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A quick look at Seagate's 1.5TB Barracuda firmware update

Much ado about nothing

Manufacturer Seagate
Model Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Seagate became the first manufacturer to break the terabyte mark with its Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB. We reviewed the drive last year, and found it to be quite speedy in straight-line throughput drag races. The one-point-five wasn't the fastest drive overall, mind you, but with a very reasonable $130 street price and a then-five-year warranty, it was a pretty good deal for those looking to maximize storage capacity.

Unfortunately, it seems that early versions of the 1.5TB Barracuda were stricken with random freezing, causing Seagate to issue a firmware update to resolve the issue. As is often the case with new firmware releases, there was some concern that in fixing the freezing problem, Seagate had to dial back the Barracuda's performance. Curious to see whether this was the case, we applied Seagate's new SD1A firmware to our production 'cuda and ran the drive through a battery of tests to see how its performance compared with the original SD17 firmware.

Installing the updated firmware was easy enough, but actually getting our hands on it proved more problematic than it should have been. You see, Seagate doesn't post firmware updates on its website or even in its support forums—you have to get in touch with the company's support team and have them send you the necessary update. Here's a tip: don't bother calling the support hotline. I spent 25 minutes on hold before finally giving up, and another 10 minutes in the online support chat section of Seagate's website before getting a download link for the firmware update. Seagate should have at least made the update easier to download by putting a direct link to it in forum posts discussing the problem.

Anyway, we ran our 'cuda through the usual gauntlet of performance, noise, and power consumption tests not quite sure what to expect. We'd seen forum and comment claims of degraded performance, but couldn't find much evidence in our own test results, which are provided on the following page. I won't bother running through the graphs individually because, well, there isn't much to see. With few exceptions, the performance of the Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB with the new SD1A firmware is all but identical to that of the drive with its original SD17 firmware. That's bad news for conspiracy theorists, but good news for 'cuda owners afflicted by the freezing bug.

Test notes
We'll be comparing the performance of the Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB with the new SD1A firmware against not only the drive with its original shipping firmware, but also the latest and greatest Serial ATA drives from Hitachi, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital. These drives differ when it comes to external transfer rates, spindle speeds, cache sizes, platter densities, 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
Barracuda 7200.11 300MB/s 7,200RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB
Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB 300MB/s 7,200RPM 32MB 375GB 1.5TB
Barracuda ES.2 300MB/s 7,200RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB
Caviar Black 300MB/s 7,200RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB
Caviar GP 300MB/s 5,400-7,200RPM 16MB 250GB 1TB
Caviar Green 300MB/s 5,400-7,200RPM 32MB 333GB 1TB
Caviar SE16 (640GB) 300MB/s 7,200RPM 16MB 320GB 640GB
Deskstar 7K1000 300MB/s 7,200RPM 32MB 200GB 1TB
Deskstar E7K1000 300MB/s 7,200RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB
Raptor WD1500ADFD 150MB/s 10,000RPM 16MB 75GB 150GB
RE2-GP 300MB/s 5,400-7,200RPM 16MB 250GB 1TB
RE3 300MB/s 7,200RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB
SpinPoint F1 300MB/s 7,200RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB
VelociRaptor VR150 300MB/s 10,000RPM 16MB 150GB 300GB

Note that we have two versions of Western Digital's GreenPower desktop Caviar. The Caviar GP is the original GreenPower drive, model number WD10EACS, while the Caviar Green is the new WD10EADS derivative.

Performance data from such a daunting collection of drives can make our bar graphs a little hard to read, so we've colored the bars by manufacturer, with the 1.5TB Barracuda appearing in a brighter green than the rest of Seagate's drives. We have two sets of results for the 'cuda. The drive with its original firmware is listed simply as the Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB while results from the new firmware rev have an (SD1A) added onto the end.

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

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
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
Hard drives Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB
Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1TB
Samsung SpinPoint F1 1TB
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 1TB
Western Digital RE2- GP 1TB
Western Digital Caviar GP 1TB
Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB
Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB
Western Digital Caviar SE16 640GB
Western Digital RE3 1TB
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB
Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB
Hitachi Deskstar E7K1000 1TB
OS Windows XP Professional
OS updates Service Pack 2

Thanks to NCIX for getting us the Deskstar 7K1000 and SpinPoint F1.

Our test system was powered by an OCZ PowerStream power supply unit.

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.