Seagate closely studied the competition to make its $159 Barracuda ATA IV as user-friendly as possible. The Barracuda's illustrated quick-installation guide covers all the bases, and the box includes mounting screws and an 80-conductor cable. A sticker on the bottom of the drive also provides exceptionally lucid instructions and a diagram for jumper settings; in fact, advanced users can skip the setup sheet altogether. Seagate also bundles its easy-to-use DiscWizard software to simplify installation and help older systems handle larger drives by overcoming certain BIOS limitations.
Shields up, Scotty
The Barracuda offers one unique feature long overdue in consumer upgrade drives: protection for the exposed electronic circuitry. Seagate covers the printed circuit board with a layer of foam and metal that the company dubs SeaShield. In addition to virtually eliminating the chance of damage from electrostatic shock or spillage, the SeaShield muffles sound, so the Barracuda ATA IV is the quietest drive on the block. We do have one complaint, however. The SeaShield traps heat; as a result, the Barracuda runs a bit warmer than the competition. As a precaution, make sure you adequately ventilate your system.
Seagate's SoftSonic fluid-dynamic-bearing (FDB) drive motor also contributes to the Barracuda ATA IV's hush-hush performance by eliminating much of the whine produced by older ball-bearing motors. Seagate claims 2.5 bels when just spinning and only 3.3 bels when seeking. What does this mean in a layperson's terms? In our hands-on tests, we had to hold the drive next to our ears to hear it. The drive also has very good shock ratings, which means that it can take a certain amount of abuse when being handled or installed.
No speed racer
Sadly, the Barracuda ATA IV performed significantly slower than the competition in CNET Labs' tests. WinBench rated its seek time at 14.9ms, a full 1.5ms slower than the Western Digital Caviar 120GB, which was already the slowest high-end, 7,200rpm drive we've tested. The Seagate also trailed the Western Digital on disk-transfer-rate tests. In HD Tach 2.70 benchmarking, the drive fared worse, scoring lower than the competition in all three tests.
The Barracuda ATA IV comes with a reassuring three-year warranty. Free, toll-free phone support is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. PT. Toll-free automated help is available 24/7. Plus, Seagate's excellent online support includes software downloads, jumper diagrams, FAQs, and manuals.
While not the quickest drive available by a long shot, the Barracuda ATA IV offers speeds that should be fast enough for the average user. Plus, its low noise factor and friendly packaging will undoubtedly win some fans.
| eTesting Labs' WinBench 99 2.0 test |
Measured in kilobytes per second; longer bars indicate better performance
| HD Tach 2.70 tests |
Measured in megabytes per second; longer bars indicate better performance
| CNET Labs' tests evaluate the range of performance you may expect from a hard drive. The eTesting Labs' transfer rates are measured at the beginning of the disk (or its outside, where data moves past the read head at a higher rate) and at the end of the disk (or its inside, where data moves past the read head at a slower rate). HD Tach performes similar tests, returning a drive's maximum sustained write and read speeds. In addition, it measures read-burst speed, which
evaluates the performace of the drive's read-ahead memory and the drive controller.
The Seagate Barracuda ATA IV trailed the IBM and Western Digital drives in all tests. If you want a drive with leading-edge performance, you'll need to consider other candidates.