The Seagate BarraCuda (500GB) SSD Review: Getting Back In The Gameby Billy Tallis on December 7, 2018 8:00 AM EST
Seagate's return to the consumer market doesn't make much of a splash. The most remarkable thing about the Seagate BarraCuda is that it gets by with such an old SSD controller.
Overall, it's a surprisingly good showing for a drive with a controller that first hit the retail market four years ago.
The Phison S10 controller had a very forward-looking design, with support for 2TB capacities planned from the start despite that much flash being almost unthinkably expensive in the era of 19nm planar MLC. The quad-core CPU has come in handy in recent generations as the market has moved to TLC NAND that generally requires SLC write caches to offer the best performance.
However, the S10 controller is not fully up to the task of competing against more modern controllers. The Plextor M8V serves as a useful point of comparison; it uses the same Toshiba 3D TLC as the BarraCuda but pairs it with the Silicon Motion SM2258 that we usually find used with Intel/Micron flash. The SM2258 is a four-channel controller compared to the 8 channels on the Phison S10, but the Plextor M8V's performance surpasses the Seagate BarraCuda more often than not.
The limitations of the 6Gbps SATA interface have been a strong equalizing force, requiring SSDs to improve in ways other than top-line throughput numbers. Most notably, power efficiency has continued to improve in the years since the Phison S10 debuted. The Seagate BarraCuda enjoys some of those benefits thanks to its use of modern 3D TLC NAND, but it doesn't come close to the efficiency of drives with modern controllers and lower-power DRAM.
There are some bright spots in the BarraCuda's performance profile. It handles a heavy write load about as well as any SATA SSD, with no significant performance drop from SLC cache running out during continuous sequential writes. Sequential read performance is fine as well. But the Phison S10 has always struggled with mixed read/write workloads, and 3D NAND doesn't change that. On real-world tasks, the BarraCuda is clearly slower than its competition, and ends up being more comparable to the best-case performance we see from DRAMless SSDs.
|SATA SSD Price Comparison|
|Seagate Barracuda||$52.99 (21¢/GB)||$84.99 (17¢/GB)||$149.99 (15¢/GB)||$349.99 (17¢/GB)|
|Samsung 860 EVO||$53.99 (22¢/GB)||$72.99 (15¢/GB)||$149.99 (15¢/GB)||$299.99 (15¢/GB)|
|WD Blue 3D NAND||$52.99 (21¢/GB)||$79.99 (16¢/GB)||$144.98 (14¢/GB)||$357.49 (18¢/GB)|
|Crucial MX500||$52.99 (21¢/GB)||$72.99 (15¢/GB)||$134.99 (13¢/GB)||$289.99 (14¢/GB)|
Now that the big Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales are over, SSD prices have gone back up by a few dollars here and there, and drives that went out of stock are starting to become available again. The major competitors to the Seagate BarraCuda that also offer capacities up to 2TB are the Samsung 860 EVO, WD Blue, and Crucial MX500. All offer higher performance and better power efficiency than the BarraCuda, and their prices are mostly equal to or slightly lower than the BarraCuda. Seagate is pricing the BarraCuda like a mainstream SATA drive, but it can't really keep pace with the competitors that use current-generation flash and current-generation controllers.
There aren't any serious problems with the Seagate BarraCuda, especially for desktop usage where power efficiency is not a priority. But unless it can offer a significant discount relative to other mainstream TLC SATA SSDs, there's no reason to consider buying it.
Where does Seagate go from here?
Unlike rival Western Digital, Seagate missed their chance at full vertical integration of the SSD side of the business. Seagate did invest $1.27 billion in Toshiba Memory Corporation as part of the consortium that acquired it from from its cash-strapped parent company, but Seagate had to agree not to acquire any voting interest or governance rights in Toshiba Memory during the next decade. Still, Toshiba has been Seagate's primary NAND supplier for quite a while and that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.
That makes Phison the natural choice of supplier for consumer SSD controllers. Phison has a close relationship with Toshiba and almost all Phison-based SSDs use Toshiba NAND. For the Seagate BarraCuda SSD specifically, the decision to partner with Phison may not have been the best option, but if Seagate is serious about staying in the consumer SSD market then a Phison partnership is clearly the easiest way for them to develop a full product portfolio. Phison's latest generation of NVMe controllers have been pretty good, and they have a successor to the S10 SATA controller that will be ready soon.
In order to be a top-tier competitor in the consumer SSD space, Seagate will have to be able to consistently differentiate their products from the competition. A Phison-based product line makes that pretty difficult, since there are dozens of brands selling very similar products. Seagate's acquisition of controller vendor SandForce offered some hope that they could bring to market products with custom in-house controllers, but several years later all we've seen is the recent introduction of an enterprise SATA SSD with transparent compression bearing SandForce's DuraWrite trademark.
Seagate has re-entered the consumer SSD market after a long absence, but they face an uphill battle to establish a serious presence.