|When it comes to adding a performance-enhancing upgrade to your system, a good SSD can’t be beat, but storage capacity is an ever-growing need as well. There was a time when a 1TB drive seemed grossly (deliciously?) excessive for the average user, but these days anything less than 500GB seems woefully undersized. Even casual users who play a few games, shoot a little video here and there, and maintain a modest music library need lots of storage.
HDDs continue to increase in capacity yet remain reasonably priced in light of solid state offerings, to the point that you can have yourself a multiple-terabyte drive for a couple hundred bucks or less. Today we’re having a look at one such HDD, the Seagate Barracuda 3TB hard drive.
Seagate has previously announced a simplification of its Barracuda branding, killing off the Barracuda Green line, donating the Barracuda XT moniker to a an upcoming solid-state hybrid drive series, and streamlining their Barracuda HDD portfolio.
This 3TB drive is part of the new branding, and as such it features the 7200RPM spindle speed, SATA 6Gbps interface, 1TB platters, and 64MB cache. The transition to higher-density platters is a nice move on Seagate’s part. Along with a reasonably fast spindle speed (7200RPM vs. 5900RPM on its Green drives) and combined with the denser 1TB platters, efficiency in seek times and performance should scale up nicely.
Of course, there’s more to this drive than mere specs. Let’s dig in and have a closer look at the 3TB Barracuda’s features and performance.
|A Closer Look|
|There are several technologies underpinning the Barracuda 3TB, and we’ll look at each one in turn.
We’ve previously told you about SmartAlign, but here’s a recap. As 4096 byte-sized sectors supplant 512-byte sectors industry-wide and enable higher-capacity drives with better error correction at lower prices, the tradeoff is that there can be some performance issues caused by misaligned hard drive partitions.
Seagate developed SmartAlign to deal with the issue. SmartAlign is firmware that automatically, without user intervention, takes care of the misalignments without negatively impacting the hard drive’s performance.
Seagate’s AcuTrac technology is an attempt to solve a few problems pertaining to storage density and reliability. In brief, areal density is how close each individual bit of data, recorded on magnetic particles, is to its neighbors. Engineers figured out a way to stand those magnetic particles perpendicular to the platters to increase bits per inch (BPI, a measure of areal density) and thus increase per-platter density. Track density is another measure of areal density, and it’s measured in tracks per inch (TPI), or how close together the concentric circles (the tracks in which drives store data) on a platter are.
Increasing both BPI and TPI to increase storage capacities were becoming an engineering problem, and in response, Seagate developed its AcuTrac technology.
With AcuTrac, Seagate has boosted its TPI from 250,000 to 340,000, making each track on a 3.5-inch disk just 75nm wide. AcuTrac technology also includes a better way to position the drive head to more accurately focus on the smaller tracks.
OptiCache and DiscWizard
The large 64MB DDR2 SDRAM cache on this drive isn’t the end of the story in terms of cache-related performance. Seagate also built in OptiCache technology, which is designed to increase performance by up to 45% over past generations of drives by taking advantage of the cache, along with a new 40nm optimized controller and processor.
There’s also the included DiscWizard software, which simply enables older (and newer) systems without a UEFI BIOS, including Windows XP, to natively access all 3TB of the drive’s capacity. Not everyone will need DiscWizard, but it’s good to have on hand just in case.
Finally, here's a comprehensive list of the drive’s specifications.
|Test System and ATTO|
|Our Test Methodologies: Under each test condition, the drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with a different hard disk used for the OS and benchmark installations. The drives were left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our ATTO and Vantage benchmark tests. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle before invoking a test.
ATTO is a disk benchmark that measures transfers across a specific volume length. It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart. We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes over a total max volume length of 256MB. This test was performed on blank, formatted drives with NTFS partitions.
The Seagate Barracuda 3TB posted uneven scores in this test. In the read test, it whipped the competition with 184.3MB/s; the next-best score was the Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB’s 160.4MB/s. However, in the write test, our Barracuda 3TB delivered a more middling result. Although it technically had the second-best score, the Barracuda 3TB barely edged out the Hitachi drive (146.4MB/s vs. 144.5MB/s) and was relatively far away from the Barracuda XT 3TB’s 157.2MB/s.
|Testing continues with SiSoftware's SANDRA XII, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. Here, we used the Physical Disk test suite and provided the results from our comparison drives. The benchmarks were run without formatting and read performance metrics are detailed below.
The Barracuda 3TB did better in the SANDRA test, scoring a convincing step above the rest of the field. Once again, the read test score was more impressive than the write test score, but both were very solid.
|CrystalDiskMark is a synthetic test that evaluates both sequential as well as random small and large file transfers. It does a nice job of providing a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with regard to hard drive performance, best case being large sequential transfers and worse case being small, random 4K transfers.
On the whole, the Barracuda 3TB struggled somewhat with CrystalDiskMark. The only test in which it bested the rest of the field was in the Sequential Transfer read test. In the 512K transfer test, it hung with the Barracuda XT 3TB, and the two easily outpaced the other drives. In the remainder of the tests, however, the Barracuda 3TB posted mediocre scores.
We do see a pattern emerging where the Barracuda 3TB’s read scores are often a clear cut above the field, but its write scores are mostly on par with or under the other drives’.
|EFD Software's HD Tune is described on the company's web site as such: "HD Tune is a hard disk utility with many functions. It can be used to measure the drive's performance, scan for errors, check the health status (S.M.A.R.T.), securely erase all data and much more." The latest version of the benchmark added temperature statistics and improved support for SSDs, among a few other updates and fixes.
Once again, we see the Barracuda 3TB hit read/write scores with a wide discrepancy, this time on the HDTune Average Transfer Rate test and Access Time test. Note that in the Access Time test, lower scores are better, so our HDD smoked the competition in that one in the write test but came in second in the read test.
In the Burst Rate test, the scores were fairly closely clustered, but even so, the Barracuda 3TB didn’t fare especially well, and its CPU usage was ugly (2.9% read, 2.6% write) compared to the other drives (1.4/1/4% and 1/1.3%).
|PCMark 7 Storage Benchmarks|
|We really like PCMark 7's Secondary Storage benchmark module for its pseudo real-world application measurement approach to testing. PCMark 7 offers a trace-based measurement of system response times under various scripted workloads of traditional client / desktop system operation. From simple application start-up performance, to data streaming from a drive in a game engine, and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel more comfortable that these tests reasonably illustrate the performance profile of SSDs in an end-user / consumer PC usage model, more so than a purely synthetic transfer test.
The story with the PCMark 7 tests can be summed up in one word: third. In the overall score and most of the sub tests, the Barracuda 3TB posted the third-best scores, mostly falling behind the Barracuda XT 3TB and Hitachi Deskstar 3TB. It actually did worse in the Video Editing sub test, posting the second-lowest score, but it did slightly better in the Windows Defender sub test and Windows Media Center test.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: The Barracuda 3TB displayed a few splashes of read-speed brilliance and matched up decently with the other similarly-spec’d drives in our tests. Taken as a whole, the differences between the three best performers were relatively small, although the trio beat out the Western Digital drives in our tests.However, one of those three drives is an older-generation Seagate Barracuda XT; the current Barracuda XT line is being phased out and will be reborn as a series of hybrid drives, so if you want a standard Seagate HDD with these features, the newer Barracuda 3TB is the way to go.
Prices for hard drives are most definitely on the increase these days due to shortages, and that issue is expected to continue (though it may abate somewhat) through 2012. Costs for HDDs are also not especially consistent from vendor to vendor at the moment. However, we did find the Barracuda 3TB for $229 in multiple places, which is frankly a good deal right now for the performance and capacity the drive offers.