Seagate’s Barracuda 7200.10 hard drive

Manufacturer Seagate
Model Barracuda 7200.10
Price (750GB)
Availability Now

SINCE THE FIRST TIMEGet 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 rate 300 MB/s
Average seek time NA 11 ms
Average rotational latency 4.16 ms
Spindle speed 7,200 RPM
Available capacities 200, 250, 300, 320, 400, 500, 750 GB 80, 120, 160, 200, 250, 300, 400, 500 GB
Cache size 8 MB (200 GB)
8/16 MB (250-750 GB)
8 MB (80-250 GB)
16 MB (300-500 GB)
Recording technology Perpendicular Longitudinal
Platter size 188 GB (750 GB) 100 GB (200, 300GB)
120 GB (120GB)
125 GB (250, 500GB)
133 GB (400GB)
160 GB (80, 160GB)
Idle acoustics 2.7 bels 2.5-2.8 bels
Seek acoustics 3.0 bels NA
Idle power consumption 9.3 W 6.9 W
Read/write power consumption 12.6 W 8.1 W
Native Command Queuing Yes
Warranty length Five 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.

 

Test notes
We’ll be comparing the Barracuda 7200.10’s performance with that of a slew of competitors, including some of the latest and greatest Serial ATA drives from Hitachi, Maxtor, Seagate, and Western Digital. 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:

  Max external transfer rate Spindle speed Cache size Platter size Capacity Native Command Queuing?
Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ 150 MB/s 7,200 RPM 8 MB 80 GB 160 GB Yes
Barracuda 7200.8 150 MB/s 7,200 RPM 8 MB 133 GB 400 GB Yes
Barracuda 7200.9 (160GB) 300 MB/s 7,200 RPM 8 MB 160 GB 160 GB Yes
Barracuda 7200.9 (500GB) 300 MB/s 7,200 RPM 16 MB 125 GB 500 GB Yes
Barracuda 7200.10 300 MB/s 7,200 RPM 16 MB 188 GB 750 GB Yes
Caviar SE16 300 MB/s 7,200 RPM 16 MB 83 GB 250 GB No
Caviar RE2 150 MB/s 7,200 RPM 16 MB 100 GB 400 GB Yes
Deskstar 7K500 150 MB/s 7,200 RPM 16 MB 100 GB 500 GB Yes
DiamondMax 10 150 MB/s 7,200 RPM 16 MB 100 GB 300 GB Yes
Raptor WD740GD 150 MB/s 10,000 RPM 8 MB 37 GB 74 GB No*
Raptor X 150 MB/s 10,000 RPM 16 MB 75 GB 150 GB Yes

Note that the Caviar SE16 and Raptor WD740GD lack support for Native Command Queuing. The WD740GD 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 both 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 Caviar RE2, Deskstar T7K250, DiamondMax 10, 7200.8, 7200.9, 7200.10, and Raptor X 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 bus 800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard Asus P5WD2 Premium
Bios revision 0422
North bridge Intel 955X MCH
South bridge Intel ICH7R
Chipset drivers Chipset 7.2.1.1003
AHCI/RAID 5.1.0.1022
Memory size 1GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Micron DDR2 SDRAM at 533MHz
CAS latency (CL) 3
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD) 3
RAS precharge (tRP) 3
Cycle time (tRAS) 8
Audio codec ALC882D
Graphics Radeon X700 Pro 256MB with CATALYST 5.7 drivers
SCSI card Adaptec 20320R with 3.0.0.0 drivers
Hard drives Hitachi 7K500 500GB SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax 10 300GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ 160GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 400GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 160GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 750GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar SE16 250GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar RE2 400GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor WD740GD 74GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor X 150GB SATA
OS Windows XP Professional
OS updates Service 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 1280×1024 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.

 

WorldBench overall performance
WorldBench uses scripting to step through a series of tasks in common Windows applications. It then produces an overall score. WorldBench also spits out individual results for its component application tests, allowing us to compare performance in each. We’ll look at the overall score, and then we’ll show individual application results alongside the results from some of our own application tests.

Despite a 2,800-RPM spindle speed disadvantage, the Barracuda 7200.10 manages to beat the Raptor WD740GD in WorldBench. The Seagate drive still isn’t faster than the newer Raptor X, but it scores two points higher than any other 7,200-RPM desktop drive.

Multimedia editing and encoding

MusicMatch Jukebox

Windows Media Encoder

Adobe Premiere

VideoWave Movie Creator

Of WorldBench’s multimedia editing and encoding tests, only Premiere shows much variation between the drives. There, the Barracuda 7200.10 sits in the middle of the pack.

 

Image processing

Adobe Photoshop

ACDSee PowerPack

ACDSee gives our hard drives a little room to stretch their legs, but the 7200.10 can’t quite catch the Caviar SE16, so it’s the second-fastest 7,200-RPM drive here.

Multitasking and office applications

Microsoft Office

Mozilla

Mozilla and Windows Media Encoder

Other applications

Winzip

Nero

WorldBench’s office and multitasking tests don’t favor one drive over the others, but WinZip and Nero both spread the field. In WinZip, the Barracuda 7200.10 rises to the top, beating even the 10K-RPM Raptor X. The Raptor exacts its revenge in Nero, but even then, the 7200.10 turns in an impressive second-place performance.

 

Boot and load times
To test system boot and game level load times, we busted out our trusty stopwatch.

System boot times are mixed. The 7200.10 can’t catch the fastest Raptor, but it’s only a couple of seconds off the front of the pack.

Interestingly, the Barracuda 7200.10 excels in our Far Cry level load test, but turns in the slowest performance in DOOM 3.

 

File Copy Test
File Copy Test is a pseudo-real-world benchmark that times how long it takes to create, read, and copy files in various test patterns. File copying is tested twice: once with the source and target on the same partition, and once with the target on a separate partition. Scores are presented in MB/s.

The 7200.10 generally performs well with FC-Test’s file creation scripts, although it’s less competitive with the Windows and Program test patterns. Those patterns feature a greater number of smaller files, while the MP3, ISO, and Install test patterns use a smaller number of larger files.

It doesn’t matter which test pattern we use in FC-Test’s file read tests, though. Here, the 7200.10 proves faster than any other 7,200-RPM drive and even beats the Raptors in a couple of test patterns.

FC-Test’s file copy scripts stress read and write performance, and the Barracuda 7200.10 dominates the 7,200-RPM field. The drive is neck and neck with the Raptor X through most test patterns, and it proves consistently faster in the partition-to-partition tests.

 

iPEAK multitasking
We recently developed a series of disk-intensive multitasking tests to highlight the impact of command queuing on hard drive performance. You can get the low-down on these iPEAK-based tests here. The mean service time of each drive is reported in milliseconds, with lower values representing better performance.

In our iPEAK tests, Seagate’s Barracudas have tended to perform better in multitasking loads involving file-copy operations as a secondary task rather than a VirtualDub import. The Barracuda 7200.10 continues this trend, finishing at or close to the front of the pack with iPEAK workloads that involve file-copy operations, but settling in closer to the middle of the pack when the secondary task is a VirtualDub import.

 

iPEAK multitasking – con’t

Again, the 7200.10 performs well with iPEAK multitasking workloads that include file-copy operations, but not with a VirtualDub import.

 

IOMeter – Transaction rate
IOMeter presents a good test case for command queuing, so the NCQ-less Western Digital Caviar SE16 and Raptor WD740GD should have a slight disadvantage here under higher loads.

The Barracuda 7200.10’s IOMeter transaction rates are rather unimpressive, with the drive offering lower performance than all but a handful of its competitors. This trend is consistent across each test pattern, with even Seagate’s older Barracudas faring better.

 

IOMeter – Response time

As with IOMeter’s transaction rate results, the Barracuda 7200.10’s response times are rather poor. This problem is especially apparent under heavier loads with more simultaneous I/O requests.

 

IOMeter – CPU utilization

IOMeter CPU utilization is pretty low across the board, and the Barracuda 7200.10 doesn’t differentiate itself from the rest of the field.

 

HD Tach
We tested HD Tach with the benchmark’s full variable zone size setting.

The Barracuda 7200.10 storms to the front of the 7,200-RPM field in HD Tach’s sustained transfer rate tests and even knocks off one of the Raptors. Drives with higher areal densities typically perform well in these tests, so it’s no surprise to see the 7200.10 excel.

Seagate’s latest Barracudas dominate HD Tach’s read burst speed test, with the 7200.10 taking top honors by more than 10 MB/s over its predecessor.

For all its prowess in HD Tach’s transfer rate tests, the Barracuda 7200.10’s random access time isn’t anything special. All of our 7,200-RPM drives cluster within 1.4 milliseconds of each other, though.

CPU utilization scores are well within HD Tach’s +/- 2% margin for error in this test.

 

Noise levels
Noise levels were measured with an Extech 407727 Digital Sound Level meter 1″ from the side of the drives at idle and under an HD Tach seek load. Drives were run with the PCB facing up.

Although it’s one of the quietest drives at idle, the Barracuda 7200.10’s seek noise levels are higher than most of the field.

Power consumption
For our power consumption tests, we measured the voltage drop across a 0.1-ohm resistor placed in-line with the 5V and 12V lines connected to each drive. Through the magic of Ohm’s Law, we were able to calculate the power draw from each voltage rail and add them together for the total power draw of the drive.

The 7200.10’s power consumption is among the highest of the drives we’ve assembled, but that’s not surprising considering its capacity. Higher capacity drives pack more platters than lower capacity models. Those extra platters take additional power to spin, and moving the additional heads across those platters requires more power, as well.

 

Conclusions
Perpendicular recording tech has taken what seems like forever to make its way to desktop hard drives. Given what we’ve seen of the Barracuda 7200.10, it was well worth the wait. The drive pushes storage to new heights, offering a whopping 750 GB of capacity for a surprisingly reasonable cost per gigabyte. With a street price as low as $414 online the Barracuda 7200.10 750 GB runs about $0.55 per gigabyte. That’s pretty reasonable for a flagship drive; 500 GB models from other manufacturers typically cost around $0.52 per gigabyte. 750 GB isn’t all that outlandish for a single drive, either. With higher definition audio and video content on the rise, higher single-drive storage capacity is more important than ever.

In the end, the Barracuda 7200.10 delivers on much of its tantalizing potential, but it’s not a winner across the board. The drive’s inconsistent performance in our iPEAK tests and uncompetitive IOMeter results immediately disqualify it for demanding multitasking or multi-user environments. However, the higher areal densities made possible by perpendicular bits do pay performance dividends, especially in terms of sustained transfer rates. The 7200.10’s particularly strong showings in WorldBench, HD Tach, and FC-Test make it easy to recommend for single-user environments like PC desktops. There, the drive’s quiet idle noise levels and best-in-class five year warranty give it additional appeal. Plus, everyone likes to brag about having the biggest drive on the block. 

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