Benchmarking Seagate’s 3TB Thunderbolt Hard Drive

Seagate 3TB ST3000DM001The 3TB Seagate ST3000DM001

As Macs have shifted in recent years to closed-systems without easy access to internal component upgrades, the majority of Mac owners have lost interest in items like desktop hard drive upgrades. Even those systems that have relatively accessible hard drives are limited to 2.5” drives.

With the introduction of Thunderbolt, however, any Thunderbolt-equipped Mac owner now has access to a virtually unlimited number of options when it comes to external storage and these same Mac owners can take advantage of the larger capacity and higher performance 3.5” hard drives that had heretofore been the exclusive purview of Mac Pro owners (and a small number of iMac owners brave enough to perform surgery on their all-in-one patients).

Amid the tragic Thailand flooding and the resulting hard drive shortage, we were able to get a look at a pair of Seagate Barracuda 3TB hard drives, released late last year. The drives, model ST3000DM001, set records for their platter density and eschewed the market, which was moving towards lower speed “green” drives, by instead choosing to focus on higher performance 7200RPM options.

Using the Promise Pegasus R6 Thunderbolt enclosure, which is intended to be used as a RAID array but can also be used as a Thunderbolt pass thru to a single drive, we ran several benchmarks on the drives. The results demonstrate tremendous performance from a single mechanical drive and offer an enormous amount of storage space although, as we’ll show later on, the performance of a SSD still holds a significant advantage.

First up: AJA System Test, which is used in video production to ensure that drives are fast enough to support certain video formats. We performed a Read/Write test of 2GB on a theoretical 1280x720 8-bit video file.

AJA System Test

The results were great for a single mechanical drive. Both drives reported similar speeds on their corresponding read/write tests, with an average speed of 188.45 MB/s read and 154.75 MB/s write.

AJA System Test Results

Next we took a look at Blackmagic Design’s Disk Speed Test, a tool released last year on the Mac App Store that, as of the most recent release, measures incompressible data for fairly accurate sequential benchmarking.

Blackmagic Disk Speed Test

We ran the tests five times and averaged the results. The average between the disks was 187.02 MB/s read speed and 163.52 MB/s write speed. Both results were close to their AJA System Test counterparts, with the writes being a bit faster overall.

Blackmagic Disk Speed Test Results

Finally, we took a look at the Xbench results, which let us break down the performance into both sequential performance and random performance, the latter being the area where SSDs excel in their performance advantage over traditional hard drives.

Xbench reported faster sequential write speeds of 198.91 MB/s at 4K block sizes and read speeds on par with the other tests. Random performance takes a huge hit, but that is to be expected with mechanical drives.

Xbench Results

While the test results demonstrate the speed advantages of 1TB per platter hard drive density along with the amazing capacity of a single drive, we wanted to do a final comparison between the Seagate and a popular solid state drive, the 240 GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G from Other World Computing.

SSD vs HDD Results

The Xbench results show that the SSD scores significantly higher than even the record-setting HDD. It’s something to consider if you’re planning on using the ST30000DM001 as a boot drive. As long as you don’t require the vast space of the Seagate, a SSD drive is still the way to go.

SSD vs HDD Graph

As a media storage drive or scratch disk for creative work, however, the Seagate is an amazing choice, with speeds that are above and beyond what we could have expected from single mechanical drive performance just a few years ago coupled with tremendous capacity.

The drives are still very hard to find below MSRP due to the hard drive market’s recovery from the Thailand floods, but if you can find them at a reasonable price, you won’t be disappointed.