review seagates barracuda 7200 12 hard drive
Reviews

Seagate’s Barracuda 7200.12 hard drive

Manufacturer Seagate
Model Barracuda 7200.12 1TB
Price (Street) $110-130
Availability Soon

One of the most remarkable things about the storage industry is the fact that, although today’s hard drives are much faster than those from yesteryear, they’re still spinning at the same spindle speeds. 7,200 RPM has been the standard for desktop drives for a very long time now, supplanted only occasionally by enthusiast-oriented Raptors spinning their platters at 10,000 RPM. The enterprise world has managed to crank spindles up to 15,000 RPM, but that step up the rotational speed ladder happened more than nine years ago. Drives haven’t spun their platters any faster since.

Rather than relying on higher spindle speeds to sustain a steady diet of incremental performance improvements, hard drive makers have instead increased the precision and speed with which drives can flow data back and forth to their spinning media. The amount of data stored on those spinning platters has grown, as well, and at an exponential rate. In just the last two years, we’ve seen platter capacities jump from 200GB to 250, 333, 375, and now 500GB.

As platter areal densities rise, drive heads have access to more bits over shorter physical distances, and that translates to faster performance—particularly with sequential transfers that stream large chunks of contiguous data. And so hard drives have become faster without actually running at higher speeds.

Interestingly, spindle speeds are actually slowing in some circles. Western Digital, for example, elected to launch its 500GB platters in the Caviar Green 2TB, which has a spindle speed close to 5,400 RPM. Seagate has taken a decidedly different approach, eschewing competing for the capacity crown in favor of bringing 500GB platters to market at lower capacity points, but with 7,200-RPM spindle speeds. The company’s latest is the Barracuda 7200.12, which packs an even terabyte, in its highest capacity form, using only two platters.

According to Seagate, the latest Barracuda 7200.12 1TB’s combination of a fast spindle speed and high areal density allow the drive to sustain data rates up to 125MB/s. That’s VelociRaptor territory, folks. Granted, 125MB/s won’t nearly saturate the new Barracuda’s 300MB/s Serial ATA interface, but then the drive also has a 32MB DRAM cache that should be quite a bit faster than its mechanical storage.


Platter size
500GB

Available capacities
250, 500, 750GB, 1TB
Maximum external transfer
rate
300MB/s
Maximum sustained data
rate
125MB/s

Cache size
32MB (750GB, 1TB)
16MB (500GB)
8MB (250GB)
Spindle speed 7,200 RPM
Average rotational latency 4.17ms

Idle power consumption
Operating power
consumption

Idle acoustics
2.5 bels
Seek
acoustics
2.7 bels

Warranty length
Three
years

Although Seagate equips the terabyte 7200.12 with 32MB of cache, other capacities in the line aren’t as well endowed. The 750GB model gets a 32MB cache, but the 500 and 250GB flavors are stuck with 16 and 8MB, respectively. At the moment, only the 500GB and 1TB models appear to be available online, with the latter considerably scarcer than the former.

There’s no word yet on when higher capacities will join the 7200.12 line. You can already get a 1.5TB Barracuda, but it’s an older 7200.11 with 375GB platters. Seagate has announced plans for an enterprise-class Constellation ES 2TB hard drive that will presumably use 500GB platters, but it’s not slated to ship until the third quarter of this year. I’d expect that drive to have a desktop-oriented cousin in the Barracuda 7200.12 family.

It’s easy to focus on the greater performance potential and higher overall storage capacity that 500GB platters bring to the table, but there are other benefits to these denser discs. Less than two years ago, it took five platters to hit the terabyte mark. These days, most 1TB drives pack three or four platters. The 7200.12 gets to a terabyte with just two discs, which means less weight for the motor to spin—and lower power consumption, as a result. According to Seagate, the 7200.12 consumes less than 5W at idle and under 10W when active.

Another benefit to the 7200.12’s reduced platter count should be lower noise levels. We’ve found that drives with fewer platters tend to generate less noise than those with more, and we’ve tested noise levels at idle and under load to see now the new ‘cuda stacks up.

We’ve also learned that Seagate has optimized the 7200.12’s seek mechanism to lower acoustics. This so-called “quiet” seek mode is set at the factory and can’t be adjusted by end users, and it has some significant performance implications that will become clear on the following pages. Despite optimizing seeks for lower noise levels rather than quicker access times, Seagate is still pushing its latest Barracuda as a performance-oriented drive appropriate for workstations, gaming systems, and high-end PCs.

Perhaps the least obvious benefit to having fewer platters is a reduction in the odds of a catastrophic head crash crippling the drive, simply because there are fewer heads and platters to worry about. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee greater reliability; given Seagate’s recent firmware issues, there are certainly plenty of other ways for drives to fail.

Speaking of failures, Seagate covers the Barracuda 7200.12 with a three-year warranty. That’s the industry standard for mainstream drives, but it’s less than the five years of coverage Seagate used to offer for all of its internal hard drive products.

Test notes
We’ll be comparing the performance of the Barracuda 7200.12 with that of a slew of competitors, including some of 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 7,200 RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB

Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB
300MB/s 7,200 RPM 32MB 375GB 1.5TB

Barracuda 7200.12

300MB/s

7,200 RPM

32MB
500GB
1TB

Barracuda ES.2
300MB/s 7,200 RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB

Caviar Black
300MB/s 7,200 RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB

Caviar GP
300MB/s ~5,400 RPM 16MB 250GB 1TB

Caviar Green
300MB/s ~5,400 RPM 32MB 333GB 1TB

Caviar Green 2TB
300MB/s ~5,400 RPM 32MB 500GB 2TB


Caviar SE16 (640GB)
300MB/s 7,200 RPM 16MB 320GB 640GB

Deskstar 7K1000
300MB/s 7,200 RPM 32MB 200GB 1TB

Deskstar E7K1000
300MB/s 7,200 RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB


Raptor WD1500ADFD
150MB/s 10,000 RPM 16MB 75GB 150GB

RE2-GP
300MB/s ~5,400 RPM 16MB 250GB 1TB

RE3
300MB/s 7,200 RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB

SpinPoint F1
300MB/s 7,200 RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB

VelociRaptor VR150
300MB/s 10,000 RPM 16MB 150GB 300GB

Note that we have three 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 newer WD10EADS derivative with 333GB platters. The latest Caviar Green 2TB drive should be easy to spot because we’ve included its capacity in the graphs.

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 Barracuda 7200.12 appearing in brighter green than the rest of Seagate’s drives. Special thanks, a shout out, and mad props go to TR regular Usacomp2k3 for whipping up a slick VB script to automate graph coloring, saving me from entirely too much repetitive clicking.

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 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
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

Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB

Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 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 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
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.

The Barracuda 7200.12 turns in a middle-of-the-pack performance in WorldBench and just trails its 1.5TB predecessor. That puts the drive behind terabyte models from Hitachi, Samsung, and Western Digital, although there’s only a four-point spread in overall scores across the entire field.

Multimedia editing and encoding

MusicMatch Jukebox

Windows Media Encoder

Adobe Premiere

VideoWave Movie Creator

Seagate’s latest ‘cuda sticks to the middle of the pack through most of WorldBench’s multimedia editing and encoding tests, but it’s the only drive to lag behind in Movie Creator.

Image processing

Adobe Photoshop

ACDSee PowerPack

Completion times are too close to call in Photoshop, but ACDSee spreads the field out a little bit. In that test, the 7200.12 again finds itself in the middle of the pack.

Multitasking and office applications

Microsoft Office

Mozilla

Mozilla and Windows Media Encoder

WorldBench’s office and multitasking tests don’t leave much room for these drives to stretch their legs.

Other applications

WinZip

Nero

However, the Nero and WinZip tests are much more demanding of the storage subsystem. In the Nero test, the ‘cuda again sits in the middle of the pack, trailing the 1.5TB Barracuda, in addition to terabyte drives from Hitachi, Samsung, and WD. The drive’s relative performance is even worse in the WinZip test, where the 7200.12 is stuck near the back of the pack.

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

The 7200.12’s boot time is nothing to write home about. Again, we see the latest ‘cuda slipping toward the bottom of the heap, and more importantly, trailing its rivals. Heck, even Seagate’s last-gen terabyte is faster here.

While the 7200.12 claws its way to the middle of the field in our Doom 3 level load test, it’s one of the slowest drives in Far Cry.

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.

To make things easier to read, we’ve separated our FC-Test results into individual graphs for each test pattern. We’ll tackle file creation performance first.

Ouch. The Barracuda 7200.12’s file creation performance can only be described as dismal. Not only is Seagate’s latest ‘cuda outrun by its predecessors with some test patterns, it’s also much slower than the terabyte competition. Even Hitachi’s Deskstar 7K1000, which takes five 200GB platters to hit the 1TB mark, is faster here.

Seagate finds some redemption in our file read tests, where the ‘cuda rockets to the front of the pack and even leads the field in a couple of test patterns. Here, the 7200.12 is faster than its terabyte competition, and is only challenged by Seagate’s own Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB and the 10K-RPM VelociRaptor.

FC-Test – continued

Copy tests combine read and write operations, and while the ‘cuda exceeds in the former, its poor performance in the latter hamstrings copy speeds. The 7200.12 can’t keep up with the latest terabyte drives from Hitachi, Samsung, and Western Digital here. Heck, it’s even slower than the old 7200.11 with the ISO test pattern.

Copying data between partitions proves just as challenging for the 7200.12, whose relative position doesn’t change much from FC-Test’s first wave of copy tests.

iPEAK multitasking
We’ve developed a series of disk-intensive multitasking tests to highlight the impact of seek times and 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 Barracuda 7200.12 easily chews through our demanding iPEAK multitasking workloads, registering the fastest mean service time in three of nine workloads and sticking near the front of the pack in the rest. In fact, if you average mean service times across all workloads, the new ‘cuda is the fastest drive overall. This result should come as no surprise considering how well the Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB fares in these tests.

IOMeter
IOMeter presents a good test case for both seek times and command queuing.

Those considering the Barracuda 7200.12 for multi-user environments would be well-advised to look elsewhere. The ‘cuda turns in the worst IOMeter performance we’ve seen in a while, and it’s essentially the slowest drive of the lot. Even last year’s 7200.11 offers much higher transaction rates across all four test patterns.

IOMeter CPU utilization is low across the board. Move along.

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

HD Tach’s straight-line sustained transfer rate drag races aren’t particularly indicative of real-world performance, but they’re good measures of peak sustained throughput. The new ‘cuda isn’t quite quick enough to catch the VelociRaptor here. Still, it’s a hair faster than the 1.5TB Barracuda 7200.11, which has a healthy lead over the rest of the field.

Given its denser 500GB platters, one might expect the 7200.12 to deliver much higher sustained transfer rates than the 1.5TB Barracuda. However, the 7200.12 only has two platters, which gives it much less outer-edge area than the four-platter 1.5TB ‘cuda. Drives are at their fastest—at least with sequential transfers—when accessing the outer edge of a platter.

In terms of burst rate, the Barracuda 7200.12’s is a little slower than not only its direct rivals, but also its predecessors in the 7200.11 family.

Seagate’s new ‘cuda has by far the slowest random access time we’ve seen from a contemporary desktop drive, trailing the Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB by two milliseconds and the Caviar Black by more than five milliseconds. That might seem like the blink of an eye, but within the GHz confines of a modern PC, it’s actually a rather long time. Such is the price of the ‘cuda’s “quiet” seek mode.

Of course, seeking data gets more challenging at higher areal densities. However, the Caviar Green 2TB, which has 500GB platters and a much slower spindle speed of close to 5,400 RPM, achieves random access times two milliseconds quicker than the 7200.12 despite also being a very quiet drive.

The results of HD Tach’s CPU utilization test are well within the app’s +/- 2% margin of 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.

The last few Barracudas we’ve reviewed haven’t been particularly quiet, but with only two platters, the 7200.12 is nearly silent. Both at idle and while seeking, the ‘cuda is among the quietest 3.5″ drives we’ve ever tested. From a few feet away, I can’t even hear the drive seeking—and that’s with it running outside a case on an open test bench.

Although one might be tempted to laud Seagate’s decision to optimize seeks for lower noise levels rather than quicker access times, notice that Western Digital’s Caviar SE16 seeks just as quietly as the ‘cuda without carrying a hefty random access time penalty.

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. We were able to calculate the power draw from each voltage rail and add them together for the total power draw of the drive.

Although it’s not quite as energy-efficient as Western Digital’s GreenPower drives, the Barracuda 7200.12’s power consumption is very low. In fact, the latest ‘cuda consumes less power than any other 7,200-RPM terabyte.

Conclusions
The world’s first terabyte hard drive hit the market less than two years ago. Back then, it took five 200GB platters to hit the 1TB mark. Today, Seagate’s Barracuda 7200.12 gets there with just two 500GB platters. And the latest ‘cuda makes good use of its reduced platter count, enjoying the noise and power consumption benefits that come with spinning fewer discs. For all intents and purposes, the 7200.12 is as quiet as any other terabyte drive on the market—including Western Digital’s GreenPower models. It’s also the most power-efficient terabyte spinning at 7,200 RPM.

Seagate’s high-density 500GB platters deliver on much of their performance potential, at least when it comes to peak sustained throughput. However, the drive’s transfer rates in real-world file operations are mixed. The 7200.12 is very fast when it comes to real-world reads, but it’s much slower than the competition when writing and copying files.

Flashes of brilliance followed by otherwise dismal performance is sort of a theme for the new ‘cuda. The drive fared better than any other in our iPEAK multitasking tests, but it stumbled spectacularly when faced with multi-user IOMeter loads. And at more than 17ms, the 7200.12’s random access time is slower than, well, any other desktop drive we’ve tested. Ever. What’s worse, there’s no way for users to defy Seagate’s factory programming and shift the drive out of its noise-optimized “quiet” seek mode.

With its performance all over the map, the Barracuda 7200.12 is difficult to recommend to enthusiasts looking for a speedy system drive. However, near-silent noise levels and low power consumption do make it an attractive option for quiet desktops and home theater PCs.

Of course, given Seagate’s recent firmware fiasco, some may be wary of the new ‘cuda’s reliability. And there’s reason for concern: one of the two 7200.12s Seagate sent us for testing consistently failed mid-way through HD Tach’s “full” disk benchmark, rendering the drive unusable until the next reboot. The second drive ran through our entire benchmark suite without a hitch, though.

Either way, you likely won’t be able to get your hands on a terabyte 7200.12 just yet. 500GB versions of this drive are widely available, but the 1TB model doesn’t seem to be in stock at any online retailers. Those that list the drive peg its price at between $110 and $130, which is at least competitive with other terabyte models on the market. If only the 7200.12’s overall performance were, as well.

Geoff Gasior

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