Barely a week goes by in the PC & Tech Authority Labs where we don’t hear about some new brand of SSD. But despite the explosion in the number of manufacturers, SSDs are still exponentially more expensive per gigabyte than traditional spinning hard disks. This perpetuates a situation where desktop PCs tend to use SSDs in conjunction with hard disks, either for caching through Intel’s Smart Response technology, or as a boot drive with the hard disk providing the main system storage.
This reliance on hard disks isn’t going to go away anytime soon, which makes Seagate’s latest announcements quite important. Its new Barracuda model marks the debut of the company’s 1TB per platter technology, while also making purchasing decisions a lot easier for consumers.
Currently Seagate has several types of desktop hard drive. There is the existing Barracuda 7200.12, which spins at 7,200rpm, the Barracuda Green, with a 5900rpm speed and the Barracuda XT, which spins at 7,200rpm and has a SATA 6Gbps interface. There are also other differences such as cache amount, but deciding between these top level models is confusing enough, without getting into the specifics.
With the introduction of the 1TB per platter Barracuda the current breakdown of desktop hard drives is ending. The Barracuda Green model line is being made end of life and moving forward Seagate will be making two types of desktop hard drives, simply called the Barracuda and Barracuda XT. Both drives run off a SATA 6Gbps interface and use the 1TB per platter areal density. The main difference between the two will be that the Barracuda XT will include Hybrid SSD caching (which launched on the laptop focused Momentus XT last year) when it hits the market in 4TB capacities next year.
This sounds a logical solution, but it actually takes a lot of technology to make the new strategy work. Key is the way in which Seagate has implemented backwards compatibility in the drives. Smartalign, for example, allows for the drive to use 4K sectors but translate this on-drive to 512K for use with older operating systems. Seagate also continues to supply free software designed to get around the 2.1TB drive limitation on older BIOSes and OSes, letting you put a 3TB drive into such a PC.
One thing we don’t yet know is the timeframe for the new drives to launch. Not only is this relatively new technology, but the current flooding in Thailand is wreaking havoc on the hard drive industry. Several industrial parks are flooded, which is impacting Seagate and Western Digital, who both have extensive production facilities located there. As a result hard drive prices are spiralling upwards and there are serious concerns being raised about drive supply globally over the coming months. We have asked Seagate for clarification on the launch timeframe for Australia, but at the moment even samples of the drives are highly limited.
Which is a shame, because not only does the streamlining of model naming make a lot of sense, but the new 1TB per platter technology brings a lot of exciting things to bear. This includes not only higher data densities but also a dual core ARM based processor, 64MB of DDR2 cache and improved read/write head design, which should add up to noticeable performance improvements over the current generation of drives.
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