Nearly two years ago, Western Digital launched its first “GreenPower” hard drive. Then known as the Caviar GP, this new approach to desktop storage attenuated the pursuit of raw performance by using slower spindle speeds to improve energy efficiency, as well. Reducing power consumption may have been the primary goal, but ratcheting back rotational speeds also lowered noise levelsan arguably more important benefit for enthusiasts and mainstream users alike.
Had the Caviar GP’s performance been atrocious, the concept probably wouldn’t have caught on. But the drive was surprisingly competitive thanks to the use of high-density platters that weren’t yet available on full-fat 7,200-RPM models. The GP also highlighted the fact that only certain applications really benefit from extremely fast storage. Despite its spindle speed disadvantage, the drive was still plenty quick for closet file servers, home theater PCs, external drives, and secondary mass storage. Subsequent members of the Caviar Green family have only gotten faster thanks to rising areal densities, solidifying this new class of power-efficient storage as a viable option.
Given the Caviar Green’s success, the fact that other manufacturers are starting to get in on the action should come as no surprise. The Barracuda LP is Seagate’s first take on the formula, and at least on paper, the 2TB model compares quite favorably with Western Digital’s range-topping Caviar Green. Plus, with a street price hovering around $190, the LP’s a good $10 cheaper. Naturally, we had to find out whether this new Barracuda is quieter, more power-efficient, and, of course, faster than the Caviar Green.
Before getting into our test results, I should take a moment to introduce this latest member of the Barracuda family. Seagate has slowly reorganized its ‘cuda line into three tiers, with the LP occupying the bottom rung on the ladder. Above it lie the Barracuda 7200.12 and the Barracuda XT, both of which have 7,200-RPM spindle speeds. The LP, by contrast, rotates its platters at a mere 5,900 RPM.
That’s right; Seagate actually publishes the LP’s spindle speed. Western Digital has been reticent to divulge the rotational speeds of its Caviar Greens, saying only that they’re closer to 5,400 RPM than 7,200 RPM and that actual speeds can vary slightly from one model to the next. I’ve never understood the need for such secrecy, so it’s refreshing to see Seagate be more forthcoming with the Barracuda LP.
Like the Caviar Green, the Barracuda LP reaches the two-terabyte mark using four 500GB platters. Seagate’s platters don’t pack data as densely as Western Digital’s, though. The Barracuda has an areal density of 341.5 Gbit/in², while the Caviar squeezes 400 gigabits into each square inch. Higher areal densities usually enable faster sequential transfers by making more data available over shorter physical distances, which puts the ‘cuda at a bit of a disadvantage. Indeed, according to its published specifications, the LP’s maximum sustained data rate is only 95MB/s5MB/s shy of the Green’s purported 100MB/s data rate. Of course, we’ll test the sequential throughput of each drive with both synthetic tests and real-world file transfers in a moment. I wouldn’t put too much stock in manufacturer-published performance ratings, although we have summarized the drive’s official specs in a handy chart below:
|Maximum external transfer rate||300MB/s|
|Maximum sustained data rate||95MB/s|
|Average rotational latency||5.5 ms|
|Spindle speed||5,900 RPM|
|Available capacities||1, 1.5, 2TB|
|Idle acoustics||2.5 bels|
|Seek acoustics||2.6 bels|
|Warranty length||Three years|
Interestingly, Seagate and Western Digital both appear to be using their low-power hard drive families to ease new platters into higher capacity points. The Barracuda LP and Caviar Green are the first implementations from each company to stack four 500GB platters. Western Digital didn’t start shipping a 7,200-RPM Caviar Black 2TB with four 500GB platters until more than six months after the Green’s debut. Seagate trotted out the 2TB Barracuda LP back in April, some four months before announcing the 7,200-RPM Barracuda XT 2TB. I imagine it’s much easier to, ahem, spin up denser platters at lower speeds before cranking up the RPMs for high-performance drives.
Despite the fact that the Barracuda LP isn’t being pushed as a high-performance offering, it still sports a substantial 32MB cache. I suppose even 32MB caches look a little pedestrian when one considers that some solid-state drives have as much as 128MB, though.
Like most of Seagate’s desktop drives, the Barracuda LP is covered by a three-year warranty. That length of coverage is pretty standard for a hard drive targeted at mainstream markets, but Seagate doesn’t have an unblemished reputation for reliability. The firmware fiasco that plagued the 7200.11 nearly a year ago soured many on the Barracuda line, and I’ve had two relatively new ‘cudas exhibit issues since, including a 7200.12 that was only briefly used for benchmarking. A troubling number of Newegg user reviews of the Barracuda LP also report premature failures, some of which are preceded by a “click of death.” To be fair, though, the Newegg user reviews of the Caviar Green aren’t much more positive.
Seagate says it hasn’t observed higher return or failure rates with the Barracuda LP or any of its other recent models. However, it may take some time for the company’s reputation to rebound, at least among notoriously fickle enthusiasts. Some folks still chide IBM, and by some bizarre extension Hitachi, for the infamous Deathstar GXP drives of oh-so-many years ago.
Our testing methods
The best way to find out whether the Barracuda LP is a better alternative to the Caviar Green is to pit the two drives against each other. And so we have, using the following test system:
Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 2.66GHz
|System bus||1066MHz (266MHz quad-pumped)|
Intel P45 Express
|South bridge||Intel ICH10R|
OCZ PC2-6400 Platinum Edition at 800MHz
|CAS latency (CL)||
|RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)||4|
|RAS precharge (tRP)||4|
|Cycle time (tRAS)||15|
Realtek ALC889A with 2.24 drivers
Gigabyte GeForce 8600 GT 256MB with ForceWare 185.85 drivers
Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB
Seagate Barracuda LP 2TB
Windows Vista Ultimate x64
|OS updates||Service Pack 2|
Our test system was powered by an OCZ GameXStream power supply unit.
With the exception of our power consumption and noise levels, all tests were run at least three times, with the results averaged. We used the following versions of our test applications:
- WorldBench 6 Beta 2
- Intel IOMeter v2006.07.27
- Xbit Labs File Copy Test v0.3
- HD Tach v3.01
- Far Cry 2 v1.3
- Call of Duty 4 v1.4
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 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 LP gets off to a good start, besting the Caviar’s overall score by a few points. Let’s see which individual application tests made the difference.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Caviar delivers better performance in the Photoshop test. Completion times are pretty even across the rest of WorldBench’s multimedia editing and encoding tests, though.
The Caviar and ‘cuda are closely matched in WorldBench’s office and multitasking tests, too.
However, the Barracuda is substantially faster in the Nero test.
Boot and load times
To test system boot and game level load times, we busted out our trusty stopwatch.
I wouldn’t get too worked up about fractions of a second here. Any differences in load times between the two drives are minute at best.
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. We’ve converted those completion times to MB/s to make the results easier to interpret.
Vista’s intelligent caching schemes make obtaining consistent and repeatable performance results rather difficult with FC-Test. To get reliable results, we had to drop back to an older 0.3 revision of the application and create or own custom test patterns. During our initial testing, we noticed that larger test patterns tended to generate more consistent file creation, read, and copy times. That makes sense, because with 4GB of system memory, our test rig has plenty of free RAM available to be filled by Vista’s caching and pre-fetching mojo.
For our tests, we created custom MP3, video, and program files test patterns weighing in at roughly 10GB each. The MP3 test pattern was created from a chunk of my own archive of ultra-high-quality MP3s, while the video test pattern was built from a mix of video files ranging from 360MB to 1.4GB in size. The program files test pattern was derived from, you guessed it, the contents of our test system’s Program Files directory.
Even with these changes, we noticed obviously erroneous results pop up every so often. Additional test runs were performed to replace those scores.
The Barracuda LP races out to an impressive lead in our file creation tests. With each test pattern, it’s close to 20MB/s faster than the Caviar Green.
Seagate maintains the ‘cuda’s nearly 20MB/s advantage through the read tests. The transfer rates are higher here, making the Caviar Green proportionally more competitive.
Our copy tests combine read and write operations, but that doesn’t faze the Barracuda. The Seagate drive continues to lead the Caviar Green by sizable margins.
IOMeter presents a good test case for both seek times and command queuing.
Each of our IOMeter workloads uses highly randomized access patterns. The file server, workstation, and database patterns mix read and write operations, while web server pattern is exclusively made up of read ops. Based on the transaction rates we observed with the web server test pattern, the Barracuda’s random read performance doesn’t appear to scale as well as the Caviar’s. At least the scaling with that pattern is relatively linear.
With the other test patterns, the Barracuda’s transaction rates flatline between two and 32 outstanding I/O requests. The maximum queue depth for Native Command Queuing just happens to be 32, suggesting that the ‘cuda may be adjusting its command queuing behavior when writes are involved.
As the load climbs beyond 32 I/O requests, the Barracuda’s transaction rates jump dramatically, eventually eclipsing those of the Caviar. Overall, though, this one goes to the Green.
There’s little difference in IOMeter CPU utilization between the two drives.
We tested HD Tach with the benchmark’s full variable zone size setting.
In HD Tach’s sequential transfer rate tests, the Barracuda LP has a 12MB/s edge over the Caviar Green.
The Caviar’s burst speed is slightly higher, though.
The ‘cuda and Caviar are evenly matched in HD Tach’s random access time and CPU utilization tests.
Noise levels were measured with a TES-52 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 the Barracuda is only half a decibel quieter than Caviar at idle, it’s a full three decibels quieter while seeking. The difference in seek noise levels is noticeable, although I’d hardly call the Caviar loud.
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. Drives were tested while idling and under an IOMeter load consisting of 256 outstanding I/O requests using the workstation access pattern.
At idle, the Barracuda LP draws a couple of watts less than the Caviar Green. However, under our demanding IOMeter load, the Western Digital drive has slightly lower power consumption.
On paper, the Barracuda LP is a good match for the Caviar Green. Both drives sport four 500GB platters, 32MB caches, sub-7,200-RPM spindle speeds, three-year warranties, and price tags hovering around $200. The two drives even offer comparable performance in a number of our tests. However, the Barracuda boasts faster sequential transfer rates, whether in synthetic tests like HD Tach or in simulated real-world file operations like File Copy Test.
The ‘cuda does fall behind the Caviar in IOMeter, though, and its transaction rate doesn’t scale well at all with workloads that involve random write requests. I suspect we’re seeing the result of command queuing optimizations that sacrifice performance with random I/O requests in favor of faster sequential transfers. That sort of bias makes perfect sense for a low-power desktop drive like the Barracuda LP, though it’s obviously less attractive for enterprise and multi-user environments.
Of course, for low-power drives like the Barracuda LP, performance is secondary to power consumption and noise levels. The Barracuda does well on both fronts, offering comparable power consumption to the Caviar Green alongside lower noise levels. There isn’t much difference in idle noise levels between the two drives, but the Barracuda is audibly quieter when seeking, which is when hard drives are at their loudest and most annoying.
You can currently snag a Barracuda 2TB for $10 less than a Caviar Green, so value’s on Seagate’s side, too. That’s good enough to vault the drive into TR Recommended territory, but would I buy a Barracuda LP over a Caviar Green for one of my own systems? Maybe. I’d certainly want to, not so much because the LP is faster, but because it’s quieter. Still, I haven’t been impressed with Barracuda reliability of late, and that might stop me from pulling the trigger.
At the very least, Seagate has crafted a compelling alternative to the Caviar Green. Only time will tell which is better to entrust with two terabytes of your precious data.