Nearly two years ago, Western Digital launched its first "GreenPower" hard drive. Then known as the Caviar GP, this new approach to desktop storage attenuated the pursuit of raw performance by using slower spindle speeds to improve energy efficiency, as well. Reducing power consumption may have been the primary goal, but ratcheting back rotational speeds also lowered noise levelsan arguably more important benefit for enthusiasts and mainstream users alike.
Had the Caviar GP's performance been atrocious, the concept probably wouldn't have caught on. But the drive was surprisingly competitive thanks to the use of high-density platters that weren't yet available on full-fat 7,200-RPM models. The GP also highlighted the fact that only certain applications really benefit from extremely fast storage. Despite its spindle speed disadvantage, the drive was still plenty quick for closet file servers, home theater PCs, external drives, and secondary mass storage. Subsequent members of the Caviar Green family have only gotten faster thanks to rising areal densities, solidifying this new class of power-efficient storage as a viable option.
Given the Caviar Green's success, the fact that other manufacturers are starting to get in on the action should come as no surprise. The Barracuda LP is Seagate's first take on the formula, and at least on paper, the 2TB model compares quite favorably with Western Digital's range-topping Caviar Green. Plus, with a street price hovering around $190, the LP's a good $10 cheaper. Naturally, we had to find out whether this new Barracuda is quieter, more power-efficient, and, of course, faster than the Caviar Green.
Before getting into our test results, I should take a moment to introduce this latest member of the Barracuda family. Seagate has slowly reorganized its 'cuda line into three tiers, with the LP occupying the bottom rung on the ladder. Above it lie the Barracuda 7200.12 and the Barracuda XT, both of which have 7,200-RPM spindle speeds. The LP, by contrast, rotates its platters at a mere 5,900 RPM.
That's right; Seagate actually publishes the LP's spindle speed. Western Digital has been reticent to divulge the rotational speeds of its Caviar Greens, saying only that they're closer to 5,400 RPM than 7,200 RPM and that actual speeds can vary slightly from one model to the next. I've never understood the need for such secrecy, so it's refreshing to see Seagate be more forthcoming with the Barracuda LP.
Like the Caviar Green, the Barracuda LP reaches the two-terabyte mark using four 500GB platters. Seagate's platters don't pack data as densely as Western Digital's, though. The Barracuda has an areal density of 341.5 Gbit/in², while the Caviar squeezes 400 gigabits into each square inch. Higher areal densities usually enable faster sequential transfers by making more data available over shorter physical distances, which puts the 'cuda at a bit of a disadvantage. Indeed, according to its published specifications, the LP's maximum sustained data rate is only 95MB/s5MB/s shy of the Green's purported 100MB/s data rate. Of course, we'll test the sequential throughput of each drive with both synthetic tests and real-world file transfers in a moment. I wouldn't put too much stock in manufacturer-published performance ratings, although we have summarized the drive's official specs in a handy chart below:
|Maximum external transfer rate||300MB/s|
|Maximum sustained data rate||95MB/s|
|Average rotational latency||5.5 ms|
|Spindle speed||5,900 RPM|
|Available capacities||1, 1.5, 2TB|
|Idle acoustics||2.5 bels|
|Seek acoustics||2.6 bels|
|Warranty length||Three years|
Interestingly, Seagate and Western Digital both appear to be using their low-power hard drive families to ease new platters into higher capacity points. The Barracuda LP and Caviar Green are the first implementations from each company to stack four 500GB platters. Western Digital didn't start shipping a 7,200-RPM Caviar Black 2TB with four 500GB platters until more than six months after the Green's debut. Seagate trotted out the 2TB Barracuda LP back in April, some four months before announcing the 7,200-RPM Barracuda XT 2TB. I imagine it's much easier to, ahem, spin up denser platters at lower speeds before cranking up the RPMs for high-performance drives.
Despite the fact that the Barracuda LP isn't being pushed as a high-performance offering, it still sports a substantial 32MB cache. I suppose even 32MB caches look a little pedestrian when one considers that some solid-state drives have as much as 128MB, though.
Like most of Seagate's desktop drives, the Barracuda LP is covered by a three-year warranty. That length of coverage is pretty standard for a hard drive targeted at mainstream markets, but Seagate doesn't have an unblemished reputation for reliability. The firmware fiasco that plagued the 7200.11 nearly a year ago soured many on the Barracuda line, and I've had two relatively new 'cudas exhibit issues since, including a 7200.12 that was only briefly used for benchmarking. A troubling number of Newegg user reviews of the Barracuda LP also report premature failures, some of which are preceded by a "click of death." To be fair, though, the Newegg user reviews of the Caviar Green aren't much more positive.
Seagate says it hasn't observed higher return or failure rates with the Barracuda LP or any of its other recent models. However, it may take some time for the company's reputation to rebound, at least among notoriously fickle enthusiasts. Some folks still chide IBM, and by some bizarre extension Hitachi, for the infamous Deathstar GXP drives of oh-so-many years ago.
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