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Test notes
We'll be comparing the 160GB and 500GB flavors of the Barracuda 7200.9 against an array of competitors. Most of the drives we're testing are desktop parts, but the Western Digital Caviar RE2 and Raptor WD740GD are technically enterprise-class products. We won't tell anyone if you don't.

The drives we'll be looking at differ when it comes to external transfer rates, spindle speeds, cache sizes, platter densities, NCQ support, and capacity, all of which can have an impact on performance. Keep in mind the following differences as we move through our benchmarks:

  Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ Barracuda 7200.8 Barracuda 7200.9 (160GB) Barracuda 7200.9 (500GB) Caviar SE16 Caviar RE2 Deskstar 7K500 DiamondMax 10 Raptor WD740GD
Max external transfer rate150MB/s150MB/s 300MB/s300MB/s300MB/s 150MB/s300MB/s150MB/s150MB/s
Spindle speed7,200RPM7,200RPM7,200RPM7,200RPM7,200RPM 7,200RPM7,200RPM7,200RPM10,000RPM
Cache size8MB8MB8MB16MB16MB 16MB16MB16MB8MB
Platter density80GB133GB160GB125GB83GB100GB100GB100GB37GB
Capacity160GB400GB160GB500GB250GB 400GB500GB300GB74GB
Native Command Queuing?YesYesYesYesNoYesYesYesNo*

Note that the Western Digital Caviar SE16 and Raptor WD740GD lack support for Native Command Queuing. The Raptor does support a form of command queuing known as Tagged Command Queuing (TCQ), but host controller and chipset support for TCQ is pretty thin. Our Intel 955X-based test platform doesn't support TCQ.

Since Seagate makes versions of the 7200.7 with and without NCQ support, the 7200.7 in our tests appears as the "Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ" to clarify that it's the NCQ version of the drive. The Deskstar T7K250, DiamondMax 10, 7200.8, and 7200.9 aren't explicitly labeled as NCQ drives because they're not available without NCQ support.

Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test systems.

Processor Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz
System bus800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard Asus P5WD2 Premium
Bios revision0422
North bridgeIntel 955X MCH
South bridgeIntel ICH7R
Chipset driversChipset 7.2.1.1003
AHCI/RAID 5.1.0.1022
Memory size1GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory typeMicron DDR2 SDRAM at 533MHz
CAS latency (CL)3
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)3
RAS precharge (tRP)3
Cycle time (tRAS)8
Audio codecALC882D
Graphics Radeon X700 Pro 256MB with CATALYST 5.7 drivers
Hard drives Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 400GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ 160GB SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax 10 300GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar SE16 250GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor WD740GD 74GB SATA
Hitachi 7K500 500GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar RE2 400GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 160GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500GB SATA
OS Windows XP Professional
OS updatesService Pack 2

Our test system was powered by OCZ PowerStream power supply units. The PowerStream was one of our Editor's Choice winners in our last PSU round-up.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems' Windows desktop was set at 1280x1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.