Seagate standardizes Barracuda drive line on 7200 rpm

Seagate to convert its Barracuda XT line to hybrid drives

Editor's note: Because of incorrect information from the vendor, an earlier version of this story said Seagate's 5400rpm drives were being phased out. The drives being eliminated are 5900rpm drives. The story has been updated with the correct information.

Seagate today announced that it's bumping the platter rotation speed in all of its flagship Barracuda desktop hard drives from 5900 rpm to 7200 rpm.

The move marks a standardization on 7200 rpm speeds across the board for Barracuda lineup.

The move away from lower-speed drives is based on the advent of a new read/write head technology that has allowed Seagate to squeeze more data onto a drive platter and still be able to read it.

In another development, Seagate said it will be converting its line of Barracuda XT 3.5-in. hard drives to a hybrid drive technology by adding NAND flash to the drives as a type of inexpensive cache. The most frequently used data is kept on the NAND flash board to increase performance.

Seagate already sells hybrid drives under its Momentus XT line, which has up to 500GB capacity. The Barracuda XT lineup includes models that have as much as 3TB of capacity. Seagate would not specify a date for the launch of the new Barracuda XT hybrid drives, saying only that its disclosure of the new line is to demonstrate it is committed to hybrid technology.

Seagate also announced its OptiCache technology, which boosts overall performance by as much as 45% over previous generation Barracuda drives. OptiCache is based on a new dual-core microprocessor and a move from DDR1 to faster DDR2 DRAM on the drive. The technology allows the hard drive to use the full 64MB of DRAM cache as a single unit. Previously, Barracuda drives split up cache into smaller chunks that were less efficient, Burks said.

The new read/write head technology signals an end to Seagate's line of "green" Barracuda drives, which the company has been selling since 2009. The Barracuda Green series, is a lineup of 3.5-in. drives that Seagate marketed as consuming 50% less power than its previous 7200 rpm drives.

"While it is lower power consumption, we're waking up to the fact that it doesn't save that much electricity," said David Burks, product marketing manager for Seagate's desktop drive division.

Burks said a single Barracuda Green drive costs about $1.70 per year in electricity, while a 7200 rpm drive costs about $1.90 -- just 20 cents more. At the same time, a 7200 rpm drive runs 30% to 33% faster than a 5400 rpm drive, so a user is "giving up a significant level of performance to get a small power savings," he said.

AcuTrac
An artist's depiction of Seagate's new AcuTrac read/write head technology.

New tracking hardware, called AcuTrac Servo Technology, allows Seagate to pack 340,000 tracks into every inch across a Barracuda disk platter compared with 236,000 tracks on previous hard drive iterations. Each track is 75 nanometers, or 0.075 microns, in size. A nanometer is 1,000 times smaller than a micron, which is one-millionth of a meter. The typical human hair is 100 microns in width. A typical grain of salt is 60 microns across. A dust mite is 20 microns across.

Seagate was able to reduce the track size by adding dual piezoelectric nano-actuators (small motors) to the tip of its drive actuator arm, offering greater read-write stability. That stability is needed because 7200 rpm is the equivalent of a platter spinning at 75 mph generating wind speeds of 85 mph at the read-write head, according to Burks.

"When is enough capacity enough? Well, we might be getting close to that," Burks said. "You'll now see a leveling off of areal density growth. [In the future] you're not going to see capacities grow as fast as they have ... but you'll see a new recognition around the need for performance. That certainly emerges in our product portfolio going forward."

Seagate said it has been able to add the new AcuTrac technology to drives of all capacities -- from 250GB to 3TB -- at 7200 rpm, which will simplify drive upgrades for customers.

"So [customers] don't need to deploy extra engineering resources on requalifying drives when you've got one platform that spans all these capacities that will live for a long time," Burks said. "Similarly, for a lot of our distribution partners, they like the idea that they can carry fewer drives in their inventory. It just brings costs down from an inventory perspective."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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