TechXNY: Seagate shows speedy serial ATA hard drive

Seagate Technology LLC is demonstrating its first Serial ATA hard drive here at PC Expo/TechXNY with the help of a prototype Intel Corp. motherboard, and promises to be among the first hard drive makers to deliver the new technology, in products later this year.

The technology demonstration comes just one day after Seagate announced another first: 60GB-per-platter hard drive technology. Barracuda ATA V 7200-rpm drives using the new 60GB platters will arrive in retail outlets by August, say company executives.

Seagate expects to announce pricing upon the drives' release, but the 120GB drive may cost less than the current retail price of competing 120GB drives, says John Paulsen, product communication manager. Seagate will also offer 40GB, 60GB, and 80GB drives.

Serial ATA Coming Soon

Seagate's first native Serial ATA drives will be based on the new Barracuda ATA V drives, says Bernard Eisman, product marketing manager in the personal storage division. The Serial ATA-based drives will include a different drive chip set than the Ultra ATA/100-based Barracuda drives and also include a larger buffer (8MB, up from 2MB).

The company expects to ship Serial ATA-based Barracuda ATA V drives in 80GB and 120GB sizes. Despite the new interface and performance-enhancing buffer size increase, the Serial ATA-based drives will likely carry just a US$10 premium over their Ultra ATA/100 siblings, Eisman says.

The importance of native support has to do with the drive's throughput, Paulsen says. Current ATA/100-based hard drives reconfigured to work with Serial ATA will require a bridge technology that translates parallel data streams into serial and back. That could cause a hit to the drive's overall performance, he says.

Despite Seagate's native Serial ATA support, today's existing PC's don't have the required interface, which means you'll need an add-in card for your current PC. Seagate has yet to decide whether to bundle Serial ATA add-in cards with its drives, Eisman says.

The Serial ATA Working Group has said it expects chip set and motherboard manufacturers to begin implementing Serial ATA support by 2003, according to Paulsen.

Faster, Cleaner

Serial ATA technology promises to improve the speed at which a hard drive can transmit data. The current industry-standard interface is Ultra ATA/100, which offers up to 100-megabyte-per-second throughput; Serial ATA will begin with transfer rates of up to 150 MBps and will eventually reach a level of up to 600 MBps. Maxtor launched ATA/133 drives last year, but Maxtor was the only manufacturer to implement the standard on its drives, and few motherboard vendors adopted it, opting to wait instead for Serial ATA.

Other benefits of Serial ATA technology include a better cable system. The Serial ATA cable--which carries both data and power to the drive--requires lower voltage to transmit signals, meaning it can transfer data from smaller and lower-powered PC components. The cable is also more flexible and much thinner than ATA/100's ribbon cable, which permits better airflow within the PC and more compact designs.

More Per Platter

The 60GB-per-platter (30GB per side) Barracuda ATA V drives represent another major leap in areal density on hard drives, as the highest previous capacity per drive platter was 40GB (20GB per side).

The advantages of higher densities include lower drive prices and better overall durability, Paulsen says. Prices go down because a huge 120GB drive can be made with just two platters instead of three or more, which means fewer parts in the drive. Fewer moving parts means fewer things that can go wrong inside the drive, which means the drives should last longer, he notes.

Seagate will drop the capacity of a 60GB platter to 40GB through a technical process it calls destroking. Why demote a 60GB platter to 40GB? "Because PC makers have certain price points they want to hit," Eisman says, and smaller hard drive sizes are another way to differentiate products.

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