Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1816



Introduction

The 7200.7 line brought us drives with capacities between 40GB to 200GB in PATA version as well as the native SATA (as opposed to bridged SATA solutions) versions with 1.5Gb/sec transfer rates and optional Native Command Queuing, and as you can guess from the name, 7200RPM spindle speeds throughout the entire line. After the 7200.7 series, Seagate decided to split the 7200.x family into two separate lines when introducing the 7200.8 series. The new model carried capacities in the 250GB to 400GB range, again, with both PATA and SATA interfaces, so the 7200.8 was a continuation to higher capacities.


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Today, Seagate officially announces the joining of the 7200.7 and 7200.8 drives with its 7200.9 line of hard disk drives. The new line ranges from 40GB to 500GB and has models with 2MB, 8MB, or a whopping 16MB buffer. The release of the 7200.9 product line announces the 9th generation of Seagate's 7200RPM desktop hard drives and they conform to the latest in SATA standards ("SATA 2.5"), including the 3Gb/sec transfer rates.

The 7200.9 line of hard disk drives brings an end to the separation of powers and is aimed at mid to high end desktop and gaming PCs, media PCs, and low end servers. This classification gives us a bit of insight at the pricing of these new drives, but we will look into the costs of Seagate's new line of mid-performance hard drives a bit later. Right now, we'd like to cover some information that we received during a technical briefing with Seagate's 7200.9 product marketing manager.



The 7200.9 Series

On the outside, the 7200.9 drives look identical to the 7200.7 and 7200.8 series of desktop drives. On the inside, the 7200.8 line was the first to incorporate the highest density platters to date in their 400GB version drive at 133GB per platter. This puts Seagate ahead of Hitachi who released their 500GB DeskStar quite some time ago. The new 7200.9 line has incorporated a higher density 160GB platter into a few of its drives. The following screenshot shows the manufacturer's specifications for each 7200.9 drive according to capacity size.


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The 160GB platter has only gone into the 80GB drive, which uses a single side and single head, and the 160GB drive, which uses both sides of the platter with 2 heads. The 400GB model still uses its original three 133GB platter design that was implemented in the 7200.8, while the new 500GB drive uses four 125GB platters. Why not just use the 160GB platters for the 500GB drive? Doing the math, 3x160GB would bring us to 480GB, which is 20GB short of the 500GB mark, and 4x160GB comes out to 640GB, which cannot be marketed at 500GB without a 140GB waste in total capacity. It makes the most sense to use 4x125GB platters to bring us to a perfect 500GB total capacity. (Note that the drive's total capacity will be slightly lower in Windows, as 1GB is 1,073,741,824 bytes for Windows, but only 1,000,000,000 bytes in hard drive manufacturer specs.)


All of the SATA 2.5 Trimmings

A few months ago, we cleared up some confusion regarding the SATA naming conventions and what they mean. The confusion was with the SATA II name being used in unison with the 3.0Gb/sec transfer rate. SATA II was actually the name of the SATA standards organization, which decides the specifications for each SATA version. (They've since changed names to SATA-IO.) At the time, many thought that the 3.0GB/sec came standard in all drives labeled as SATA II. In fact, transfer rate along with other options such as hot plug, hot swap, and NCQ are options that drive manufacturers can implement in their products if they choose. You can even get most of the "SATA II" features in "SATA I" drives.

Seagate states that it has incorporated all of the features that SATA has to offer in the 7200.9 series including the following:
  • Hot Plug
  • Hot Swap
  • ClickConnect
  • Native Command Queuing (NCQ)
  • Staggered Spin-Up
  • 3G (3.0Gb/sec, backwards compatible with 1.5Gb/sec hardware) maximum transfer rates
The features listed above are only a start to what SATA should bring to the table. The SATA-IO group is continually working on updates to their specifications and we hope to see transfer rates and error checking features mutate into something extremely valuable to desktop and enterprise users alike.

In 2004, 20% of hard disk drives shipped were SATA based - about 41 million, according to Seagate Market Research. It is estimated that this year, the percentage will increase to 80% of shipped drives being SATA based, 40% of which will be Seagate drives. Meanwhile, PATA is being phased out and nearly all production will cease by the end of 2006.


Other Characteristics

Seagate reports that all of the drives in the 7200.9 line will feature an operating shock tolerance of about 63Gs and a non-operating shock of 350Gs, making them extremely rugged. Almost all but Hitachi's 7K500 drive can handle this much non-operating shock, but shock tolerance during normal operation is not as forgiving, with many drives only allowing about 55Gs. Not that we would recommend dropping your drives or computer, but accidents happen...


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Seagate is also reporting a lower sound rating between 2.5-2.8 bels while the drives are idle, and about 2.8-3.2 bels while the drives are seeking for data. According to Seagate, the lowest amount of sound audible by human ears is about 2.6 bels, so the idle noise output is borderline inaudible to our ears. Combine this with the hum of case and heat sink fans, and the hard drive is basically silent.


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In the next few weeks we will be looking at the performance of the 500GB 16MB SATA model of the 7200.9. We'll put it through our usual synthetic, simulated, and real world tests, and we'll compare it not only to the 400GB 7200.8, but also to some older drives like the 120GB 7200.7 as well as Maxtor's and Hitachi's higher capacity drives.



Seagate's Upcoming Offerings

Perpendicular recording has been in the news recently, with Toshiba bringing to the market the first drive utilizing the technology. We asked Seagate how soon it would bring a product using the new recording method to the desktop and notebook market. Back in June, Seagate introduced the 160GB Momentus 5400.3 notebook drive, the highest capacity notebook drive to date, achieved by using perpendicular recording and higher density platters for the increased disk space. The 160GB version of the 5400.3 will use two 80GB platters in combination with 4 heads to achieve this capacity. The 5400.3 line will offer 40GB, 60GB, 80GB, and 120GB as well with an 8MB cache and both PATA and SATA 1.5Gb/sec transfer rate with Native Command Queuing.

Another offering that we are looking forward to is the Momentus with FDE (Full Disc Encryption) technology. This implements a hardware-based encryption method to protect the contents on a lost or stolen drive. Since the encryption is hardware-based, there is virtually no chance of breaking into a locked volume, and in cases where the drive is to be disposed, the Disc Erase feature will completely wipe the platters clean of any sensitive data. The Momentus 5400 FDE line will come in 40GB, 60GB, 80GB, 100GB, and 120GB sizes. It will feature an 8MB cache and looks like it will be offered only in the PATA flavor - at least initially.

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