REVIEW: Seagate ST3640323AS 640GB SATA II Hard Drive

Hard drives have become cheaper by the day. Bigger sizes, bigger caches, faster spindles, you name it.. On the perspective of cost, price per gigabyte has gone down and is continuously doing so. It would not be a surprise if another release of a bigger, better hard drive happens in the not so distant future.

We could not just escape the fact that the computer is only as fast as the slowest component. And on the desktop, the hard drive is undoubtedly the performance bottleneck. A RAID set-up might probably remedy the situation but not all desktops implement RAID systems.

Over time, I have had the opportunity to see the improvements of desktop grade drives, each generation gaining improvements over the previous one. Native Command Queuing (or NCQ), the SATA interface, faster spindles, bigger platter densities and parallel recording -- a few examples of the technological features that evolved. And experience tells me the areal density of the drive contributes a lot in its performance. Not only that, the cache also is a major influence.

I have the Seagate ST3640323AS Barracuda 640GB hard disk drive with me to test out. This drive has the second generation SATA interface and has a whopping 32MB of cache. The most outstanding feature of this drive is the 320GB platters used. Only this and the Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD6400AAKS (16MB cache) have this feature.

Please allow me to share my observations on the succession of Seagate Barracuda two-platter hard drives over the past few years. Let me start with the Barracuda ST3320620AS 320GB, with two 160GB platters drive.

.. the Barracuda ST3500320AS 500GB, with two 250GB platters.

.. and the Barracuda ST3640323AS 640GB, with two 320GB platters.

As seen from the measured averages of the drives, areal density and cache size contribute a lot to the performance of the drives. Each generation carries improvements over the previous.

As both drives feature 32MB caches, the only major difference between the 500GB ST3500320AS and the 640GB ST3640323AS Barracudas are the platter sizes -- 250GB and 320GB respectively. From this we can see the tremendous impact of increasing areal density of the platter, translating to about 8MB/s increase in transfer rate. In my standard that is a huge boost!

Owning the new generation Barracuda ST3640323AS does have its advantages. Retailing at around $90, does not disappoint either. It is affordable, fast and widely available.

At 640GB, it has more space for data and archives. Also, the ST3640323AS is backed with a 5yr warranty to add to its rich feature list.

Due to its high access time, it is not very suitable for use as boot disk. Although this impediment can be overcome by its fast transfer speed. Further tweaking, such as fine tuning cluster size and disabling of last access times, can improve performance.

The ST3640323AS will definitely pimp your rig!

Acknowledgments to my good friend Xavier Zulueta for the review of the drives.

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