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Seagate's Barracuda 7200.11 hard drive

This one goes to 11?

Manufacturer Seagate
Model Barracuda 7200.11 (1TB)
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Seagate consistently snags the largest slice of the hard drive market, and it was the first manufacturer to push capacities to 750GB. However, the company has been slow to the terabyte mark, handily beaten to the punch by Hitachi's Deskstar 7K1000. Western Digital recently pulled up to the terabyte table with its Caviar GP, too, leaving Seagate's brand-new Barracuda with fresh competition in the high-capacity game.

In some ways, the new 'cuda combines the best of what you get with the Deskstar 7K1000 and Caviar GP without the baggage inherent to each. The Deskstar, for example, is blessed with a massive 32MB cache and speedy 7,200-RPM spindle speed, but needs five relatively low-density 200GB platters to reach the terabyte mark. The Caviar, on the other hand, spreads its terabyte over just four 250GB platters, but its performance is hampered by spindle speeds that dip below 7,200-RPM.

Taking a little from column A and a little from column B, the Barracuda 7200.11 rolls in with four 250GB platters complemented by 32MB of cache and a 7,200-RPM spindle speed. Throw in a five-year warranty that you don't get with either the Deskstar or the Caviar, and it looks like this latest 'cuda may have been worth the wait.

To find out for sure, we've run Seagate's latest through an exhaustive series of tests, comparing its performance, noise levels, and power consumption with more than 20 other hard drives. Keep reading to see how the 7200.11 stacks up.

Oooooh, Barracuda
According to Seagate, this latest addition to the Barracuda line should have widespread appeal. The company lists a number of "key applications" for the drive, predictably including mainstream desktops, external storage devices, and gaming and high-end PCs. Surprisingly, though, Seagate says the 7200.11 is also appropriate for workstations and desktop RAID arrays—ground hard drive makers have normally reserved for enterprise-class drives.

Manufacturers have always liked to segment desktop and enterprise products, but in the world of 7,200-RPM Serial ATA drives, there isn't much difference between the two. Drives tend to share the same platters, mechanics, and packaging, and they usually offer near-equivalent performance—Seagate's own enterprise-class Barracuda ES, for example, offers comparable performance to the 7200.10 on which it is based. Seagate isn't alone, either. The performance of Western Digital's desktop Caviar SE16 is roughly equivalent to that of the company's enterprise-oriented RE2, too.

Unlike Western Digital, Seagate further blurs the line between desktop and enterprise drives by offering an industry-leading five--year warranty on all its desktop drives—two years more than its competitors. Five years of coverage is usually reserved for enterprise products, so it's a welcome addition to any desktop drive. More extensive warranty coverage doesn't necessarily guarantee that the 7200.11 will be more reliable than drives covered for only three years, though.

Barracuda 7200.10 Barracuda 7200.11
Maximum external transfer rate 300MB/s 300MB/s
Sustained data rate NA 105MB/s
Average rotational latency 4.16ms 4.16ms
Spindle speed 7,200-RPM 7,200-RPM
Available capacities 80, 160, 200, 250, 300, 320, 400, 500, 750GB 500GB, 750GB, 1TB
Cache size 2MB (80, 160GB)
8MB (80, 160, 200GB)
16MB (250, 320, 400, 500, 750GB)
16MB (500, 750GB)
32MB (500GB, 750GB, 1TB)
Platter size 188GB (750GB) 250GB
Idle acoustics 2.5-2.8 bels 2.5-2.7 bels
Seek acoustics 2.8-3.7 bels 2.8-2.9 bels
Idle power consumption 5.3-9.3W 8.0W
Seek power consumption 9.0-12.6W 10.6-11.6W
Warranty length Five years Five years

The Barracuda 7200.11 may inherit a five-year warranty from its 7200.10 predecessor, and to be fair, it has the same 300MB/s Serial ATA interface and 7,200-RPM spindle speed. But that's where the similarities end. These drives are quite different in a couple of very important ways. First, there's the question of cache. The 7200.11 is equipped with a full 32MB—twice that of its predecessor. The 500 and 750GB flavors of the 7200.11 will also be made with only 16MB of cache, but these drives won't be available through normal distribution channels. I'd expect to find them only in OEM systems.

Giving the Barracuda more cache to play with should improve performance, but perhaps not as much as the 7200.11's other edge: areal density. Seagate's first-generation perpendicular recording technology squeezed 188GB onto each of the 7200.10's platters. However, the 7200.11 uses second-gen perpendicular recording tech capable of packing 250GB onto each platter—a jump of nearly a third. This higher areal density allows the drive head to access more data over shorter physical distances, bolstering the drive's performance potential in the process.

Unfortunately, it's hard to get a handle on exactly what kind of performance increase we can expect from the 7200.11's denser platters. Seagate does claim the drive has a 105MB/s sustained data rate, but the company doesn't publish a similar spec for the 7200.10. I suppose we'll have to fall back on extensive benchmark results that test sustained throughput and file copy performance instead. What a shame.

Denser platters do more than just boost areal density, though. They also allow Seagate to build terabyte drives with just four platters—one fewer than Hitachi's terabyte Deskstar. Reducing the number of platters lowers the weight the drive motor has to spin, and that should pay dividends when we examine power consumption a little later on.

We've seen evidence that drives with fewer platters tend to be quieter than those with more, so the 7200.11's four-platter design could give it an edge on the acoustic front, as well. Low noise levels actually used to be a staple of Seagate hard drives, but the Barracuda has grown louder than its competitors over the years. Seagate is looking to return to silence with the 7200.11, whose "SoftSonic" motor promises quiet operation.

Our digital sound level meter will be the ultimate judge of whether the SoftSonic motor delivers. In the meantime, note that Seagate lists a much tighter range for the 7200.11's seek acoustics than it does for those of the 7200.10. Maximum power consumption is lower for the new 'cuda, as well, which is quite a feat considering it packs an additional 250 gigabytes.