1TB, 1.5TB, 2TB... Does Anyone Want More?

Our today’s review is going to talk about the recently released hard disk drive models with 375GB and 500GB per platter data density. We are going to introduce to you the new dual-platter Seagate 7200.12 with 1TB storage capacity, 1.5TB Seagate 7200.11 and the today’s capacity leader – 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green.

by Aleksey Meyev
05/06/2009 | 05:07 PM

Our customary practice is to review hard disk drives of the same or similar storage capacity but this review is an exception. We will compare products that differ as much as twofold in terms of storage space. Why? We have just happened to obtain HDDs with new platters. 333GB 3.5-inch platters used to be the largest in the last year, but newer HDDs come with 375GB or even 500GB platters. Of course, there are but few such products available as yet, so we can only compare them to their predecessors. This will show us what benefits we can achieve from the transition to such a high recording density.

 

If you know the history of CPUs well enough, you should be aware that a transition to a thinner manufacturing process is often accompanied with a bunch of other changes. With CPUs, it had transpired some time ago that reducing the size of a transistor would not be enough to increase CPU clock rates further because the leakage currents had got too high. As a result, the CPU makers had to master not only new methods of lithography (or revise old ones) but also introduce new technologies to improve the insulation of the semiconductor structures from the wafer.

It is the same with HDDs. When the recording density is increased, each magnetic domain takes a smaller area on the platter surface. As a consequence, there arise problems with reading and writing because the heads have to fly very close to the platter and be very sensitive in order to work with such very small domains. And if the platter rotation speed remains the same, the clock rate of the head’s electronics must be increased because the head will spend less time over each domain. A reduction in the domain width makes it harder for the heads to find the necessary domain. And when the head flight height is reduced, the HDD becomes more sensitive to spindle misalignments, platter vibrations and other things that may result in the head just hitting the platter surface on the outermost or innermost tracks with all the ensuing consequences. Thus, the release of HDDs with higher-density platters should be credited not only to the platter makers but also to the suppliers of all the other components.

So, 333GB platters are not the top of the range anymore. 375GB platters made but a short appearance: the growth of the recording density was not big enough to interest the manufacturers. They were preparing for 500GB platters instead: the 50% growth in recording density was a very good objective. It would allow to create absolutely new models: 1TB drives with two platters and 2TB drives with four platters. And now we’ve got such products in our hands. Perhaps they are not perfect but they are the first to come up. The companies that have released them to the market may get some profit by simply offering what the competitors do not have.

Before describing the products, we want to mention the new capacity threshold problem. The last time this problem was encountered when a new addressing method was required in order to overcome the maximum capacity of 127 gigabytes. That was quite a long time ago and could be solved by updating mainboards’ BIOSes. The current problem is of a different nature. The fact is that the maximum size of a partition in the Master Boot Record (the standard method of Windows XP to partition a hard disk) that can be formatted and made a system partition is 2TB sharp. According to the HDD makers’ reckoning 2 terabytes equals 2 trillion (10 to the power of 12) bytes rather than 2 to the power of 41 as OSes think. The latter number is somewhat bigger, so the current HDDs are free from that problem. But if Hitachi returns to a 5-platter design once again and uses 500GB platters, the resulting HDD will be far larger than 2 terabytes and you won’t be able to create a Windows XP partition with the maximum capacity on it.

Of course, this problem is not a disaster. You can (and, in our opinion, even should) create multiple partitions if you’ve got one HDD in your system. And on the other hand, Windows Vista and 64-bit Windows XP support GPT (GUID Partition Table), a different format of a disk partition table that is free from the above-mentioned limitations. But you should be aware that booting Windows from a GPT partition is only possible if your system uses EFI, the new type of the system loader that is going to replace the traditional BIOS. In fact, if your OS is installed on a HDD with an MBR, you can add disks with GPT partitions to it as users usually do when they have RAID controllers with large partitions (2-terabyte partitions are quite a common thing with RAIDs); EFI is only necessary to boot from such disks.

Testing Participants

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB: ST31500341AS

 

The 1.5-terabyte drive is the peak of Seagate’s 11th series. The series began with models that had 250GB platters, then had models with 333GB platters, and now we’ve got a HDD with four 375GB platters. It looks like Seagate does not have too many platters like that. The company did not release a dual-platter 750GB model but limited itself to the 4-platter giant which was the first to step beyond the 1TB milestone. Otherwise, the HDD is a typical representative of this well-known series. Interestingly, the enterprise ES.2 series does not have a 1.5TB model although it used to copy the desktop 7200.11 series in every model. Seagate could not make it reliable enough or decided not to issue it due to marketing reasons.

Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 1TB: ST31000528AS

 

Welcome the 12th generation of Seagate’s 7200rpm drives that includes products with 500GB platters! At the current moment the series offers two dual-platter models with capacities of 1TB and 750GB and a whole lot of single-platter drives ranging from 160 through 500GB. The dual-platter models have 32 megabytes of cache memory whereas the 500GB model is equipped with a 16MB buffer. The junior models have only 8 megabytes of cache. Take note that there are no products with three or four platters in this series although they might have been expected – will any manufacturer miss the opportunity to release a 2TB model ahead of the competition? Of course, we can suppose that Seagate prefers to earn on lower-capacity models in the time of the crisis, yet we are inclined to think that there are technical problems, for example with the balancing of the multi-platter sandwich. The recording density of 500GB per platter brings about very harsh technical requirements after all.

Seagate has also announced the Constellation series with enterprise-oriented products. The series is expected to offer 2TB models but we will only see them in Q3. Seagate’s website does not even name specific models as yet.

Western Digital Caviar Green 2 TB: WD20EADS

 

Having acquired 500GB platters, Western Digital went its habitual way and began by releasing Green series drives, i.e. HDDs with a spindle rotation speed of 5400rpm. Of course, you cannot expect any performance breakthroughs from such products, yet Western Digital is the brand that was the first to market a 2TB drive. That’s a very rapid dash considering that before that release the 1.5TB model from Seagate had been the only 1TB+ hard disk available on the market. In other words, WD increased storage capacity twofold in a single jump! The same WD Caviar Green series with 32MB buffer also includes a 3-platter 1.5-terabyte model. A 1-terabyte drive based on two platters is only a matter of time (the manufacturer is waiting until it has enough platters in stock). We wonder if Western Digital will repeat its trick with releasing models under the same name but with different number of platters as it was the case with the EACS series. We, as consumers, would not want such confusion once again.

Unfortunately, we have not yet got hard disk drives from one more series based on 500GB platters. We mean Samsung’s EcoGreen F2. This 5400rpm series has already been spotted in Japan and is limited to a 1.5-terabyte model as Samsung does not use more than three platters in its drives.

We tried to pick up opponents to the new drives as best as we could. It is all clear with the pair of direct predecessors: a 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 with three platters (ST31000333AS) and a 1TB Western Digital Caviar Green with 32MB buffer (WD10EADS). We also included a Western Digital Caviar Black, which had been the fastest desktop model in our comparative test of 1TB drives.

Specifications and Firmware Versions

The following table lists the specifications and firmware versions of the tested products.

You may wonder why we compare Seagate drives with dangerous rather than updated firmware. The fact is our drives belong to early batches and the serial number check says they do not require an update. This must be the reason why they still work in our tests. On the other hand, we cannot update their firmware because we do not want to take any associated risks.

Testbed and Methods

The following testing utilities were used:

Testbed configuration:

We installed the generic OS drivers for the drives and formatted them in FAT32 and NTFS as one partition with the default cluster size. For some tests 32GB partitions were created on the drives and formatted in FAT32 and NTFS with the default cluster size, too. In every test, save for IOMark and the Defragmentation test, the drives were connected to a Promise SATA300 TX4302 controller installed into a PCI-X slot and had their NCQ support enabled.

We will be using abbreviated names of the HDDs to make the review more readable.

Performance in IOMark

We use our internal IOMark tool for low-level tests. Let’s check out the sequential read speed of the drives first.

Now we can compare the HDDs by the read speed at the beginning and end of the partitions created on them.

We’ve got a very interesting picture here. While it is all clear with the 2TB Western Digital (the 5400rpm drive is as fast as the previous-generation 7200rpm model thanks to increased recording density), things are more complicated with Seagate’s products. The highest speed at the beginning of the partition is delivered by the 1.5TB Barracuda 7200.11 rather than by the Barracuda 7200.12 but the new 2-platter 1TB model has the highest speed at the end of the partition. It looks like Seagate has been unable to ensure correct operation of the heads over the area where sectors run under the head in the shortest time (these are the outermost sectors, as you can guess) and agreed to a certain reduction of recording density in it. And there is one more thing to be noted: Seagate’s drives draw rather smooth data-transfer graphs whereas the new drive from Western Digital has very wild fluctuations of speed at the beginning of the partition. Yes, achieving such a high recording density has not been easy for anyone. With Western Digital, the speed depends heavily on the lucky combination of platter surface and head.

And what about cache memory speed?

The new Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 seems to have new electronics that helps it beat its opponents, including the Barracuda 7200.11 series products. Judging by the shape of the graphs, Seagate’s programmers are working hard on the firmware: the 1.5TB Barracuda 7200.11 model is indicative of their attempt to solve the problem of low performance with data blocks larger than 256 sectors (128 KB). The attempt was not quite successful, though. With the Barracuda 7200.12 the problem is nearly solved for reading: there are but rare slumps instead of peaks on a flat plane. However, the company still has not got rid of the slump of the buffer write speed when the HDD processes large data blocks.

The 2TB drive from Western Digital does not show anything new. The performance hit when writing in large data blocks is not as serious as to require immediate reaction. The developer just wisely follows the old rule: do not repair things that already work!

Performance in IOMeter

Sequential Read & Write Patterns

From the low-level IOMark to the synthetic IOMeter. IOMeter is sending a stream of read and write requests with a request queue depth of 4. The size of the requested data block is changed each minute, so that we could see the dependence of the drive’s sequential read/write speed on the size of the data block. This test is indicative of the maximum speed the drive can achieve.

The numeric data can be viewed in tables. We’ll discuss graphs and diagrams.

Oddly enough, the transition to the new platters does not bring any advantages in terms of linear speed. Perhaps we will see some benefits in the future, but so far the new drives are just as fast as their opponents based on 333GB platters. The 2TB WD Caviar Green is just a little bit ahead of its predecessor. The two new products from Seagate have the same speed which is just slightly higher than that of the 1TB Barracuda 7200.11 series model. They have improved in terms of processing small data blocks, though. The old 1TB model is slower than WD’s 5400rpm Green drives with 4KB and 8KB data blocks whereas the 1.5TB Barracuda 7200.11 drive is as fast as its WD opponents then. The Barracuda 7200.12 is even ahead of every other HDD with small data blocks and reaches its top speed on 4KB blocks.

The overall picture is similar to what we have seen at reading. The Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 is no faster than its opponents with small data blocks anymore, yet is still better than Seagate’s previous products.

Disk Response Time and IOMark: Average Positioning Speed

In this test IOMeter is sending a stream of requests to read and write 512-byte data blocks with a request queue of 1 for 10 minutes. The total number of requests processed by the HDD is over 60 thousand, so we get a sustained response time that doesn’t depend on the HDD’s buffer size.

Well, the 1.5TB model from Seagate is indeed a true representative of the Barracuda 7200.11 series with all its peculiarities including the terribly high response time. We wonder if it has no deferred writing or has problems with small data blocks. The Barracuda 7200.12 model is, on the contrary, good. The new series seems to have got rid of the problems with writing, perhaps even by employing the piece of firmware code that was used in early Barracuda 7200.11 series drives that used to please us with their performance. The new HDD’s read response time is not record-breaking, though. Judging by its noise, its heads are just limited in speed. An interesting fact, IOMark’s results suggest that the HDD supports a noise control system (AAM) that has not been available in Seagate’s products for a long while. And the system is set at 254 by default, i.e. at maximum performance.

The 2TB drive from Western Digital is good, too. Its performance is but slightly worse than the predecessor’s, which means that its heads are moving quickly enough and have no problems finding the necessary track on the high-density platters.

We will do one more test in this section to find the average positioning speed of the drives. The drive is being bombarded with read requests like in the response time test, and we calculate the difference between the LBA addresses of the previous and next requests and divide it by the time it took to perform the request. In other words, we have the distance (in gigabytes) the drive can run through in 1 second. The results are averaged and compared.

Multi-platter drives are superior in this test. The huge recording density of the 2TB WD combined with eight quickly moving heads makes it the fastest drive here with a large lead over the others. The 1.5-terabyte Seagate is good, outperforming the WD Caviar Black. The new 1TB model is worse than its opponents but better than its predecessor even though the latter has six heads.

Random Read & Write Patterns

Now we’ll see the dependence between the drives’ performance in random read and write modes on the size of the data block size. We will only discuss the processing of small data blocks measured in operations per second. With large data blocks, the performance depends on the drive’s sequential speeds.

IOMeter: Random Read, operations per second

There are no surprises when the drives are reading in small data blocks. The standings are the same as in the response time test.

IOMeter: Random Read, megabytes per second

Seagate’s HDDs gain the upper hand as the data chunk grows bigger because they have a higher sequential speed which affects the result of this test at 8MB and larger blocks.

IOMeter: Random Write, operations per second

Judging by the results of writing in small data blocks, new things are not always better. The WD Caviar Black wins the test with an impressive lead. Second place goes to the 1TB WD Caviar Green that beats all of Seagate’s drives despite their higher spindle rotation speed. The Barracuda 7200.12 is actually the only Seagate product to be competitive to the 2TB drive from WD. The Barracuda 7200.11 series have problems have: the 1TB model is just very slow at writing whereas the 1.5TB cannot cope with 2KB or smaller data blocks.

IOMeter: Random Write, megabytes per second

Take note that the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 is much slower than the others until 2MB data blocks. Its high speed of sequential operations helps it thereafter, though.

Database Patterns

In the Database pattern the drive is processing a stream of requests to read and write 8KB random-address data blocks. The ratio of read to write requests is changing from 0% to 100% with a step of 10% throughout the test while the request queue depth varies from 1 to 256.

You can click the following link to view the tabled results for IOMeter: Database pattern.

We will build diagrams for request queue depths of 1, 16 and 256.

Western Digital’s products are excellent under the low load. The Caviar Black is absolutely unrivalled whereas the 1TB Caviar Green is second with its 5400rpm spindle rotation speed. The new 2TB Caviar Green is quite good, too. It is just a little slower than the Barracuda 7200.12 series model, the best of the Seagate team. The Barracuda 7200.11 series is quite poor again: the 1.5TB is just slower than the others while the 1TB model lacks deferred writing altogether.

The standings do not change much as the load grows up except that the 2TB Western Digital slows down somewhat and now competes with the 1.5TB Seagate. Well, that’s anyway a very good performance for a 5400rpm drive with highest-density platters.

We don’t see anything new here but it is interesting to see the new Caviar Green lagging behind the older one at any load. This indicates that the transition to higher-density platters has had a negative effect on the speed in relatively real-life tasks.

To sum up this part of our test session, we will show you diagrams with five queue depths for each of the three new products.

Well, Seagate has managed to bring the firmware back to a more or less good shape when the Barracuda 7200.11 is about to go away. We saw similar results (good request reordering, average-efficiency deferred writing) in the earliest models of this series. And now we see the same in the last, 1.5TB model.

Seagate’s hard disk firmware develops in strange ways. While the other manufacturers are increasing performance, the Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 has a lower efficiency of request reordering in comparison with the previous series. Is it the tradeoff for the lack of problems with random writing in small data blocks? But Western Digital is quite able to combine it with highly efficient firmware. So, Seagate developers have got a lot of work to do yet, and we hope they won’t make the same mistakes as in the previous series.

The largest-capacity drive from Western Digital behaves exactly like every other HDD from that brand.

Web-Server, Fileserver and Workstation Patterns

The drives are tested under loads typical of servers and workstations.

The names of the patterns are self-explanatory. The Workstation pattern is used with the full capacity of the drive as well as with a 32GB partition. The request queue is limited to 32 requests in the Workstation pattern.

The results are presented as performance ratings. For the File-Server and Web-Server patterns the performance rating is the average speed of the drive under every load. For the Workstation pattern we use the following formula:

Rating (Workstation) = Total I/O (queue=1)/1 + Total I/O (queue=2)/2 + Total I/O (queue=4)/4 + Total I/O (queue=8)/8 + Total I/O (queue=16)/16.

When there are only read requests to process, the WD Caviar Black has no rivals (unless you consider its enterprise counterpart from the RE3 series). The two new drives from Seagate are contesting for second place. The 2TB model from WD loses in this test, being slower even than its 1TB predecessor.

The Barracuda 7200.12 model is ahead of the Barracuda 7200.11 one thanks to higher performance at low loads, but the WD Caviar Black is still unrivalled. Higher recording density cannot win this test.

The picture changes dramatically as there appear write requests. Second place now goes to the 1TB WD Caviar Green whereas it 2TB series mate has risen from last position to challenge the new drives from Seagate. The 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 suffers through the lack of deferred writing and loses to everyone else.

The Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 is third but by a narrowest margin. The 1.5TB 7200rpm Seagate gives way to the 2TB WD which has more efficient firmware.

A large number of write requests is combined with variegated load here. As a result, the two new products from Seagate contesting for second place push the 5400rpm drives from WD back. The 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 still suffers through the lack of deferred writing.

Still, the Barracuda 7200.12 series model is somewhat better than the best of the Barracuda 7200.11 series for workstation use. The leader Western Digital Caviar Black is far ahead of its opponents, though.

The picture is radically different when the test zone is limited to 32GB. No wonder as the drives are using a narrow strip of platters, just a few cylinders. In this case the rotation speed, number and density of the platters are the decisive factor. The speed of the heads is not important because they are moving within a very short distance. Therefore it always makes sense to dedicate a small part at the beginning of the disk for a system partition. Then you will have maximum sequential speeds and low response time if you use data from the other partitions less frequently. This is actually the reason why we test hard disk drives under this load.

So, the WD Caviar Black is unable to compete with the higher-density drives from Seagate due to the reasons explained above. Interestingly, the 4-platter Barracuda 7200.11 is faster than the 2-platter Barracuda 7200.12: the recording density of the latter is not so high on the outermost tracks but 32 gigabytes takes fewer cylinders on four than on two platters.

The 2TB Western Digital turns in a very modest performance. It could not outperform even its 1TB series mate. This HDD seems to be far from breaking any performance records. It offers a record-breaking capacity instead.

Multithreaded Read & Write Patterns

The multithreaded tests simulate a situation when there are one to four clients accessing the virtual disk at the same time, the request queue depth varying from 1 to 8. The clients’ address zones do not overlap. We’ll discuss diagrams for a request queue of 1 as the most illustrative ones. When the queue is 2 or more requests long, the speed doesn’t depend much on the number of applications.

As we might have guessed from the sequential read test, the two new products from Seagate are the best at processing one read thread. The WD Caviar Black is better at two threads, though. The notable difference of the Barracuda 7200.12 series firmware shows up then, too: this HDD copes with multithreaded reading better. The Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 even returns to first place when there are even more threads to be processed: the WD Caviar Black and the others lose much speed at four threads.

Take note how similar the results of the two Green drives from WD are (thanks to identical firmware): the 2TB model is a little faster at any number of threads due to its higher recording density.

There is a clear leader at multithreaded writing: it is the Seagate Barracuda 7200.12. Our applaud goes to the authors of the new firmware. The 1.5TB model is also good enough, though.

Performance in FC-Test

For this test two 32GB partitions are created on the disk and formatted in NTFS and then in FAT32. After that a file-set is created. It is then read from the disk, copied within the same partition and then copied into another partition. The time taken to perform these operations is measured and the speed of the disk is calculated. The Windows and Programs file-sets consist of a large number of small files whereas the other three patterns (ISO, MP3, and Install) include a few large files each, the ISO pattern having the largest files.

We’d like to note that the copying test is indicative of the drive’s behavior under complex load. In fact, the HDD is working with two threads (one for reading and one for writing) when copying files.

FC-Test produces too many numbers, so we will only discuss the NTFS data in the Install, ISO and Programs patterns. You can use the links below to view the full results:

Interestingly, Seagate’s HDDs do not show their superb linear speeds in this test even with large ISO files. Their speeds are very slow. WD takes the three top places, the 2TB Caviar Green being as fast as the Caviar Black.

Seagate wins the read test, though. The new models with higher-density platters are not as faster with large files as we might have expected, but they are very good with small files, unlike the old 1TB model. The 2TB WD Caviar Green has a lower growth of speed relative to the 1TB model, too. It is, however, ahead of the Caviar Black with large files.

The speed of copying is largely determined by firmware algorithms and Western Digital is good here. Take note that its drives deliver similar performance irrespective of the spindle rotation speed or recording density. Seagate’s products show a steady growth of speed but we are not sure if it is due to the increased recording density or a progress in firmware algorithms.

Performance in PCMark 2004/2005

PCMark 2005 has the same tests as the 2004 version (not only in names, but also in results as we have seen a lot of times), so we only use one test from PCMark 2004 which is not available in the 2005 version. It is called File Copying and measures the speed of copying some set of files.  The other tests are: Windows XP Startup is the typical disk subsystem load at system startup; Application Loading is the disk activity at sequential starting-up and closing of six popular applications; General Usage reflects the disk activity in a number of popular applications; File Write is about the speed of writing files; and Virus Scan benchmarks the disk’s performance at scanning the system for viruses. The final result of the average of ten runs of each test.

The results of the File Copying test from PCMark differ from what we have seen in FC-Test. Funnily enough, the top two places go to the 5400rpm drives, the older 1TB model being ahead of the newer 2TB one. Third place goes to the new Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 that is somewhat faster than the Western Digital Caviar Black.

The 7200rpm drives leave no chance to the 5400rpm models when launching Windows XP. The 2-platter Seagate is ahead of the Barracuda 7200.11 series models but cannot beat the WD Caviar Black. The latter’s quick heads are a weighty advantage in this test.

We’ve got a similar situation in the Application Loading test: the Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 is second again. This time the 1.5TB drive from the Barracuda 7200.11 series is noticeably faster than its junior mate. There are no changes between the 5400rpm drives: the newer model is still slower than the older one.

The General Usage standings repeat those of the previous test.

Scanning for viruses is highly sensitive to both caching and recording density. As a result, the two new drives from Seagate take top places, the Barracuda 7200.12 being considerably faster. Interestingly, the 2TB Caviar Green beats not only its predecessor but also the 1TB Seagate.

The WD Caviar Black is suddenly too poor at writing files in PCMark. The other drives perform in accordance with the results of the test of sequential writing in large data blocks. The 1.5TB model is in the lead, followed by the Barracuda 7200.12 model. The 2TB Caviar Black is somewhat ahead of its lower-capacity predecessor.

Thanks to its very effective caching in the Virus Scan test and good results in the others, the Seagate 7200.12 comes up the overall winner in PCMark05. The 1.5TB Barracuda 7200.11 is second, outperforming the WD Caviar Black, whereas the 2TB Caviar Green has the lowest overall score. If we compare this to the results of our comparative test of 1TB drives, the Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 is ahead of every model with lower-density platters while the 1.5TB Barracuda 7200.11 follows close behind the leaders.

Performance in PCMark Vantage

To make this part of our test session complete, we are going to run the latest version of PCMark called Vantage. Compared with the previous versions, the benchmark has become more up-to-date and advanced in its selection of subtests as well as Windows Vista orientation. Each subtest is run ten times and the results of the ten runs are averaged.

Here is a brief description of each subtest:

Basing on these subtests, the drive’s overall performance rating is calculated.

When the load is multithreaded (one thread scanning files for viruses), the WD Caviar Black is still the best drive in this test but the new models from Seagate have accelerated, especially the 2-platter Barracuda 7200.12. The third new drive is far from brilliant here.

The Gaming load produces similar results: each new drive from Seagate is better than its predecessor but even the best of them cannot beat the WD Caviar Black.

Two HDDs are much better than the others at loading photos into a photo gallery. These are the WD Caviar Black and the new Seagate with 500GB platters.

The change of the OS into Windows Vista helps the Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 outperform the WD Caviar Black, even though by a smallest margin.  The 5400rpm drives have got closer to the 7200rpm models, yet are still at the bottom of the table, the 2TB model being inferior to its predecessor.

The Movie Maker trace is very odd. It seems to have a lot of writing but is also sensitive to the peculiarities of the drive’s firmware. As a result, Western Digital’s products are better than their opponents here. The Barracuda 7200.12 is the only Seagate to do well in this test, but it can only outperform the worst of the WD drives, which is the 2TB newcomer.

This test shows the efficiency of caching on the HDD. Seagate’s new products are very good: the Barracuda 7200.12 is first while the 1.5TB Barracuda 7200.11 is close to the second-best WD Caviar Black.

Like in most of the previous PCMark tests, the WD Caviar Black is first and followed by the new drives from Seagate.

The Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 outperforms the WD Caviar Black under the abstract load of Application Loading.

The newer version of PCMark running under a different OS change the overall standings somewhat. The WD Caviar Black is on top but the new HDDs from Seagate are close behind. The 2TB WD Caviar Green is always slower than its processor.

Defragmentation

Next goes our homemade test of defragmentation speed. We created a very defragmented file system on a 32GB partition of a hard disk by loading it with music, video, games and applications. Then we saved a per-sector copy of the disk and now copy it to the HDD we want to test. The tested HDD is connected to the mainboard’s SATA controller whose operation mode (AHCI/Standard IDE) is controlled from the mainboard’s BIOS. Next we run a script that evokes the console version of the Perfect Disk 8.0 defragmenter and marks the time of the beginning and end of the defragmentation process. Thus, each drive is tested twice – with AHCI support turned on and off on the controller. You can refer to this article for details about this test.

The test in a real-life application is indicative of the improvements in Seagate’s products. The company’s drives used to be the slowest in this test but the 1.5TB model is good while the Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 even competes with the leaders represented by the WD Caviar Black. The results of the new WD Caviar Green are intriguing: the drive’s performance varies greatly depending on the controller’s mode. 5 minutes of difference is quite a lot!

Power Consumption

You can refer to our article called Hard Disk Drive Power Consumption Measurements: X-bit’s Methodology Indepth for details on this test. We’ll just list the specific modes we measure the power consumption in:

Let’s check out each mode one by one.

The 2TB WD Caviar needs more power than the others on the 12V line when starting up – this is the effect of its extra platter. With Seagate’s products, we can see some progress in the new series: the 1.5TB model is but a little more economical than its predecessor whereas the new Barracuda 7200.12 drive is much more modest. It needs 1 ampere less on the 12V line.

The idle mode results are very interesting. Everything is logical with the new drives from Seagate: the electronics has the same power consumption in the Barracuda 7200.11 models and has become somewhat more economical in the 7200.12. The 12V consumption of these HDDs is proportional to the number of platters in them. The 2TB WD Caviar Green is somewhat disappointing. The 12V consumption might have been predicted because the addition of yet another platter has its consequences (although 1.5 watts is rather too much) but the twice higher consumption of the electronics is hard to explain.

The Green drives are beyond competition at random reading. Still, you should note how high the consumption of the 2TB model has grown up. It pays a lot for the high recording density. Surprisingly enough, the Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 is not much better than its opponents: we should expect more from a disk with two platters.

Deferred writing algorithms come into play at random-address writing. It is interesting to compare the consumption of the electronics with what we’ve seen at reading: it grows up with Western Digital’s products but drops with Seagate’s HDDs. The Green drives are better overall but the high consumption of the 2TB model’s electronics should be noted. There is an interesting thing we can note about Seagate’s products: the new Barracuda 7200.12 is the best of all the 7200rpm drives in this review but is not superior to them in terms of 12V consumption (although it should be theoretically as it has fewer platters). The WD Caviar Black is the worst drive in this test. It has to pay for its advanced electronics and quick heads.

The WD Caviar Green are also better at sequential reading but the 2TB model is just a little better than the 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12: the economy due to the reduced spindle speed is eaten up by the consumption of the platters. However, the 2TB model looks very economical if you compare it with the 1.5TB Seagate.

The Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 is ahead of the 2TB Caviar Green at sequential writing as it has fewer platters and more economical electronics.

Conclusion

We’d like to start summing everything up by answering the question if the transition to new platters has added more speed? Perhaps unexpectedly, our answer is No. The speeds have got higher somewhat, but not much so. Right now, the performance benefits from the transition to new platters (1.5 times the recording density of the older platters) are too small and lower than expected. The race of linear speeds seems to have taken a break. The 500GB platter nut has proved to be too hard to crack. But are things so bad, anyway? We answer with yet another No. 120MBps is the bandwidth limit for the first version of SATA as well as for PCI and PCIe x1 buses which are often used for disk controllers. As of today, it is the peculiarities of firmware that come to the fore. You may have noticed that we are talking about today. It is quite possible that upcoming 500GB-platter models will get rid of the speed-related problems and deliver much higher performance.

As for the new products, the Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 is the only series of HDDs with 500GB platters that have a spindle rotation speed of 7200rpm. The 1TB model is not the fastest on the market, but looks good to us anyway. Seagate has revised its firmware considerably and solved a number of problems. As a result, the new series disk is a perfect choice as a universal HDD. It is fast enough to be not much inferior to the best 1TB drives in sheer speed but is also quiet and cold. We guess it offers an optimal compromise of features, especially as the 7200.11 series had been rather nasty. We do recommend the newcomer for a home computer.

The 1.5-terabyte Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 left an ambiguous impression overall. It is not fast enough to oppose fast 1TB drives, has high power consumption, suffers performance hits under certain loads and – is not the largest-capacity model anymore! There is only one fact to its favor – it costs very modest money for an HDD of its capacity.

The 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green is a bit of a disappointment, too. Frankly speaking, we had expected it to be faster than its 1TB predecessor due to the increased recording density but it is actually slower in most of our tests, being only ahead at sequential operations with files. Anyway, this HDD will have one important advantage over its opponents for the next half a year. There are no other HDDs of that capacity and none is expected soon. Combined with rather low power consumption, this indicates one possible application for this model – storing large amounts of data, on external storage devices in the first place. It will come in handy for NASes that often do not allow increasing the storage capacity easily. This HDD costs quite a lot, however, obviously due to the lack of any competition.