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Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1TB SAS Hard Drive
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Date: May 15, 2008
Section:Storage
Author: Chris Connolly
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Overview

Let’s talk about SCSI for a moment. The disk interface which was once ubiquitous with high-end workstations and servers is now on the verge of obsolescence. With the influx of inexpensive and reliable Serial ATA hard disks and hardware SATA RAID controllers (which can provide excellent performance at a fraction of a SCSI’s price), it’s not surprising to see why legacy SCSI doesn’t even enter the mind of enterprise server and workstation platform buyers, even those diehards of the past.

However, like PATA's evolution to SATA, SCSI has also gone the way of serial connectivity and it still holds its advantages. For example, 15K RPM hard disks are only available with a SCSI or SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) interface, and true hardware SAS RAID cards, when paired with 15,000 RPM disks, can deliver performance that SATA setups simply can’t deliver at this point in time. Not to mention the additional diagnostic, error reporting and recovery capabilities of SAS in a RAID set, that you just can't get in the event of a drive failure in a SATA RAID set.  However, the price per gigabyte versus the performance that SAS offers over SATA simply hasn’t worked out in favor of SAS, and as such, the standard has been struggling to stay relevant. This is evident in the new generation of solid state hard drives (SSDs) being offered with SATA interfaces and not a hint of SAS SSD offerings on the horizon. 

That said SAS solution providers seem to be reacting, as the barriers to entry for SAS versus SATA have been fading away as of late. SAS controller cards can be had for a little as $70, and SAS hard drives are dropping in price, though historically capacities have trailed SATA by a long shot. Also, some new motherboards offerings are being equipped with onboard SAS controllers as well. 


Today, we’ll be showcasing one of the most significant developments to date, toward getting SAS more frequently into the vernaculars of workstation/server buyers and maybe even a few enthusiasts - relatively cheap, high-capacity SAS storage – thanks to Seagate. Seagate currently offers 10,000 and 15,000 RPM disks with SAS interfaces at a fraction of the capacity versus SATA offerings and as such, much higher prices.  However, Seagate just launched their Barracuda ES.2 platform with a SAS interface that offers capacities up to 1 Terabyte (1 TB). Not only is the Barracuda ES.2 the highest capacity SAS disk to date, it’s also the first SAS disk we’ve seen on the market with a 7,200 RPM spindle speed and SATA-like pricing.
  


A pair of Seagate's new Barracuda ES.2 SAS 1 TB drives.

Lower spindle speeds typically correlate to far lower prices per GB, and now with high-capacity disks available at more competitive prices, enterprise customers can mix and match their smaller (fast) SAS drives together with slower, but larger capacity SAS disks for bulk storage, on the same controller. In addition, this new large capacity Seagate SAS offering allows high-end or enthusiast end users to consider SAS for desktop builds.  It’s definitely an interesting move by Seagate, that caught us by surprise a bit. However, here we are, with a pair of Barracuda ES.2 1 TB drives with SAS interfaces on our hands. Our job is to figure out where these drives fit into the workstation/server storage market that exists today and see if they represent a competitive value in comparison to the array of 1 TB SATA drives on the market.  Let’s find out.

Seagate will be making the Barracuda ES.2 SAS drive in 500 GB, 750 GB, and 1.0 TB flavors, depending on the number of platters used in the drives. As expected, the Barracuda ES.2 is built on perpendicular recording technology, and features a 250 GB per platter density. These attributes are shared between the ES.2 SAS and SATA lineups, along with the Barracuda 7200.11 series drives.
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Details and Specifications

Upon first glance, the Barracuda ES.2 SAS looks like any standard 3.5" SATA hard drive. Visually, it’s hard to see any difference between the Barracuda ES.2 SAS and SATA models. However, upon closer inspection, one can see that the power/data connector is slightly different compared to what you would see with a standard SATA hard disk.


ES.2 SAS 1 TB - Top


ES.2 SAS 1 TB - Bottom


SAS hard drives share the same physical cables as SATA hard drives, but they use a single connector which has data and power in a single connector. It’s pretty confusing for end-users to understand, but basically what you need to know is that SAS hard drives require SAS adapters in order to run in a desktop/tower chassis environment (adapters can cost anywhere from $10 - $50). In a rackmount environment, one can typically use SAS hard drives in standard SATA disk cages.
 


SAS Interface on the Barracuda ES.2


Promise TX2560 SAS Controller


For our tests, we used Promise’s new consumer-targeted TX2560 SAS controller card, which can be had for a mere $70 today (2 x SAS adapters included). Most SAS cards with hardware RAID prcessors price out in the $300+ range, so seeing affordable SAS adapters is definitely exciting to see. Not surprisingly, such a product only provides the very basics for a SAS disk setup, including support for two SAS 3GB/s or SATA-II/300 drives, a PCI Express x1 interface, and support for RAID 0, 1 and JBOD modes. The card utilizes the Promise PDC42819 controller, which is a software-based solution, meaning there is no dedicated RAID processor onboard. However, with only two ports, the need for hardware RAID processing is slim, and the increased latencies of such a solution might hurt single/dual disk performance. We’re just glad to see something finally filling up those PCI Express x1 slots which sit empty on so many of today’s motherboards.

The Barracuda ES.2 1TB SAS drives are nearly identical to their SATA-equipped Barracuda ES.2 brethren. Both the Barracuda ES.2 SATA and SAS drives support up to 1 TB of storage capacity and are housed in a standard 3.5" form factor. Both drives have 7,200 RPM spindle speeds, and both are equipped with 5 year warranties. Both the SATA and SAS variants can sustain 105 MB/s transfer rates at their peak. There are differences, however - and one is somewhat of a major one. For reasons unknown, Seagate decided to strip down the SAS variant and only offer it with 16 MB of cache, whereas the SATA variant has a larger 32 MB of cache on the high-end models. The SAS version also consumes a bit more power, although the difference is a somewhat trivial 1W.
 

  Western Digital Caviar RE2 750 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 SATA Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1 TB SATA Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1 TB SAS
Spindle Speed 7,200 RPM 7,200 RPM 7,200 RPM 7,200 RPM
Platter Count 3 4 4 4
Cache Memory 16 MB 32 MB 32 MB 16 MB
Average Seek Time 8.9ms N/A N/A N/A
Average Latency 4.20ms 4.16ms 4.16ms 4.16ms
Interface Serial ATA-II/300 Serial ATA-II/300 Serial ATA-II/300 Serial Attached SCSI 3 GB/s
Acoustics 28 dBA (Idle)
34 dBA (Seek)
27 dBA (Idle)
29 dBA (Seek)
27 dBA (Idle) 27 dBA (Idle)
MTBF 1.2 Million Hours 750,000 Hours 1.2 Million Hours 1.2 Million Hours
Warranty 5 Years 5 Years 5 Years 5 Years


The Barracuda ES.2 SAS has a few competitors – namely Seagate’s own ES.2 SATA product line which has similar features but a different connector, more cache, and will (likely) sell at a lower price point. Potential buyers will likely be interested in how the drive compares to other similarly classed high-capacity drives. However, in the land of truly high-capacity SAS storage, the Barracuda ES.2 SAS stands alone, as its closest competitor has less than 1/3rd the capacity (300 GB) and costs about three times as much as the ES.2.

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Testbed and Windows Vista Performance
Test System Details
Specifications and Revisions

  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (2.4 GHz) Processor
  • eVGA Nvidia nForce 680i LT SLI Ultra Motherboard
  • 4 x Kingston XMS DDR2-800 Memory (4 x 1 GB, CAS 4-4-4-12)
  • 1 x Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512 MB
  • 1 x Plextor PX-755SA DVD+/-RW Drive
  • 1 x Corsair HX620W 620W Power Supply
  • Windows Vista Ultimate Edition (x32)
  • Promise TX2560 SAS Controller

  • 2 x Seagate Barracuda ES.2 SAS 1 TB
  • Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1 TB
  • 2 x Western Digital RE2 750 GB
Windows Vista Experience Index
Experience Index Storage Score - Higher Numbers are Better


Just to see if we’re sitting on a solid base, we installed Windows Vista Ultimate x32 Edition on our Barracuda ES.2 drive setups. After driver installs and defrags, we ran the integrated “Vista Experience” benchmark setup. As expected, the Barracuda ES.2 delivers a full 5.9 for this test, which is currently the fastest available in this test. Thus, these drives should perform well in a Vista environment. Now, onto more in-depth synthetic tests.

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HDTune Pro Benchmarks
HDTune Pro 3.0 x32 Storage Benchmark
Higher Transfer Rates, Lower CPU Utilization and Access Times are Better






HDTune showcases the Barracuda ES.2 in a very positive manner. In these tests, we see a single Barracuda ES.2 SAS drive delivering sustained transfer rates of 87 MB/s and a burst rate of 116 MB/s. When paired together in a RAID setup, these increase to 145 MB/s and 155 MB/s, surprisingly substantial gains.

The Barracuda ES.2 SAS drive still suffers from somewhat high access/seek times at about 12ms for a single drive, but that’s to be expected from a 7,200 RPM drive from Seagate. CPU utilization was low in a single drive setup, although we see 5% CPU utilization when these SAS drives are paired up in a RAID-0 setup, which is a bit higher than we would have liked. We’ll likely chalk this up to the software-based Promise SAS RAID controller card.

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IOMeter
IOMeter 7/27 x32 Storage Benchmark
Higher Sequential IO's Per Second - Higher Numbers are Better






The Barracuda ES.2 SAS drive shows some muscle in the all-important IOmeter rankings, showcasing excellent single drive and dual-disk RAID-0 numbers while using the “Workstation” pattern benchmark.


While all the drives start with the same speeds when disk activity levels are low, when you push the drives harder and harder, the Barracuda ES.2 SAS drive distances itself by a significant margin.    Under the heaviest load, the ES.2 SAS drive outperforms the Barracuda 7200.11 drive by about 20%, which is impressive considering the 7200.11 SATA drive has almost identical specifications but double the cache.   This leads us to believe the ES.2 SAS will perform well in a workstation disk environment, and its ability to push concurrent I/O’s mean it will likely work well in server environments as well.

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PCMark Vantage Benchmarks
PCMark Vantage Vista Benchmark
Storage Scenario Benchmarks - Higher Numbers are Better




Our first round of PCMark Vantage tests are not kind to the Barracuda ES.2 SAS drives. While the drives only fall a bit behind in the Gaming test, the drive struggles to maintain solid numbers in the Digital Imagery and Media Center performance suites. In these two tests, the Barracuda ES.2 SAS is delivering about 60-65% of the performance of the Barracuda 7200.11 1 TB drive, which has similar specifications (although with double the onboard cache memory). Definitely not encouraging results – especially as they were extremely accurate to reproduce.

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PCMark Vantage Benchmarks (Continued)
PCMark Vantage Vista Benchmark
Storage Scenario Benchmarks - Higher Numbers are Better




Our second round of PCMark Vantage tests also suffer from performance abnormalities, as our Barracuda ES.2 SAS drives fall behind competing 7,200 RPM drives in all three tests.

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Crysis Disk Benchmarks
Crysis Demo
Storage Focused Gaming Benchmarks - Lower Load Times, Higher FPS are Better






Our real-world Crysis demo tests, however, showcase the Barracuda ES.2 SAS drives right about the level as we would expect them to be. Our drives were able to install the demo, load the level, and give the same rough average frames per second as our other 7,200 RPM class drives. Performance is a slight bit lower than its competitors, which would likely be attributed to the additional latency added by the SAS controller card, or the smaller amount of onboard cache.

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Power Consumption and Environmentals
Total System Power Consumption
Measured with SeaSonic PowerAngel Hardware Watt Monitor - Lower Numbers are Better



In terms of power consumption, the Barracuda ES.2 SAS drives appear to be pretty strong for a SAS product. We see virtually no power difference between the ES.2 SAS 1 TB drive and other 7,200 RPM class products. As there are no other 7,200 RPM SAS drives on the market, it’s likely that the Barracuda ES.2 SAS is the lowest-power 3.5” SAS drive on the market today.

Along with the low power attributes, we found the drives to be nearly inaudible during our testing. In addition, the drives only got warm to the touch, even after prolonged testing, which means that active cooling will not be necessary for these drives. However, with such high capacity, additional drive cooling is never frowned upon, as you'd never want to take unnecessary risks with so much data in such a small space.

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Conclusion

Seagate’s Barracuda ES.2 SAS drives make for an interesting and certainly unexpected entry to the rapidly evolving storage market. Seagate definitely took a chance with this drive, as no other player in the market has taken desktop-class technology and re-marketed it towards the workstation and server markets. Typically, it’s the other way around. However, this is a solid move, in our opinion, as IT managers can now buy both high performance 10K/15K RPM and high-capacity 7,200 RPM drives with a single SAS interface, instead of having to mix and match controller just to get costs in line with SATA for bulk storage.

There are a few scenarios which play out as possible needs for such a product. First off, you have those who want a ripping fast 15K SAS drive as the boot drive or for high throughput/transaction rate applications, along with one or more 1 TB SAS disks for bulk storage. Previously, you would have to opt for a high-capacity SATA drive, which would have to run on another connector (typically your motherboard or another controller). These drives could also be heavily used to provide large-scale capacity for rack servers with SAS interfaces. Or, you could run the disks all by themselves with a cheap SAS controller or an onboard SAS controller, and have mildly fast storage with the benefits of SAS coming into play.

If you’re looking for an incredibly fast drive, this new Barracuda doesn't have as much bite as its high-end SAS brethren, but there are environments where it performs quite well for a 7,200 RPM class drive.  The drive can perform quite well under certain scenarios, as shown by our HDTune and IOmeter benchmarks, which were very solid for a 7,200 RPM solution. On the other hand, our FC-Test and PCMark Vantage disk numbers were undeniably pokey, giving us a mixed opinion on the product for mainstream applications.   When you throw in the higher cost of the solution with the price of a SAS controller card, one of the new generation 7,200 RPM SATA drives will typically provide similar levels of performance compared to the ES.2 SAS. Whether its performance abnormalities were caused by the lower cache memory or inefficiencies with our SAS controller, its performance today in some scenarios is just doesn't quite measure up.

The Barracuda ES.2 SAS is not what one would consider a consumer level product and very likely won’t be a big seller in the end-user/enthusiast space.  However, it should fill a long-empty hole in the workstation and storage markets, allowing true high-capacity storage at fairly low price points with SAS connectivity. It’s unlikely that there will be competition in this arena for quite some time, so if you need lots of SAS-enabled storage capacity, this is just about the only drive to consider right now.  However, we would recommend perhaps waiting for an updated version of the drive as firmware revisions will likely smooth things out a bit for the platform.  Beyond some slight performance variances and anomalies, the Barracuda ES2 1TB SAS drive is a solid storage product overall. It has low noise, lots of capacity and is capable of pushing out excellent performance in the right usage model.   This unit currently sells for $315+, about $60 more than the ES.2 SATA variant, a tough pill to swallow for the average end user, when you throw in the additional price of a SAS controller.  However, performance enthusiasts can now dare to dream of a high capacity option in a SAS-enabled Hardware RAID configuration.  And of course, for storage server applications, this new 'Cuda from Seagate could be a big fish in the not-so small pond of enterprise storage. 

  • Very Large Capacity for SAS Drive
  • Low Noise, Power Consumption
  • Best Price Per GB for SAS Drive To Date
  • Smaller 16MB Cache for SAS Version
  • Lingering Performance Issues
  • No Killer Features Compared to SATA Variants



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