by Andrey Kuznetcov
12/20/2004 | 12:39 PM
At last there’re external hard disk drives from Seagate available, including a 200GB model! It’s better late than never, yes? Seagate has taken a long start, letting its two rivals, Maxtor and Western Digital, come ahead. Users have long been enjoying external HDDs from these two companies, but now they have a chance to variegate their menu thanks to Seagate’s new offering.
That’s good as more players in the same market mean more competition and more choices for the end-user. This should also improve the quality and reduce the cost of the products in the long run.
Today we will examine the 200GB model from Seagate’s new external HDD series to evaluate its advantages.
The appearance makes a good deal in the success of any product and this drive looks most extraordinary. You just can’t confuse it with any other device. The case with curved edges and rounded corners is made of a combination of light and dark gray plastic. The slits in the case improve the heat transfer. The drive is intended to stand upright on a special stand, but it is also functional when lying on its side. On the front panel of the drive there is a backup button and two LED indicators (power and disk activity). Two USB ports, one FireWire port, a power connector and a power-on button are located on the drive’s rear panel.
The technical characteristics of the device are determined by the use of a 200GB hard disk drive with a spindle rotation speed of 7200rpm and a cache buffer of 8MB. The manufacturer specifies an average seek time of 8.5 milliseconds and a max data-transfer speed of 58MB/s. The drive supports the two widespread interfaces, USB 2.0 and FireWire, for an easy connection to the computer. The device can be used in a temperature range of 0 to 60°C; its dimensions are 183 x 165 x 57mm, and it weighs 1.17kg.
The drive comes with a user manual, a power adapter, USB and FireWire cables, and a CD with BounceBack Express data backup utility.
The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $220.
We used two programs to check out the operational characteristics of the 200GB external drive from Seagate: WinBench 99 2.0 and FC-Test 1.0.
We attached the device to the USB 2.0 controller integrated into the ICH5 South Bridge and then to a PCI FireWire controller based on the VIA VT6307 chip. We tested the drive using the generic drivers of the OS. The drive was formatted in FAT32 and NTFS as one partition with the default cluster size. In some cases, specially mentioned below, we created 32GB partitions (FAT32 and NTFS, default cluster size).
We will compare the results of the new hard disk drive from Seagate to three external HDDs from Maxtor and Western Digital that have 250MB capacity (see our article called External 250GB HDD from Maxtor: OneTouch II E01G250 Review, for example).
First, we want to show you two data-transfer graphs we got in WinBench 99 when using the two supported interfaces.
The first graph shows an ideally straight line at about 32MB/s, while the second graph is step-like. This difference arises because the potential performance of the drive is limited by the effective bandwidth of the interface. The use of FireWire helps to raise this performance ceiling and to realize the drive’s speed potential – the steps look similar to the graphs hard disk drives with Parallel or Serial ATA interfaces would have.
Let’s first examine the results we have when the drive is attached via USB 2.0.
The first table and diagram reflect the case when the drive’s entire capacity is formatted in FAT32. The performance rating of the Seagate drive is so bad here that we can’t help suspecting some side factor. Probably the drive’s firmware doesn’t work correctly with WinBench 99 or with the FAT32 clusters. Anyway, the measured performance is too low to be true.
When one 32GB partition is used, the Seagate drive doubles its performance, but we still feel the results are lower than they should be. So, again, the results of the Seagate leave more questions than give answers.
Now, here’s a miracle to you: the Seagate has got an excellent Disk WinMark score in NTFS! It also has a much higher Business Disk WinMark score than any of its opponents.
It’s different when a 32GB partition is used: the Seagate goes down to the fourth place by the High-End Disk WinMark score, yet it is still the best in Business Disk WinMark.
Now we attach the drives across a FireWire connection and repeat the tests.
And again the Seagate is terribly slow in FAT32 – now we are sure this is not a fault of the interface controller we attach the drive to.
When working with a 32GB partition, the Seagate improves its Disk WinMark score, but cannot leave the last place in the table of results.
NTFS is doing wonders to the Seagate drive: it is the second best in High-End Disk WinMark and by far the best in Business Disk WinMark.
When a 32GB partition is created on the drives, they retain their respective places; the certain growth of the High-End Disk WinMark score doesn’t yet allow the Seagate drive to improve its position in the table of results.
FC-Test allows measuring the performance of a hard disk drive in real-life tests. The hard disk drives are evaluated by their success at processing certain file patterns. The speed is calculated basing on the time it takes the drive to perform the writing, reading and copying of the patterns.
Windows and Programs patterns consist of many small-size files, while MP3, ISO and Install patterns include fewer files of a bigger size. For the copy operations two 32GB partitions are created on the drives. The patterns are then copied within one partition (copy near) and from one partition to another (copy far).
First, we attach the drives via the USB 2.0 interface.
NTFS comes first. The diagram above shows the file creation (i.e. write) speeds of the drives and, as you see, the Seagate is on the losing side in almost all of the patterns with the only exception of the ISO pattern where it takes the second place. You may note that the Seagate has the worst performance in comparison with the other drives in the two patterns that include numerous small-size files.
The read operation improves the situation for the Seagate that can be considered third in this test. Here, the gap between it and the leaders isn’t very big.
When copying files within one partition, the Seagate looks confident enough. It is the fastest in three patterns and took second and third places in the remaining two patterns.
The last diagram also speaks of a good performance of the Seagate drive as it wins three patterns out of five in the copy-far test and takes one second and one third place in the other two patterns.
We switch to FAT32 now. The performance of the Seagate is worse here than in NTFS – it is the slowest in all the patterns. Yet, there’s no that catastrophic performance degradation in FAT32 that we have seen in WinBench.
The Seagate takes the third overall place in this test.
When copying files within one partition, the Seagate falls far behind its opponents in the two patterns that are made up of many small files. In the remaining three patterns the Seagate is second and third.
The last diagram of this group shows the speeds of the drives as they are copying files from one partition to another. The Seagate is the slowest in Windows and Programs patterns (i.e. with small files), but takes the second place in the other patterns.
Now we attach the drives to a FireWire port and run the test once again.
The first diagram shows the file creation speeds in NTFS. The Seagate looks best of all in the three patterns that consist of large files – in these cases it is only inferior to the Maxtor OneTouch II. When processing small files, the Seagate loses its round and lags far behind both drives from Maxtor.
We can’t name a winner in the read test as all the drives show similar results. The Seagate is the best in the Windows pattern.
This diagram shows how well the drives are copying files within one partition. The Seagate look good and can be considered the best by the total result of all the patterns.
It’s all principally the same in the copy-far test. Once again the Seagate has the first place by the total of the five patterns. It is most confident with small files once again.
Now we format the drives in FAT32. The first diagram that shows the write speeds of the drives says the Seagate is slower than the others.
Seagate improves its reputation in the file read test. Although it is still far behind the leader, the Maxtor OneTouch II, it delivers almost the same performance as the two other opponents.
The Seagate seems to take the overall third place in this test – a little behind the Maxtor OneTouch of the first generation.
The Seagate shows a higher efficiency when copying files from one partition to another. It now takes the second place in three patterns and the third in the other two patterns.
Now there is one manufacturer of external hard disk drives more in this world. Seagate’s entrance into this market will surely increase the level of competition and give a reason for the rest of the players to improve their produce and reduce its cost. Seagate’s new drive features a very original design and a universal connectivity thanks to the support of two interfaces. As for the performance factor, our tests reveal some unpleasant things like surprisingly low results in WinBench 99 when FAT32 is in use. This is probably due to incorrect operation of the drive’s controller or firmware with this particular benchmark. For example, we didn’t have the same problem in FC-Test.
Of course, we can’t compare the Seagate drive to its opponents in our tests directly since they have different capacities. Anyway, the Seagate is almost everywhere slower than the Maxtor OneTouch II which has a serious advantage in the form of its 16MB buffer. Still, if we neglect the incomprehensible FAT32 results in WinBench, the Seagate is overall similar to the first-generation OneTouch from Maxtor and is slightly faster than the product from Western Digital. Of course, the prospects of a product in the market are also determined by its pricing, and the price of Seagate’s 200GB external hard disk drive was quite competitive at the time of our writing this review.