Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 HDD - 9th generation emerges

We've got Seagate's latest and impressive Barracuda 7200.9 HDD on the test bench with 500GB and 16MB of cache.
Published Sun, Dec 4 2005 11:00 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:26 PM CDT
Rating: 95%Manufacturer: Seagate


IntroductionHard disk drives, one of the oldest forms of storage in the PC, are still being used to this day. Granted they have had a number of changes, they are still using the same principles that were used at their invention, a spinning metal disk inside a vacuum sealed container with magnetic heads to read and write data to and from the drive.

Over the past 10 years we have seen speeds increase not only in the rotation speed of the drive but also the transfer protocol, from a mere 5MB/s now up to speeds hitting 300MB/s. Its easy to see where the slowest part of your PC still lies, the magnetic storage units like HDD's and FDD's.While still the slowest part of the PC, hard disk companies like Seagate have put as much time and effort as they humanly can into increasing the abilities of the current technology, and building on the future of the HDD market. Today we have in our labs the Seagate Barracuda 7200.9, Seagate's 9th generation desktop hard disk drive. This drive is built on the same technology that saw the 7200.8 dominate the HDD market and added some extra features to the mix.So how does it stack up compared to its predecessor? Come and take a look.

All the details about the drive

Drive ModelsFirst off before we dive into this review, we want to take a look at the Seagate strategy behind the new 7200.9 series. Seagate with the new line of drives intends to replace its current desktop line with one model from the ground up. With the 7200.8, there were only certain models available; sizes below 120GB would have required you to go back to the 7200.7 generations, not this time around though.

The 7200.9 series has models with the following specifications, 40, 80, 120, 160, 200, 250, 300, 400 and 500GB models respectively. This is truly the first drive to support all the HDD requirements from base system all the way to high end storage capacity of the lechers like me out there. What makes this line up unique are the different specifications that accompany each drive.For example, there are drives with 2MB cache, 8MB cache and 16MB caches depending on what version and sizes are chosen. The 40GB drives are the base model but mostly we won't see these on the retail market, OEM and system integrators will use these. This drive runs at 7200RPM with a single 40GB platter and a single read/write head. This dive uses the lowest amount of cache being 2MB and is available in PATA or SATA configuration.The 80, 120 and 160GB models use the same setup only you can get them in either a 2MB cache or 8MB cache model with SATA or PATA connectors.The 200 and 250GB models are set with an 8MB cache only with the 300, 400 and 500MB models using the full 16MB cache for the ultimate performance.Compatibility and SpecificationsThe Seagate 7200.9 is the first to market desktop hard disk drives that are SATA 2.5 spec compliant. This has become quite confusing, in fact we even was wondering what was the deal between SATA-II and the new SATA 2.5 specifications.In an attempt to try and remove some of the confusion, we are going to try and best explain the SATA-II and SATA 2.5 specs.Myths and FactsFirst and foremost, SATA-II is not actually a standard, but was the name of the first group of companies that came up with the additional requirements in order to become compliant with the latest high speed hard drive technologies. Though this hasn't actually stopped quite a few hard disks to come out claiming SATA-II support, although technically in order to get SATA-II compliant you only need to support two of the additional SATA extensions created by the now SATA International Organisation or known as SATA-IO. The new extensions are 3gbps transfer rate, Staggered Spin up, Speed Spectrum Clocking, Hot Plug, e.SATA, Hot Swap Native Command Queuing and click connect.SATA 2.5 is actually a specification created by the SATA-IO. In order to obtain SATA 2.5 quality you must support ALL of the SATA-II extensions in the one drive, which we are pleased to say that the new Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 series does as well as automatic step down.Another myth is that SATA 3G will dramatically increase the HDD speed, this is somewhat wrong. The SATA 3G connections is only between the motherboards controller and the Hard Disk cache. This means that if you pull something out of the HDD cache, you will get the full 300MB/s transfer rate, however, to retrieve something from the magnetic disks, you are back to the conventional speeds of HDD read and write delays and access times, which end up slowing the drive to around 754K/s across the platters.e.SATAAnother of the new features that hasn't been elaborated on is e.SATA. Companies like Highpoint have been producing their own proprietary version of e.SATA; however, unless you use a Highpoint enclosure and highpoint controller, you won't be getting anywhere. e.SATA dramatically changes this with a new external universal port that will be used on external SATA enclosures that will support all of the SATA 2.5 specifications along with the ability to increase the cable lengths to over two meters in length due to higher shielded cables and better case grounding.Another feature of the SATA 2.5 standards is the new Port Selector and Port Multipliers. Theses aren't part of the requirements to gain SATA 2.5 compliancy for drives, as they are designed to aid in the addition of additional SATA ports on motherboards.Port MultiplierThe Port Multiplier works for SATA as the Hub works for USB, with some minor differences. Unlike USB, SATA is a Point to Point Direct connection between the hard disk controller and the onboard motherboard controller.This means that you can't use a port multiplier to give yourself the same access features of USB. What we mean here is that a port multiplier will allow you to turn one Serial ATA data port into 4, 6, 8 or as many as the port multiplier PHY will allow. This does allow you to connect up all your drives, and in turn, Windows or your chosen OS will detect all the drives, however, you can't read and write simultaneously to the drives. If for example you want to retrieve data on drive 1 while writing to drive 2 at the same time, these transfers are done in order of operation. Since the port multiplier has to swap each drive over to allow the system to read and write to them, you won't get access to each drive simultaneously like you can with USB devices on the one hub.This doesn't mean though you can't copy from one drive to another on the multiplier or use the HDD's on the multiplier to create a RAID array. It just means that you won't get the speed benefits that having the drives on separate ports like current SATA setups; it's just a way of increasing storage without increasing the amount of circuitry needed.Port SelectorPort Selector is going to be one of the big hits for small PC offices or users who want to share a single HDD with two PCs. The Port Selector works similar to how old data switches used to work. What you have is an external HDD in an enclosure with two e.SATA ports on the back.You then plug the SATA cables up to two separate PC's and both PC's can see the drive in Windows, but like the port multiplier, only one PC can physically send and receive data to the drive at a time, just like how LPT printer switches work with two PC's and a single printer.Staggered Spin UpThis was quite confusing when we first heard about it. At the Seagate media briefing we learnt something that we never thought was possible.Staggered spin up is a feature that allows drives to come on in a sequence in order to avoid massive drains on the PSU. Imagine having five or more SATA drives in a single PC. When you start this PC, you would have a massive drain on the PSU's 12v and 5v rails. This would cause even the most powerful PSU to struggle at start up.Staggered spin up allows the drives to start up in channel order allowing drive on channel 1 to start, then channel 2 and so on until all drives are started. Staggered spin up is supported on SATA 2.5 boards. After all the drives spin up, the BIOS gets the queue to detect the HDD's on the SATA channels and booting continues unhindered. This feature has been reserved to SCSI drives and not seen in the retail drive market until the now with SATA 2.5.

Physical Unit under Examination

Taking a closer look at the drive
Physically the drive doesn't look any different than that of the past three generation of drives. The Seagate Barracuda ATA-V was the first to adopt the simple look that the Seagate drives now entail, making them easy to spot in the stores.

The back of the drive houses the SATA port and DATA ports. The SATA DATA port has been redesigned to take the new click connect cables that lock into the drive and prevent accidental release during transport. A number of OEM's have complained to the SATA-IO over the cables popping out of their PC's during transport to the local stores and consumers. Though the data port has changed, the power has remained the same and is also prone to sometimes popping out - perhaps a new power plug is in order?Unlike Western Digital, there is no 4 pin Molex power connector on the back for legacy, this is a requirement for SATA 2.5 to remove this power connector and use the SATA power with the 3.3v rail to support Staggered Spin up.
The underside of the drive is almost identical to that of the 7200.8 models with a few exceptions. First the controller chip has been upgraded from the pervious series to support the latest 300MB/s data transfer rates to the cache. Second the cache chip location has been moved, rather than 2x8MB cache chips like on the 7200.8, the latest drives with 16MB use a single Hynix 16MB chip sandwiched between the PCB and the underside of the drive.While there is no definitive reason why the board still contains the trace wires for the other cache chip, we were told on drives in the ultra high performance and capacity ranges above 500GB will make their way into the market in the near future with up to 32MB of cache memory. Certainly this will increase the speed of SATA 2.5 drives with more cache memory meaning faster transfers from the HDD to PC logic.
Here we see the Agree YUMACPA2-E16 silicon chip. This handles the SATA 2.5 interface to the motherboard. This chip automatically senses the speed of the connection to the PC logic and setups its speed accordingly. This drive requires no jumper settings to lower it back to SATA-150 speeds if you place it on an older SATA generation board, a handy feature, as WD drives would require a jumper setting in order to make them work on a number of boards.InstallationInstall of the drive was totally painless as with SATA you simply plug and play. There are no Master/Slave jumpers. All drives are a master. SATA removes paired drives and gives each drive a point to point connection to the PC. After installing the drive we formatted the drive under the NTFS dos environment and ghosted a copy of Windows onto the drive and bingo, Windows loaded without a single problem.We also did a complete install without Ghost to make sure the drive would be recognised from scratch, without a hitch we saw our drive under the Windows XP install with a full 500GB ready to go.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and PCMark

Test System SetupProcessor: Intel Pentium 820 (800MHz FSB) (Supplied by Intel)Memory: 2x 512MB Corsair DDR2-800Motherboard: ASUS P5WD2 Premium WiFi (Supplied by ASUS)Graphics Card: ATI Radeon X800XT Platinum (Supplied by ASUS)Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP SP2We're comparing the brand new Seagate Barracuda against the previous generation 7200.8 and the Western Digital Caviar SE to see which drive offers the best performance in a range of tests.The ASUS P5WD2 Premium motherboard supports SATA-II interface through the ICH7R south bridge and all drives were connected to the system and tested using this chip.PCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used: 2005 Build 1.1.0Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
PCMark is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other benchmarks.
Here we can see that the latest generation Seagate manages to slightly pass its previous model, while at the same time, stamp on the Western Digital Caviar SE drive.

Benchmarks - HD Tach

HD TachVersion and / or Patch Used: 3.0Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.comProduct Homepage:

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