With SSDs getting all the limelight, it’s been a while since we looked at good old moving-parts hard drives. But with 3.5in drives offering capacities at least 20 times as high as similarly-priced solid state counterparts, they’re very far from dead. Considering the largest SSD size that’s even remotely affordable is 256GB, those with lots of data will still want a magnetic hard drive, which currently offer as much as 2TB (2,000GB). The first of these to market was Western Digital’s Caviar Green 2TB, which received our Recommended Award. Over a year on, we’re now looking at Seagate’s Barracuda XT 2TB, the first drive to claim SATA 6Gb/s compatibility which the company labelled “the world’s fastest desktop hard drive”. Can it possibly live up to this claim?
Unlike the WD Green then, which focused on power saving and quiet, reliable operation at the expense of performance, Seagate’s four-platter monster goes for speed over everything. To facilitate this, the Barracuda XT features a whopping 64MB of cache, facilitating top level burst performance and wiping the floor with most competitors that only offer half this. On the other hand its areal density of 368Gb per square inch doesn’t quite match up to the WD Green’s 400Gbits thanks to the latter’s perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) technology.
However, it does use the fastest interface available: SATA 6Gb/s. This requires a compatible motherboard like the Asus P7P55D-E Premium, though older SATA II cables can be used as long as they’re shorter than one metre (which most are). Unfortunately, in our preliminary testing for the P7P55D-E we found there to be very little difference between SATA 6Gb/s and its preceding standard, but now you can see all the little nitty-gritty details for yourself, and like us you're likely to be unpleasantly surprised.
We've performed most SATA II tests using our usual Intel Core 2/Asus P5E3 hard drive testbed for consistency with results from previous hard drives. SATA 6Gb/s tests were performed using the above mentioned P7P55D-E with a Core i5.