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Seagate's Barracuda 7200.10 hard drive

Perpendicular to the desktop
— 12:00 AM on May 30, 2006

ModelBarracuda 7200.10
Price (750GB)

SINCE THE FIRST TIME "Get Perpendicular" got stuck in our heads, we've anxiously anticipated the arrival of perpendicular recording technology. The wait has been long, especially on the desktop, but perpendicular recording has finally arrived in Seagate's Barracuda 7200.10 hard drive. And it's arrived in style. Seagate has exploited the new recording technology to offer a drive with a monstrous 750 GB capacity—50% more than any other drive on the market.

Perpendicular recording does wonders for storage capacity, and thanks to denser platters, it can also improve drive performance. Couple those benefits with support for 300 MB/s Serial ATA transfer rates, Native Command Queuing, and up to 16 MB of cache, and the Barracuda 7200.10 starts to look pretty appealing. Throw in an industry-leading five year warranty and a cost per gigabyte that's competitive with 500 GB drives, and you may quickly find yourself scrambling to justify a need for 750 GB of storage capacity.

Is Seagate's Barracuda 7200.10 as good as it sounds? And what's the deal with perpendicular recording technology, anyway?

Perpendicular primer
Typical hard drives use longitudinal recording technology to write data to disk. This method arranges bits horizontally in an orientation parallel to the disk's surface. That's not the most efficient use of space, though. Drive manufacturers have to shrink the size of each bit to fit more onto a single disk, and they eventually run into the Superparamagnetic effect. This phenomenon occurs when ambient thermal energy causes extremely small particles to lose their magnetic orientation. Such a loss of magnetic orientation can flip a bit from 0 to 1, or vice versa, corrupting the integrity of data stored on a disk.

Bit orientations for longitudinal recording (above) and perpendicular recording (below)

Perpendicular recording is the hard drive industry's answer to the Superparamagnetic effect. As its name implies, perpendicular recording aligns bits vertically—perpendicular to the disk surface. This recording method allows drive manufacturers to increase a disc's areal density without shrinking bits to a point where they become vulnerable to the Superparamagnetic effect.

In addition to avoiding the Superparamagnetic effect, perpendicular recording technology makes much more efficient use of a disc's surface area. Perpendicular recording is expected to allow for areal densities an order of magnitude higher than what's possible with longitudinal recording, although early implementations are a long way from that theoretical peak. Still, even a modest increase in areal density should provide tangible performance benefits. Higher areal densities allow a drive head to access more data over the same physical distance, enabling higher sustained transfer rates that can improve file copy times, application performance, and the like.

The drive
Seagate's Barracuda 7200.10 succeeds the 7200.9, and despite differences in recording technology and capacity, the two drive lines are actually quite similar. Both implement the complete Serial ATA 2.5 spec, including support for 300 MB/s transfer rates, Native Command Queuing, and SATA hot plugging. Both also spin at 7,200 RPM, although Seagate doesn't list an average seek time for its 7200.10 series. Don't worry—we'll test that shortly.

  Barracuda 7200.10 Barracuda 7200.9
Maximum external transfer rate300 MB/s
Average seek timeNA11 ms
Average rotational latency4.16 ms
Spindle speed7,200 RPM
Available capacities200, 250, 300, 320, 400, 500, 750 GB80, 120, 160, 200, 250, 300, 400, 500 GB
Cache size8 MB (200 GB)
8/16 MB (250-750 GB)
8 MB (80-250 GB)
16 MB (300-500 GB)
Recording technologyPerpendicularLongitudinal
Platter size188 GB (750 GB)100 GB (200, 300GB)
120 GB (120GB)
125 GB (250, 500GB)
133 GB (400GB)
160 GB (80, 160GB)
Idle acoustics2.7 bels2.5-2.8 bels
Seek acoustics3.0 belsNA
Idle power consumption9.3 W6.9 W
Read/write power consumption12.6 W8.1 W
Native Command QueuingYes
Warranty lengthFive years

The 7200.10's biggest advantage over its predecessor is maximum total capacity. Older Barracuda 7200.9 drives topped out at 500 GB, but the 7200.10 is available in capacities as high as 750 GB. Curiously, though, Seagate doesn't offer a mid-point between 500 and 750 GB flavors of the 7200.10. The 7200.10 isn't available in capacities lower than 200 GB, either. However, with 250 GB Barracuda 7200.10s selling for less than $100 online, there's hardly a need for lower capacities. The 7200.9 line should be available for some time, as well.

With perpendicular recording and higher capacities, the Barracuda 7200.10 line obviously boasts higher areal densities than its predecessor. How much higher depends on which drive you compare. The 750 GB Barracuda 7200.10 packs an impressive 188 GB per platter, and although that areal density is only 15% higher than 160 GB versions of the 7200.9, it's 34% higher than 500 GB models. We were unable to confirm the platter sizes of other capacities in the 7200.10 line, but Seagate assures us all use perpendicular recording technology.

It may be the first desktop hard drive to use perpendicular recording technology, but you wouldn't know it from looking at the Barracuda 7200.10. The drive is about as nondescript as they come, and nothing distinguishes its appearance from the 7200.9 (or even the 7200.8 and 7200.7, for that matter.)

Of course, aesthetics generally have little impact on a hard drive's appeal. Warranty coverage is far more important, and all of Seagate's desktop hard drives are covered by a five-year warranty. Consumer-level hard drives from other manufacturers are typically covered by warranties that last just three years. Longer warranty periods don't necessarily guarantee greater reliability, but at least you'll be entitled to a free replacement, if needed, for a couple of extra years.