Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1833



Introduction

Last week, Seagate officially announced their 7200.9 desktop hard disk drive line, which brought 3.0Gbps transfer rates, a barrage of SATA features, and a new capacity to bring Seagate to share the top of the mountain with Hitachi. We promised benchmarks and we like to keep our promises.

As soon as we ended our call with Seagate, we went ahead and placed the order for the 500GB version of the 7200.9 with 16MB of cache. Being the newest and highest capacity in Seagate's line of hard drives, we chose to look at it exclusively. For now, we will compare the 500GB drive's performance to some of its older predecessors, like the 7200.7 120GB model, and the 7200.8 400GB model that we looked at a few months back, both with 8MB cache and the first generation 1.5Gbps transfer rates.

We've expanded a few of our original benchmarks and have added a few new tests to make this the most extensive review of a hard drive yet. Take a look at how Seagate's 500GB 7200.9 desktop drive performs.



The Test

Our test bed specs have been laid out below. Since our test bed has remained untouched from our look at Seagate's 400GB Barracuda article, we will include our results of the drives that we looked at then.

Our test bed:

AMD Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2Ghz)
Giga-byte GA-K8NXP-SLI
Western Digital WD1600JS
NVIDIA 6600GT SLI Edition (single 128MB card)
1GB (512MBx2) Corsair XMS4400

Our motherboard is an nForce4 based board that features support for the SATA II standard, up to 3Gbps/sec SATA transfer rates, and NCQ and TCQ.

We used the following nForce platform drivers in conjunction with our testbed:

nForce4 Chipset Driver 6.66
Nvidia graphics driver 71.89
Windows XP SP2 w/out further updates

AnandTech Storage Tests
Business Winstone IPEAK a playback test of all of the IO operations that occur within Business Winstone 2004
Content Creation IPEAK a playback test of all of the IO operations that occur within Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004
SYSMark 2004 the official SYSMark 2004 test suite
Business Winstone 2004 the official Business Winstone 2004 test suite
Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 the official Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 test suite
Half-Life 2 Level Load Test Half-Life 2 level load time test
Doom 3 Level Load Test Doom 3 level load time test
Command & Conquer: Generals Level Load Test Command & Conquer: Generals level load time test
Real World File System Task Tests timed tests of basic file system tasks including zipping/unzipping and copying files
HDTach Synthetic test for transfer rate of hard disk during a full disk read
Service Time and Transfer Rate Tests Synthetic tests for average service time and transfer rate of hard disk during a full disk read
Business Winstone 2004 Multitasking Test Synthetic tests for overall system multitasking performance
Real World Multitasking Test timed tests of basic multitasking processes, timing a file zip operation while importing Outlook data

More details about each individual test will appear in the section of the review dedicated to that particular test.

The 7200.9 Series

Capacity Platter Density # of Platters/ Heads Spindle speed (RPM) Average Seek Time Average Latency Interface Buffer Sizes
40GB 80GB 1 / 1 7200 8.9ms 4.16ms PATA / SATA 2MB
80GB 160 GB 1 / 1 7200 8.9 ms 4.16ms PATA / SATA 2, 8MB
120GB 120GB 1 / 2 7200 8.5ms 4.16ms PATA / SATA 2, 8MB
160GB 160GB 1 / 2 7200 8.5ms 4.16ms PATA / SATA 2, 8MB
200GB 100GB 2 / 4 7200 8.5ms 4.16ms PATA / SATA 8MB
250GB 125GB 2 / 4 7200 8.5ms 4.16ms PATA / SATA 8MB
300GB 100GB 3 / 6 7200 8.5ms 4.16ms PATA / SATA 16MB
400GB 133GB 3 / 6 7200 8.5ms 4.16ms PATA / SATA 16MB
500GB 125GB 4 / 8 7200 8.5ms 4.16ms PATA / SATA 16MB

The 500GB 7200.9

Click for high resolution version.

The Circuitry

Click for high resolution version.




Pure Hard Disk Performance - IPEAK

We begin our usual hard disk drive test session with Intel's IPEAK benchmarking utility. We first run a trace capture on Winstone 2004's Business and Multimedia Content Creation benchmark runs to catch all of the IO operations that take place during each test. We then play back each capture using RankDisk, which reports back to us a mean service time, or average time that the drive takes to complete an IO operation.

IPEAK Business Winstone 2004 - Pure Hard Disk Performance

The first batch of 3.0Gbps hard drives that we tested gave us results, which were scattered all over the charts for the IPEAK tests with Western Digital's WD1600JS, taking the majority of the wins over the other two 3.0GBps drives. This time around, Seagate's 500GB 7200.9 takes place half way down the list at 541 IO operations per second.

Let's take a look at Content Creation performance.

IPEAK Content Creation Winstone 2004 - Pure Hard Disk Performance

The Seagate drive jumps to the 3rd spot on the list for the Content Creation Winstone IPEAK run at 389 IO operations per second.

IPEAK Average Read Service Time

As far as Read Service times go, Seagate's drive reports 13.9ms on average, which is just a fraction of a millisecond slower than the WD1600JS, but more than 2ms quicker than the HD160JJ.



Overall System Performance - Winstone 2004

Business Winstone 2004

Business Winstone 2004 tests the following applications in various usage scenarios:
  • Microsoft Access 2002
  • Microsoft Excel 2002
  • Microsoft FrontPage 2002
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002
  • Microsoft Project 2002
  • Microsoft Word 2002
  • Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition 2003
  • WinZip 8.1

Business Winstone 2004

There is not much excitement here as the Business Winstone 2004 results show a score of 24.5-24.7 (NCQ off/on).

MCC Winstone 2004

Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 tests the following applications in various usage scenarios:
  • Adobe® Photoshop® 7.0.1
  • Adobe® Premiere® 6.50
  • Macromedia® Director MX 9.0
  • Macromedia® Dreamweaver MX 6.1
  • Microsoft® Windows MediaTM Encoder 9 Version 9.00.00.2980
  • NewTek's LightWave® 3D 7.5b
  • SteinbergTM WaveLabTM 4.0f

Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004

We are a bit disappointed that the 500GB 7200.9 does not perform up to par with the older 3.0Gbps drivers here. All of them reported scores between 36.1-36.6 while the Seagate set up camp in the 32.6/.7 range of the score board.



Overall System Performance - SYSMark 2004

SYSMark 2004 is divided into two separate suites: Internet Content Creation and Office Productivity. What makes SYSMark an ideal hard disk benchmark is that its scores are totals of response times, meaning that the benchmark measures how long the system takes to respond to a task (e.g. how long before a search and replace is completed after it is initiated) and sums up all such response times to generate a score. This score is generated for six total subcategories: three under Internet Content Creation and three under Office Productivity.

For the most part, SYSMark is CPU/platform bound, but we will see some variations in performance according to disk speed; at the same time, there are a couple of benchmarks within SYSMark that are heavily disk dependent.

Internet Content Creation Performance

Our results showed very little difference in the performance of the competitors; not enough to rule out margin of error in the Content Creation part of SYSMark 2004. The scores for the majority of drives landed between 180-183, which does not show too well the drive that performs better than the others.

Office Productivity Performance

SYSMark's Office Productivity suite consists of three tests, the first of which is the Communication test. The Communication test consists of the following:
"The user receives an email in Outlook 2002 that contains a collection of documents in a zip file. The user reviews his email and updates his calendar while VirusScan 7.0 scans the system. The corporate web site is viewed in Internet Explorer 6.0. Finally, Internet Explorer is used to look at samples of the web pages and documents created during the scenario."

SYSMark 2004

Seagate's 500GB drive showed no performance increase over the older 400GB drive with 8MB cache. We are starting to wonder where we will see an improvement in performance over any of the older drives not only in the Seagate family, but any of the other drives on the list as well.



SYSMark 2004 Performance Summary

These scores represent the overall performance of each component of SYSMark 2004.

SYSMark 2004

Seagate comes in behind the other three 3.0Gbps drives in overall Internet Content Creation performance at 205-206 ticks on the graph. We are not putting much emphasis on this test anymore because of its CPU intensive nature. Instead, we are focusing more on the Office Productivity test suite.

To recap, here's what happens in the entire Office Productivity suite:
"In this scenario, the office productivity user creates a marketing presentation and supporting documents for a new product. The user receives email containing a collection of documents in a compressed file. The user reviews his email and updates his calendar while a virus checking software scans the system. The corporate web site is viewed and the user begins creating the collateral documents. The user also accesses a database and runs some queries. A collection of documents are compressed. The queries' results are imported into a spreadsheet and used to generate graphical charts. The user then transcribes a document. Once the document has all the necessary pieces in place, the user changes it into a portable format for easy and secure distribution. The user edits and adds elements to a slide show template. Finally, the user looks at the results of his work (both the slide show and the portable document) in an Internet browser."

SYSMark 2004

SYSMark 2004

Seagate's performance here is not the best. Overall, SYSMark 2004 rates it at 186-187 marks, which brings it half way down the list and far from the other 3.0Gbps drives and just barely shows improvement over the 400GB 7200.8 unit.



WinBench 99 - Transfer Rate Test

We ran WinBench 99's Disk Transfer Rate Test to get a better measure of just how well the transfer rates are over the course of the entire disk. The Disk Transfer Rate test reads from the media in a linear fashion from the beginning (1st track) to the end (last track). The numbers below represent the ceiling and floor of the transfer rates throughout the test.


Click to enlarge.

The 500GB 7200.9 starts its read at just under 64MB/sec and ends at about 32MB/sec on the inside of the platter.



HDTach - Sequential Read Speed/Burst Speed

Being our newest test in our desktop hard drive storage suite, the HDTach benchmark gives us a great deal of detail on the performance of a hard drive. Like the WinBench 99 Transfer Rate test, HDTach graphs the sequential read speed of the drive as the drive reads continuously from beginning to end.


Click to enlarge.

HDTach also reports the highest Burst Speed of the drive, which in Seagate's case, is a whopping 248.1MB/sec. HDTach also reports a Random Access time of 14ms and an average read rate of 52.2MB/sec. We have also included the results for the Western Digital WD1600JS below for a comparison.


Click to enlarge.




Real World Tests - File System Tasks Within Drive

Synthetic benchmarks are not always the best gauge in measuring the "real" performance of hardware, which is why we have incorporated a few real world tests in our storage reviews. One of our tests, the file system performance test, measures the drive's ability to handle file zip, unzip, and copy operations. This is a great measure of how one drive compares to another and we have put together a group of tasks that most of us typically use.
  1. File Zip Test - We take a 300MB file and measure the time that it takes for our test bed to compress it to ZIP format. We then run the test again with 300 1MB files to see how the drive performs when working with multiple files.
  2. File Unzip Test - Using the same methodology as the File Zip Test, we take a ZIP file of a single 300MB file as well as a ZIP file of 300 1MB files and measure the time that it takes to uncompress each ZIP successfully.
  3. File Copy Test - We measure how long it takes for the system with our test drive to copy a single 300MB file as well as 300 1MB files.
Take a look at the results for these file system operations within the 500GB 7200.9 itself...

File Zip Test - One 300MB File

File Zip Test - 300 1MB Files

File Unzip Test - One 300MB File

File Unzip Test - 300 1MB Files

Copy Folder Test - One 300MB File

Copy Folder Test - 300 1MB Files

Below are the results for these file system operations to the 500GB 7200.9 from our test bed hard drive.

File System Tasks (from test bed drive to 500GB 7200.9)
NCQ Off NCQ On
300MB File 300 1MB Files 300MB File 300 1MB Files
File Zip 60.246 59.781 60.149 59.180
File Unzip 14.074 14.660 13.849 14.349
File Copy 5.410 5.801 5.043 5.473



Real World Tests - Application Load Times

In our Application Load Time tests, we measure the time that it takes for each application to startup. For example, our benchmarking tool begins the stopwatch as soon as PhotoShopCS.exe is run and stops after the application has finished loading all of the plug-ins and filters and shuts down. We take the average of 3 runs with system reboots and hard disk defragmentations before each test run.

Application Load Times (average, seconds)
NCQ/TCQ Status PhotoShop CS Word 2003 Excel 2003 Access 2003 PowerPoint 2003
Seagate 7200.9 500GB, 16MB, SATA w/out NCQ 8.516 2.103 2.433 2.605 2.343
w/NCQ 8.024 2.109 2.109 2.213 2.203
Hitachi T7K250 w/out NCQ 8.953 2.422 1.953 2.203 2.203
w/NCQ 7.984 2.375 2.609 2.766 2.109
Samsung HD160JJ w/out NCQ 8.703 2.609 2.984 3.031 2.116
w/NCQ 8.601 2.554 2.887 3.115 2.245
Western Digital WD1600JS N/A 8.938 2.469 2.562 2.484 2.438



Real World Tests - Game Level Load Times

We have changed our Game Level Loading Time test to include two of the latest games: Doom 3 and Half-Life 2. Because of their high resolution textures and the large levels, the loading time for the levels of each game are long enough to help show a difference between each drive.

We have also included an older strategy game, Command & Conquer: Generals, because of its longer level load times. Though the game is a couple of years old, it still proves to be a good measure of data loading performance.

Doom 3 Level Loading Performance

Half-Life 2 Level Loading Performance

Command & Conquer Generals Level Loading Performance

The 500GB drive performs well while loading the Doom 3 Caverns1 level and the Command & Conquer: Generals GLA C3S1 (Campaign 3 [GLA], Scene 1) at 23.8 seconds and around 33.1 seconds, respectively.



Multitasking Performance - Business Winstone 2004

So far, NCQ proves to be a feature that could easily be non-existent when running single tasks at a time. Because NCQ is a technology that is designed to handle random requests for data, the only way to test it efficiently is to throw a few applications at it and run a few tasks at the same time. This will definitely give a hard drive a workout.

Business Winstone 2004 includes a multitasking test as a part of its suite, which does the following:
"This test uses the same applications as the Business Winstone test, but runs some of them in the background. The test has three segments: in the first, files copy in the background while the script runs Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer in the foreground. The script waits for both foreground and background tasks to complete before starting the second segment. In that segment, Excel and Word operations run in the foreground while WinZip archives in the background. The script waits for both foreground and background tasks to complete before starting the third segment. In that segment, Norton AntiVirus runs a virus check in the background while Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Project, Microsoft Access, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft FrontPage, and WinZip operations run in the foreground."

Multitasking Performance - Business Winstone 2004

Multitasking Performance - Business Winstone 2004

Multitasking Performance - Business Winstone 2004

Multitasking Performance - Business Winstone 2004




Real World Tests - Multitasking Performance

To provide a real world example of multitasking, we run Outlook and import 450MB of emails into an account. We then time how long it takes our benchmarking utility to zip a single 300MB file. To compare our results, we calculate the difference between the multitasked process and the single task file zip process.

Outlook + Zip a 300MB File Within Drive
NCQ/TCQ Status Multitasked File Zip Only % Difference
Seagate 7200.9 500GB, 16MB, SATA w/out NCQ 69.215 59.707 15.9%
w/NCQ 69.512 59.785 16.27%
Hitachi T7K250 w/out NCQ 76.543 67.057 12.39%
w/NCQ 79.815 65.641 21.6%
Samsung HD160JJ w/out NCQ 71.484 58.805 21.6%
w/NCQ 73.554 61.068 20.4%
Western Digital WD1600JS N/A 74.371 61.182 21.6%

Seagate's 7200.9 did not disappoint here as its 3.0Gb/sec transfer rates helped speed things along. The difference between a stand-alone file zip operation versus a multitasked process was only about 16% compared to a +20% difference using the other drives.



Thermal and Acoustics

Heat and sound are also two very important factors in drive performance especially when considering where they will be used. A loud hard drive that becomes warm very quickly may not be the best choice for home theater PCs or any PC without adequate cooling, and the noise alone could be a bit annoying. Take a look at how each drive performed as far as heat and noise output goes.

Thermal

Drive Operating Temperatures

Drive Operating Temperatures


Acoustics

To measure the sound output of each drive, we have taken decibel readings of each drive at their startup phase as well as the sound output while there is disk activity.

Noise Comparison

When idle, the drive's sound output is barely audible. More specifically, we can't even tell that the drive is on. When actively reading and writing, however, the drive puts out about 55.1 dBA, which is just as loud as the Barracuda 400GB 7200.8.



Final Words

With 3.0Gb/sec peak transfer rates and a 16MB cache, we expected the 500GB 7200.9 to blow away all of the other drives that we have reviewed. HDTach reported an extremely high, 248MB/sec burst speed, which was surprising after seeing the Windows Read Speed Test report a burst speed of 143MB/sec.


Hold mouse over image.

We would like to expect speeds this high, since the drive is rated at 3.0Gb/sec with 16MB of cache, but with two separate utilities reporting completely different numbers, it makes us question how each application is performing these tests. The results of Windows Read Speed test with both NCQ off and NCQ on from Windows reported very different numbers as well, 185.6MB/sec and 143MB/sec burst speeds.

Seagate's 500GB 7200.9 performed exceptionally well in the game level loading tests, especially with Doom 3 and C&C: Generals. Half-Life 2 wasn't so forgiving, but two out of three games isn't bad. It also performed well in the File Zip operations as well as the Multitasking scenario where we zip a file within the drive while we import 400MB worth of emails in an Outlook account.

The 500GB 7200.9 does not perform better than some of the older 3.0Gb/sec drives that we had looked at a few months back, but its capacity may be enough to give Hitachi's 500GB offering some competition. We actually do have Hitachi's 500GB unit on hand and will be following up this review with a look at that drive as well as Western Digital's new 400GB Caviar. Right now, the 500GB Barracuda is a bit on the pricey side for the performance that it gives in our test suite, but it is a known fact that the higher transfer rates are attained more with multi-drive RAID.

If you're looking for capacity, the 500GB 7200.9 might be right for you, but with current prices, it may be more cost-effective to get your hands on a couple of 400GB units. For those who are speed hungry and don't mind giving up the disk space for it, you're better off working with a 10K RPM Raptor for now.

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