Seagate Barracuda 7200.11

1/17/2008

Author: Dominick V. Strippoli

"The Raptor Says to the Barracuda: I challenge you to a duel!"

Reviews of Seagate's latest SATA Barracuda iteration, dubbed the 7200.11 have been floating all over the internet claiming that the drive gives a Western Digital Raptor 150 a run for its money and than some. The new Seagate drive is offered in capacities of up to 1 TB, using the SATAII standard, and using a 7200 RPM rotational speed. A major difference in the latest iteration of the Barracuda is the upgrade to a 32MB cache/buffer. The onboard HDD cache upgrade to this size was unheard of in the SATA industry until Seagate and Samsung brought out these newer drives. The manufacturer is claiming a drive that seeks comparably to other top of the line large capacity drives. Seagate also claims sustained throughput higher than any other SATA drive we have seen so far. The drive specs are top notch on paper, and it seems to be a perfect candidate to put up directly against the infamous Western Digital Raptor 150. And so the Raptor says to the Barracuda: "I challenge you to a duel!"

The drive was instantly recognized by the bios and operating system installation. There is a rumor floating around that is apparently true. Some 7200.11 drives that were shipped from Seagate have a glitch in the firmware that cap the full 32MB cache on the drive to 8MB. If you own one of these original drives, you are going to have to flash to the latest firmware in order to achieve full performance spec of the HDD. We were lucky enough to have a later production drive with upgraded firmware. Something else interesting is the SATAII 300 MB/s jumper on the back of the drive. The manufacturer has a compatibility jumper automatically set to limit drive specification to the SATAI 150 MB/s standard. To realize full theoretical maximum spec of the drive, please remove the small grey jumper that you see in the picture below to enable full SATAII spec.

 

Immediately following operating system installation we ran an HDTach benchmark to get an early pre-test synthetic measurement. To our surprise the drive pulled an astounding 89 MB/s sustained read across the entire 500GB partition. This would be compared to an average read of 81 MB/s that our Raptor pulled across its own 150 GB Partition. In the overlay chart you can clearly see the sustained throughput advantage of the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11. Even more amazing is the fact that simply creating a 50GB boot partition for your operating system will guarantee you STR's of 100+ MB/s. As a side note, you can also clearly see the significant difference in access time between the two drives.

 

Synthetic Testing Results

We are going to be focusing on the new Seagate 7200.11 500GB Barracuda and comparing it to the Western Digital Raptor 150, a staple drive in computing technology. As always, to appease different types of readers I like to include a little of both synthetic testing and real world testing. We will be using the same testing methodology as our previous storage articles. As usual, I will start off with our disclaimer regarding "real world testing": With all of our real world testing, we use the old fashioned stop watch method of analysis using a hand held Casio stop watch. Although our results will be as close to perfect as humanly possible, you always have to factor in a slim margin of error. The first synthetic result will be based on HDTach by Simpli Software.

Since we have already discussed the clear advantage of sustained throughput on the Seagate drive. We can now take a closer look at Random Access time on both drives. There is a clear 54% advantage when using the Raptor in random read situations on the drive. For those of you unfamiliar with random I/O's, it is the majority of OS operation when not writing to the drive. Example: Booting the OS, booting applications/games, reading from the page file. The closer your RAT (Random Access Time) is to "0" the quicker and more fluid your operating system environment will appear to be.

Although HDTach is a widely used and well known benchmark. My personal opinion, as well as the opinion of many enterprise readers will definitely agree that IOMeter is the closest you are going to get to "dead on" accurate when measuring your HDD performance. If you take a look at the results above you, the Raptor gets absolutely thrashed in both sustained read and sustained write operations. There is close to a 25% advantage using the newer Barracuda drive. Why is there such a large differentiation between the IOMeter results and the HDTach results? Easy, IOMeter gives you the ability to decide how large and where you want your testing capacity stored. For this test, I chose to use a 50GB max partition on the Seagate drive, rather than using the entire 500 GB of the drive. We have achieved an astounding 104 MB/s sustained write and 105 MB/s sustained read on a 7200 RPM mechanical drive. This means as long as you create below a 100GB partition on this drive for your operating system and page file, you can benefit from 100+ MB/s sustained throughput. I honestly feel that this is a breakthrough in traditional SATA drive technology.

The next synthetic benchmark is the PCMark2005 Hard Drive Test Suite.

This is where we really start to see the beginning of a duel taking place before us. In certain operations you see that the Barracuda has the advantage, in other operations the Raptor has the advantage. In the PCMark2005 General Usage specification, you can clearly see that the Raptor does indeed have a 25% lead over the Seagate drive.

We are now moving on to our server level testing portion using a widely known benchmarking tool called IOMeter. IOMeter is used to test all aspects of your file system completely, both in single threaded and multi threaded (server level applications). The measurement is called IOP's, or input/output operations per second and is the standard measurement for all enterprise systems. We are going to be testing with a specific focus on server level/multi-threaded performance. Our test configuration will display the standard database/web server benchmarks of Random Reads (100% non sequential) at 4k and 8k, as well as maximum IOP'S using a 512 byte access specification (100% non sequential). To get these results, a minimum of a 10GB capacity configuration is stored on the volume and 20 outstanding I/O's are selected.

Let us put these results into a better perspective for the average reader. Put a standard Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 in a 2 drive RAID redundancy setup on an 8k based web server. This server will only be random reading to customers on the Internet. There will be zero writing to the volume, and only short random reads of heavy traffic constantly all day long. That is our application. The Raptor has a clear 32% advantage in performance over the newer Seagate drive in an 8k based web server configuration.

To examine Random Write IOP's I will go ahead and put together another scenario. Let us hypothetically use a two drive redundant array of 7200.11 Barracudas. The application is a large scale corporate LAN based database. The database is constantly being bombarded with random write operations all day long. Using 8k as our example, once again the RAID array of WD Raptor 150's will perform right around 39% faster than the Seagate's using this specific type of application. Clearly the Raptor has a significant advantage in traditional server applications.


 

Real World Testing

We will now move on to non synthetic "real world" testing. Our first test will be booting Windows Vista Ultimate Edition 32-bit. The timed reading you see in the screenshot is the average of 5 startups and shutdowns on the drives. Vista boot time is measured from as soon as you see the first bar move on the Vista screen and timing is stopped when the mouse on the hourglass stops loading services/resident programs on the desktop.

Now we can see where the brute force of drive latency using a 10,000 RPM rotational speed come to take the crown back from the Seagate. Drive access time clearly displays a much faster operating system boot speed using the Raptor. The Raptor is 15% quicker than the Seagate when booting Windows Vista Ultimate. Most noticeable on the test bench was not the amount of bars (because they did stay identical), but the welcome screen hangs for an extra few seconds, and the ATI catalyst software and network drivers take much longer to load to the taskbar when compared to the Raptor.

The next test is going to be gaming load testing. Each of the games were timed for three separate readings, with a windows reboot between each reading. The times you see are the average between the three readings.

As you can see in all of the games, using the Raptor we are averaging a load speed increase of 7% over the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11. This is also in fact due to access time and the random read capability of the Raptor. Although the Raptor is definitely a tad faster on paper when using my stop watch, the drive is honestly not that much faster when loading games. For home gaming users considering price to performance, when partitioning this drive properly I do think the Seagate will be an excellent choice for gaming. Although, for the quickest possible I/O's the Raptor is definitely the winner in gaming.

As I promised previously, we are now moving on to more write intensive real world testing. The next test is a combined read/write operation. Various applications are timed for total installation time using the progress bar indicator. The install programs are launched from the desktop and installed to the program files directory measuring both read/write performance at the same time.

Again, as stated previously each drive has its own characteristics that perform better in our little drive competition here. Reading and writing to the HDD is considered an everyday task for most users. You can see above you that the Seagate Barracuda has an 11% overall speed advantage when installing software due to raw throughput.

Our last real world test will be a standard Windows Vista 1 gigabyte and 4 gigabyte folder copy (from drive to drive) test. We take a folder with over 100 individual files totaling a 1 gigabyte and 4 gigabyte folder capacity and we simply copy and paste to a new location on the drive.

In our folder copy test, the Seagate Barracuda clearly displays an overall pouncing on the Raptor of an average of 30%. In the real world, this equates to a much stronger drive for video editing, photo editing, encoding, and working with larger files. For video editing "buffs" this new Barracuda has the sustained throughput to transfer files on a comparable level to 15,000 RPM SAS drives. The Barracuda is offered in a 1TB capacity making it a very nice choice for video/graphic editing or a data drive.


 

Our last portion of the review is self explanatory. We are going to include some drive acoustics, temperature, and power consumption measurements.

Because of the rotational speed of the Raptor, acoustically it is a much louder drive having an idle dB measurement the same as a full seek loaded dB measurement on the Barracuda. The edge goes to the Seagate drive in noise pollution. :)

Drive temperature was also measured. At all times we keep a full speed 120mm fan blowing on the front of each of the drives. After powering up the drives and letting them idle for 30 minutes, we can see a temperature below 30*C.  After 2 hours of heavy duty IOMeter write testing we can see that the Raptor has a delta change of 5*C and the Seagate still remains below 30*C with a 2*C delta change in temp. Again we see the edge going to Mr. Barracuda.

Power consumption is very close. The Seagate drive uses less wattage during idle but uses about 1 more watt during full load. In power consumption the Raptor has a negligible 1W advantage.


 

In conclusion, we see that our little drive duel was enough to impress even King Arthur and his mighty knights. Both drives are very close in performance and each have there own specific areas where they stand out. We can break down performance spec into 5 areas: General Usage and Loading, Drive Throughput, Server Testing, Read/Write Combined Testing, and finally Drive Function.

When booting the operating system, games, in game loading, application loading and when using the OS environment the Raptor is going to have a slight advantage in performance because of its access time. This advantage differs but tends to be right around the 7% to 15% mark. PCMark05 gave us an analysis of 25% faster for the Raptor. Although PCMark is a synthetic benchmark, it does give you a rough idea of the Raptors general OS performance advantage. On the other hand, drive throughput is going to be greatly enhanced when using the Seagate 7200.11. This is a very appeasing characteristic to many users considering a video/graphic editing station or users that work with larger files. Not only does the Seagate drive beat out the Raptor, but it puts a pretty good butt whooping on it by around 30% in the real world.

In our server testing portion using an 8k IOMeter benchmark, we had discovered that in a full random read web server configuration the Raptor has a huge advantage in performance by around 30%. The Raptor also clearly has a 40% advantage when used in a database server with full random writing to the drive. This is highly based on sheer brute force of drive access time.

In our combined testing of read/write installation the Seagate again has a slight advantage of around 11%. Realistically the Seagate is going to have a minor advantage in installing all of your software. Will this be noticeable to a user coming from a WDRaptor 150? Absolutely not. If the stop watch was not used, I highly doubt I would be able to notice any difference in installation time between the drives.

Our last breakdown will be Drive Function. The Seagate is acoustically barely audible during idle/load transitions while the Raptor is audible at idle, and is completely audible anywhere in the room at full seek load. Drive temperature of the Seagate Barracuda has been no higher than 28*C full seek load, while the Raptor has been up to 33*C after 2 hours of full seek load. Power consumption gives a slight 1W advantage to the Raptor but all in all, the difference in load consumption is negligible.

We have two very strong drives that have unique strengths and weaknesses. Is the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 fast enough to be used as our OS/Page File/Game/App drive? Although the Seagate is incredibly fast, as a general usage OS drive we still feel that the Raptor will be the quickest out of the two. This is based solely on sheer access time and latency of random read I/O's. On the other hand, a video/graphic editing station and anyone with a tendency to work with large files would be much better off using the Seagate. In this category, the Seagate fully dominates the Raptor in all aspects. Drive throughput on the Barracuda is phenomenal. Someone holding off for Solid State Technology pricing to drop may still consider picking up a combination of these two drives. Using the Raptor as your boot drive, and purchasing a Seagate 7200.11 in a 750GB or 1TB capacity for your DATA drive. There was some fierce competition at hand today, and we love it!

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