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Review: Seagate's 750GB Barracuda

Huge doesn't mean slow. The first 3/4-terabyte Perpendicular Magnetic Recording drive from Seagate has both the capacity and the speed to deliver data for high-demand applications like digital media.

The 7200.10 is part of a line of Barracuda drives ranging in size from 40GB to 750GB that use PMR. As media moves more and more onto hard drives and as resolutions go up and up, whether you're talking about digital images or HD video, storage space continues to be the final frontier. The challenge is to be able to cross that frontier faster so you don't get bogged down in between bits, and we're happy to report that the 7200.10 provides both ample size and speed to do the job.


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From the outside the Seagate 7200.10 looks like just another hard drive, which it is, but more so.
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Perpendicular Recording Technology
PMR is It's made possible by a something called "Tunneling Magnetoresistive Effect" which was discovered back in 1975, but wasn't of much practical value for hard drives until 1995, when a room temperature version was finally developed. The upside of this effect is that you can read data "through" a disk, rather than by just dropping down over it, but the challenge is that you have to get contact to the surface in order to do it. For those of you who were around in the early days of hard drives the thought of something touching the disk should make you want to run screaming out of the room, but these drives have special shielding on the top and bottom of the platters. That said, it's still new tech, and only time will tell, but Seagate's five year warranty, which is considerably longer than most, should at least say something about their confidence.

Back in 2002 Dr. Mark Kryder, Seagate senior vice president of Research waxed enthusiastic about the technology. "Perpendicular recording is projected to achieve real densities as high as one terabit per square inch (Tb/in2) equivalent to storing over one full terabyte (1000 gigabytes) of information or nearly 500 DVD movies on a single 3-inch disc." Looks like they're almost there. It's a good thing we knew that the 7200.10 was an exciting techno-tour-de-force, or its plain old drive casing would have evoked yawns when we unpacked it. Aside from the still slightly SATA interface there's no outward sign that anything interesting is going on here, which is as it should be. Since it's a SATA drive, there's no master or slave setting, but you can move a jumper to select either SATA 1.5Gb/s or 3Gb/s but we used the default (1.5 Gb/s).

Installation was straightforward, and after a bit of partitioning and a quick format we were ready to run some tests. For the job we used the Sandra 2007 suite from SiSoftware and ran the drive in an HP 7260N workstation.


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Sandra 2007's drive speed benchmark (green line) for the 7200.10 is suitably impressive.

The results were suitably impressive, especially when compared to the 7290N's standard disk, a perfectly acceptable 300 GB/ 7200 RPM SATA disk, which benchmarked at 37 MB/s on its read test. The 7200.10 came in with a score almost exactly double that: 73 MB/s and yes, you could really tell the difference when retrieving large files. I'm sorry to say my write tests weren't quite as scientific, but since the Sandra package won't write to a disk with content I satisfied myself with saving a large (862 MB) file from Adobe Photoshop 7.0, to each drive and came back with 70 and 55 seconds respectively, giving the 7200.10 a 30% faster write. Sandra 2007 provides a number of other drives for comparison, but none of them came close.

Two things made us cautious about the drive, first being heat and the second noise. We monitored it at about 50C (about 120) which was warm enough to be painful to the touch. Accordingly we wouldn't recommend installing this in a housing without good airflow. Secondly, it makes a fair amount of noise during reads and writes, possibly because the heads are actually making contact with the shield layer. Neither of these points make us less enthusiastic about the drive, but they're considerations that buyers ought to be aware of.

Conclusion
With a modest price tag of $590, you're getting pretty good deal for new tech, though 79 per GB is a bit higher than other 7200 RPM drives. We're seeing street prices down to the low $400s though, which bring it right in line. The speed and capacity are significantly better than other drives to make it worth considering for media storage, but the newness of the technology, as well as some concern about heat and noise make it prudent to keep this data backed up, especially during the first year of these drives use.

Though the first PMR3.5-inch desktop drive to market, it won't be unusual for long, and others are already bringing this technology out in their own drives. For now though, this Barracuda remains the biggest, fastest fish in the drive world, and we're going to enjoy filling it up, bit by bit.


Barracuda 7200.10
Seagate Technology
www.seagate.com
Price: $590
Summary: The demands on hard disks are rising, but Perpendicular magnetic Recording technology, huge 3/4-terabyte capacity, and great spead mean Seagates 7200.10 is up to the challenges.

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