rather than an indication the new models are less reliable than their predecessors. Seagate claims the updated Barracuda line has an annualized failure rate of less than 1%.

So, how much will the new 'cudas cost? Seagate quotes suggested retail prices of $180 for the 3TB model, $106 for the 2TB, $84 for the 1.5TB, and $72 for the terabyte. The drives are scheduled to ship this week, and they're supposed to be available from the likes of Amazon in the second week of November. Seagate wouldn't comment on whether the current flooding in Thailand would affect shipments, but it's probably safe to assume initial street prices will be higher than suggested. We've seen substantial increases in the prices of numerous hard drives over the last couple of weeks.

While stopping short of setting a date for the arrival of its next Barracuda XT flagship, Seagate says the upcoming product will be a hybrid drive that pairs mechanical and solid-state storage. The company's Momentus XT brought hybrid storage to notebooks more than a year ago, with mixed results. We'll have to wait until next year to see how that technology translates to the desktop.

   
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