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Storage Wars – Hard Drives Reach 2TB – Good or Bad

Seagate Constellation 2TB

Seagate Constellation 2TB

And in this corner… The hard drive Storage Wars have been heating up lately as Western Digital and Seagate battle it out for not only the largest capacity disks, but they are also going green! Western Digital went as far as to name it’s new 2TB hard drive the  Caviar Green series. Before I get into how 2TB hard drives work and why buyers should beware, let’s look at how a hard drive can be green. Western Digital has slowed the RPM’s down to 5400 on their Caviar Green, hoping to reduce heat and power consumption, without users noticing the drastic drop in speed. While Western Digital is by far the leader in high capacity storage for consumers, Seagate is also dipping their feet in by offering their 2tb drive as SATA, not just SAS. For those of you unsure about SAS and SAS 2.0, it is meant for enterprise level storage needs, not Joe Public. Western Digital has their 2TB hard drives going out as OEM as well as offering the drive in their online store. They also have a 2 hard drive 2TB My Book out that offers protection in the form of a RAID 1 mirror.

The 2tb My Book is priced to sell with a tag under $300.00. In fact it is really a two drives for the price of one situation since the OEM Caviar Green is $280.00 for just one hard drive. This is kind of confusing since I don’t see how they can sell 2 hard drives for the cost of a single internal 2tb drive. If you add up the speed slow down of 5,400 RPM along with its USB interface, this drive is OK for backup, but just won’t cut it for users planning to actively store and watch movies or listen to music.

Why 2TB Hard Drives Scare IT Professionals

Both Western Digital and Seagate have released 2TB hard drives this year. Even though the physical size of the drives remain at 3.5 inches, they are holding quite a bit more data. How did they pull that off? A couple of  years back, Toshiba released information about perpendicular recording as a new technology for traditional magnetic storage, but it was Seagate that delivered the first drive to consumers.

Perpendicular recording significantly increases the areal density and storage capacity of hard drives. The ones and zeroes are now stored vertically rather than horizontally. This allows for much greater storage because a sector can hold the same amount of data, but in a much smaller sector size. For example, if a platter can hold 100 sectors with longitudinal recording it will be able to hold 250 sectors with perpendicular recording. Using this technology and other advancements, hard drive manufacturers can now have areal density up to 500GB per platter. A 2TB hard drive will have four platters that hold 500GB each.

The problem here is that this type of areal density squeezes more and more bytes into sectors making them smaller and smaller. The heads have to be perfectly aligned to read and write to the sectors correctly, and more importantly read and write to those sectors on a consistent basis. If the heads write to the sectors even a hair out of alignment, then that data will be corrupt. If this happens over and over again, soon the OS won’t load and the computer won’t boot. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, the level of heat the motor generates to spin 4 platters, will swell the platters and the same problem happens – the sectors get out of whack and data gets corrupt. There is an old Latin phrase Caveat Emptor that means “buyer beware”. I bring this up not to criticize Western Digital and Seagate or their ability to make hard drives, but  to warn our readers about high capacity hard drives and to ask you all to take a wait and see attitude beofre plunging in and getting another drive because it is new. As owners of Seagate’s 7200-11 series drives found out to their misfortune, new technology often needs to be tested thoroughly before being released en-masse! If you do take the plunge and go for a 2TB hard drive, you better get 2 and use them to back each other up. If you have a 2TB disk failure you will need hard drive recovery so back up!


2 Responses to “Storage Wars – Hard Drives Reach 2TB – Good or Bad”

  1. Joseph Whitehead March 14, 2009 2:04 am #

    You should point out the average $/GB for fixing a 1TB drive. Yes, I’m probably somewhat evil to think of that.

  2. freakqnc September 28, 2009 12:04 am #

    I did a lot of research, digging, reading, as well as waiting and found out a while back that while it is risky to venture out in the “multi-tera” (for now only 2) perpendicular technology, at the moment that’s the only possible solution to handle the massive amount of data for those users who find themselves in the “above-average Joe” public. Short of spending money in costly advanced systems that are often out of the available budget, these users really have very little choice for their needs.
    Users with lots of data to store, such as Digital Music collection, Video captures, Digital film collections, high-res photo/scan archives and so forth, were pressed to find a solution that would be secure, reliable, and economically viable within the constraints of the currently available technologies. In other words they had finally reached a point where they had to make a decision and commit themselves to something.
    Being one of such users, I ended up opting for a QNAP TS-639 Pro NAS unit, loaded with 6 2-Tera Western Digital Drives in RAID5 configuration, for which I also bought an additional two 2TB drives that I keep as replacement in the event of HDD failure. My research led me to purchase the “enterprise-grade” RE4-GP, not the less expensive consumer version. The decision to invest additional funds in the purchase came from the fact that since the NAS would be running more often than not, the drive would have to be the highest grade available in order to prevent faults that could be caused by conditions that consumer-grade products are not usually exposed to, such as prolonged use in a multi-drive enclosure.
    Although the whole system is not exactly a low-budget (with a price tag between 3K and 4K) the purchase it was the most viable solution for my current needs. With some luck, the system should be enough to match my needs for the next 3 years (and hopefully longer). Although I don’t plan to go past the 5-year mark and I will deem myself lucky if by then all drives will be still healthy and in working conditions. As the risk of failure increases with use, I plan to pass the data to a new system possibly an even larger, more reliable and affordable one that, with mild optimism I can say that it may become available in the near future (such as holographic storage, nano technology, etc.)

    Some tips about the pre-purchase process: The tricky part is really to do your homework as best as you can: read a lot of reviews and testing, check benchmarks, go to more than just one forum where users have been writing about their experience with Tera drives (and that includes weeding through customer reviews on online stores)… in other words, get all the information you can gather that can put you in condition to make the best informed decision. This hard work may spare you the failures and headaches others have already been through… believe it or not there are tons of knowledgeable people who take the time (my thanks to them!) to write about products they have bought. Usually one can find both negative and positive reviews… read and judge for yourselves the value of what you are reading. Beside the enthusiastic users who leave a positive review after 1 day he/she used a product, there are many who go through the process of testing for longer times and under different conditions and configurations, many product (especially computer related ones). In addition you may find out that often reviews are left by users who are from above-average to advanced, or even professional. My advice is to take advantage of such a wealth of precious information and use it to avoid known pitfalls like becoming an unfortunate owner of the above mentioned Seagate 7200-11 series.

    Good luck with your multi-tera storage hunt!

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