Today, the highest capacity SCSI drives top out at 300GB—just 60% of the capacity of today’s enterprise-class Serial ATA drives, which are available up to 500GB. Seagate has just raised the bar even higher, introducing a new Barracuda ES hard drive with a whopping 750GB of storage. To put that into perspective, consider the storage capacity of a four-drive 1U rack server running RAID 5. With 300GB SCSI drives, you won’t even break one terabyte. 500GB Serial ATA drives could give you 1.5TB of redundant capacity, while an array of 750GB Barracuda ES drives would offer a cool 2.25TB, all in the same physical space.
The Barracuda ES owes its freakish capacity to the perpendicular recording technology it shares with Seagate’s desktop-oriented Barracuda 7200.10. Physically, the drives are nearly identical. However, the Barracuda ES packs firmware optimizations that promise better performance under more demanding loads, an attribute whose appeal extends beyond the enterprise world and into the enthusiast’s realm.
How does the Barracuda ES compare with other enterprise-class Serial ATA hard drives? Is it really any faster than the Barracuda 7200.10? Read on to find out.
What makes an ES?
The Barracuda ES is based on the same drive platters and mechanics as the 7200.10, but it’s built to withstand cramped rackmount enclosures where drives can be packed tighter than steerage class on a budget airline. All hard drives vibrate during normal spinning and seek operations, and those vibrations can disrupt the operation of a drive in close proximity by shaking the drive head off its intended path. The disrupted drive must then wait for its head to move back into position before resuming normal operation, resulting in a performance penalty.
To combat vibration-induced performance degradation, the Barracuda ES is outfitted with sensors that detect rotational vibration and adjust the drive head accordingly. These sensors allow the ES to tolerate a rotational vibration of 12.5 rad/second2 with a rotational profile of 20-800Hz. The Barracuda 7200.10, on the other hand, can only tolerate 5.5 rad/second2 between 10 and 300Hz.
|Barracuda 7200.10||Barracuda ES|
|Maximum external transfer rate||300MB/s||300MB/s|
|Sustained transfer rate||NA||78MB/s (750GB)
72MB/s (500, 400, 250GB)
|Average read seek time||NA||8.5ms|
|Average write seek time||NA||9.5ms|
|Average rotational latency||4.16 ms||4.16ms|
|Spindle speed||7,200RPM||7,200 RPM|
|Available capacities||200, 250, 300, 320, 400, 500, 750GB||250, 400, 500, 750GB|
|Cache size||8MB (200GB)
|8/16 MB (250GB)
|Platter size||188 GB (750GB)||188 GB (750GB)|
|Rotational vibration||5.5 rad/sec2||12.5 rad/sec2|
|Rotational vibration profile||10-300Hz||20-800Hz|
|Idle acoustics||2.7 bels||2.7 bels|
|Seek acoustics||3.0 bels||3.0 bels|
|Idle power consumption||9.3W||9.3W|
|Read/write power consumption||12.6W||13.0W|
|Native Command Queuing||Yes||Yes|
|Warranty length||Five years||Five years|
Apart from the ES’s rotational vibration sensors, the drive is physically identical to the Barracuda 7200.10. It uses the same 188GB platters with perpendicular recording and is available with up to 16MB of cache. That cache is programmed a little differently on the ES, of course, but it’s the same chip.
In addition to different cache segmentation, the ES’s firmware offers a handful of RAID-specific features that you won’t find in the Barracuda 7200.10. Among them is Error Recovery Control, which limits the drive’s error recovery time to 12 seconds. This prevents prolonged error recovery attempts from causing drives to be prematurely dropped from RAID arrays. Similar functionality is available on Western Digital’s enterprise-class Serial ATA drives, although WD recommends disabling the feature for single-drive operation. Error Recovery Control apparently doesn’t hinder the Barracuda ES in single-drive systems.
Error recovery is nice, but avoiding errors is even better. To help reduce the number of errors the ES encounters in thermally challenging enterprise environments, the Barracuda ES monitors temperatures and shuffles I/O requests in a manner that allows the drive to cool if it gets too hot. The ES also includes features to simplify multi-drive firmware updates and speed RAID initialization.
Although both the Barracuda ES and 7200.10 are available with a 300MB/s Serial ATA interface, the ES also comes in fibre channel flavors. Those flavors are limited to 400 and 500GB capacities with only 8MB of cache, though.
Hard drive manufacturers seem loath to publish performance specifications for their desktop hard drives, so it’s hard to compare the ES’s seek times and sustained transfer rate specs to those of the 7200.10. We’ll see how real world seek times and transfer rates shake out when we move to our performance benchmarks.
Enterprise-class Serial ATA drives typically offer longer warranties than their desktop counterparts—often five years for enterprise models versus just three years for desktop. Seagate’s a little different, though. It offers a five-year warranty for all its internal hard drive products, including desktop and enterprise drives, so the ES doesn’t have an advantage over the 7200.10 in this category. Five-year hard drive warranties are pretty standard in the enterprise world, so Seagate certainly isn’t skimping. The company’s enthusiasm for longer desktop drive warranties has just blunted what could have been another selling point for the ES.
We’ll be comparing the performance of the Barracuda ES with that of a slew of competitors, including some of the latest and greatest Serial ATA drives from Hitachi, Maxtor, Seagate, and Western Digital. These drives 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||150MB/s||7,200RPM||8MB||80GB||160GB||Yes|
|Barracuda 7200.9 (160GB)||300MB/s||7,200RPM||8MB||160GB||160GB||Yes|
|Barracuda 7200.9 (500GB)||300MB/s||7,200RPM||16MB||125GB||500GB||Yes|
|Caviar SE16 (500GB)||300MB/s||7,200RPM||16MB||125GB||500GB||Yes|
|Caviar RE2 (500GB)||300MB/s||7,200RPM||16MB||125GB||500GB||Yes|
Note that the 250GB Caviar SE16 and the 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.
We have test results from older and newer versions of Western Digital’s Caviar SE16 and RE2. To avoid confusion, we’ll be referring to the newer drives as the Caviar RE2 (500GB) and Caviar SE16 (500GB), while the old drives will appear as the Caviar RE2 and Caviar SE16.
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, ES, Raptor X, and Raptor WD1500ADFD aren’t explicitly labeled as NCQ drives because they’re not available without NCQ support.
Finally, we should note that our WD1500ADFD has a slightly newer firmware revision than the Raptor X sample we’ve had since February. The drives still share identical internals, but firmware optimizations could give our newer Raptor an edge over the X in some tests.
Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test system.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- WorldBench 5.0
- Intel IOMeter v2004.07.30
- Xbit Labs File Copy Test v1.0 beta 13
- TCD Labs HD Tach v3.01
- Far Cry v1.3
- DOOM 3
- Intel iPEAK Storage Performance Toolkit 3.0
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.
Seagate’s perpendicular-powered Barracudas are the fastest 7,200-RPM drives in WorldBench, but interestingly, the ES is one step slower than the 7200.10.
Multimedia editing and encoding
Windows Media Encoder
VideoWave Movie Creator
Scores are close through WorldBench’s multimedia editing and encoding tests. The Barracuda 7200.10’s usually a little faster than the ES, though.
ACDSee separates the drives a little and relegates the ES to the middle of the pack. There, it’s still a few seconds slower than the 7200.10.
Multitasking and office applications
Mozilla and Windows Media Encoder
WorldBench’s office and multitasking tests don’t give the drives much room to stretch their legs.
WinZip and Nero do, however. The ES is close to the front of the pack in both, with only Western Digital’s latest 10K-RPM Raptors and the Barracuda 7200.10 proving faster.
To test system boot and game level load times, we busted out our trusty stopwatch.
Boot times on the ES are very fast, but the drive’s performance in our level load tests isn’t as impressive.
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 Barracuda ES stumbles a little in FC-Test’s file creation tests, losing ground to a couple of Raptors, and more importantly, Western Digital’s latest 7,200-RPM Caviars. Note that the ES lags behind the 7200.10 by a few MB/s with each test pattern.
Seagate bounces back with a stronger showing in FC-Test’s read tests, outrunning the Caviars and even the Raptors in a couple of test patterns. The performance gap between the ES and 7200.10 is much smaller here.
The copy tests’ combination of read and write operations suits the ES well enough to keep it ahead of the competition with most test patterns. However, the Caviars have a slim edge with the Windows and Programs test patterns, which feature a greater number of smaller files. Interestingly, those are the same test patterns where the ES trails the 7200.10 by the greatest margins.
We’ve 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.
The ‘cuda ES starts our iPEAK tests with a win, but soon falls victim to the same Jekyll-and-Hyde performance profile that plagues all of Seagate’s Barracudas in these tests. With multitasking loads that feature a file copy operation as the secondary task, the ES performs very well. However, when that secondary task switches to a VirtualDub import, the ES is ejected rather abruptly to the back of the field with the rest of its Barracuda brethren.
Note that the ES has generally trailed the 7200.10 thus far, but it has a consistent edge in this first round of iPEAK tests.
The same patterns persist through our second round of iPEAK tests. The ES does well with one set of secondary loads, but poorly with another. Throughout, however, it maintains a slight edge over the 7200.10.
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 sheer number of results make these graphs a little hard to read, but I wanted to include them all to illustrate just how many drives perform better than the Barracuda ES in IOMeter. Obviously, the 10K-RPM Raptors are way out ahead, but Western Digital’s enterprise-oriented Caviar RE2s also have a big edge over the ES, especially under increasing loads.
What’s most disappointing, perhaps, is the fact that the Barracuda ES isn’t dramatically faster than the 7200.10. Here’s how the two compare without all the other drives clouding the picture.
The ES isn’t all that much faster in any test pattern, and doesn’t hit its stride until the number of outstanding I/O requests starts to add up.
Moving to IOMeter response times, the Barracuda ES again finds itself well behind the Raptors and Western Digital’s latest Caviars. Heck, even the older Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ is quicker than the ES here.
Again, I’ve whipped up a second set of graphs to highlight how the 7200.10’s performance compares with that of the ES.
And again, the enterprise-oriented ES doesn’t offer much of an improvement over its desktop counterpart. Response times are consistently lower, but not by a significant margin.
To its credit, the Barracuda ES’s CPU utilization is very low in IOMeter. Then again, that’s true for all the drives we tested.
We tested HD Tach with the benchmark’s full variable zone size setting.
The ES can’t quite catch the 7200.10, but its sustained transfer rates easily beat the rest of the 7,200-RPM field. Sustained transfer rates are usually dictated by a combination of spindle speed and platter size, and with higher capacity platters than any other 7,200-RPM drive, it’s easy to see why the ES does so well.
Seagate drives have always fared well in HD Tach’s burst speed test, and the ES is no exception. The drive doesn’t quite max out the interface’s theoretical 300MB/s capacity, but it comes closer than drives from other manufacturers.
Enterprise-class hard drives are usually known for quicker access times, but not the Barracuda ES. In HD Tach, its 14.1 millisecond access time is slower than the rest of the field, and a half-millisecond off that of the 7200.10.
CPU utilization scores are well within HD Tach’s +/- 2% margin for error in this test.
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.
The Barracuda ES is about as quiet as the 7200.10 at idle, but a decibel louder under a seek load. That makes it one of the loudest drives of the bunch, but noise tends not to be a problem in server rooms already polluted by the constant hum of industrial air conditioning.
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.
Seagate has managed to improve the Barracuda ES’s power consumption over the 7200.10, but there are still a number of drives that consume less juice. If we consider power consumption per gigabyte, however, the Barracuda ES fares better than any other drive.
With online vendors selling the Barracuda ES for around $465, the drive’s price tag certainly lives up to its enterprise aspirations. A Barracuda 7200.10 with the same 750GB capacity can be had for closer to $340, and for most folks—performance-hungry enthusiasts included—that’s the drive to have. For desktop applications, the ES just doesn’t offer enough over the 7200.10 to justify the price premium.
The question, of course, is whether that price premium is justified for the enterprise environments that Seagate is targeting with the drive. From a performance perspective, the answer is no. The Barracuda ES is too slow under multitasking and multi-user loads to compete with Western Digital’s Raptors or even WD’s latest enterprise-oriented Caviar RE2s—drives that feature similar RAID-specific error recovery and vibration compensation capabilities.
Of course, neither the Raptors nor the Caviars are available with 750GB of storage capacity. Freakish capacity is the ‘cuda’s real appeal, especially when you’re trying to squeeze as many gigabytes as possible into limited enclosure or rack space. 500GB is the best the competition can do on that front, and with 50% more capacity in the same 3.5″ form factor, a 750GB Barracuda ES certainly has some attractiveness. It may not be the fastest drive in its class, but it’s the biggest, and in some enterprise environments that will matter more.