Seagate: Which Drive Is Right for You?

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BarraCuda, FireCuda, IronWolf, SkyHawk, and Exos. While at first glance these may appear to be mythical creatures of legend from some Lord of the Rings fan fiction, Seagate has used these terms to represent different types of its hard drives and solid-state drives. So, suppose you're in the process of building a computer, populating a RAID or NAS array, replacing a corrupted drive, or simply expanding/upgrading your system's current storage. How can you tell which type of Seagate drive is best suited for you? While it may not be immediately obvious, this article will help break down the function and purpose of each drive, thus allowing you to make more informed decision.

Seagate BarraCuda: Versatile and Dependable

Seagate BarraCuda: Versatile and Dependable

Seagate's base-level drive, which is hardly base level, thanks to its impressive specs, is the BarraCuda. Seagate's BarraCuda is available as a 2.5" hard drive, which is designed for laptop, mobile, AiO, and external storage. B&H stocks the 2.5" Barracuda in capacities up to 2TB. For desktop storage, AiO storage, home servers, and DAS devices, look into the 3.5" BarraCuda drives that are available in capacities up to 6TB. These SATA III drives are not rated 24/7 use, so if you're building a RAID, NAS, or other multi-bay array, the BarraCuda is not your drive of choice.

Seagate 2TB BarraCuda 5400 rpm SATA 2.5" Internal HDD
Seagate 2TB BarraCuda 5400 rpm SATA 2.5" Internal HDD

If you like the BarraCuda, but want something a bit more robust, it does have an older sibling—the BarraCuda Pro. Built with a 3.5" form factor, the BarraCuda Pro is designed for high-performance desktops, creative pro desktop applications, gaming, home servers, and DAS devices in capacities of up to 14TB. The BarraCuda Pro can endure 8760 power-on hours per year, meaning it can work in 24/7 environments, but Seagate offers drives that are better suited for this purpose.

Seagate 14TB BarraCuda Pro 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal HDD
Seagate 14TB BarraCuda Pro 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal HDD

If you were concerned that so far, the BarraCuda lineup may not have enough speed for you, that's only because we haven't yet gotten to the BarraCuda SSDs. Built for PC, laptop, and Ultrabook storage upgrades, as well as servers and gaming, BaraCuda SSDs offer performance, reliability, and precision. The BarraCuda 120 is available as a 2.5" SATA III SSD up to 2TB, while the BarraCuda 510 is available as an NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD up to 1TB. Both will provide greatly accelerated speeds when compared to a traditional, spinning hard drive.

Seagate 2TB BarraCuda 120 SATA III 2.5" Internal SSD
Seagate 2TB BarraCuda 120 SATA III 2.5" Internal SSD

The BarraCuda 120 accelerates transfers up to 560 MB/s, while the 510 ignores that speed limit and maxes out at 3100 MB/s. Both SSDs offer the same 1.8-million-hour mean time between failure (MTBF) rating, but the 120 offers a higher Total Bytes Written. Ultimately, the form factor(s) supported by your system will probably dictate which of these you acquire.

Seagate FireCuda: Built for Gaming

Seagate FireCuda: Built for Gaming

Gamers will appreciate Seagate's FireCuda drives, which are available as a 2.5" hybrid drive, a 3.5" hybrid drive, or NVMe PCIe SSDs. The hybrid drives are unique because they combine the larger storage capacities of a hard drive with the faster speeds of an SSD. These SATA III drives accomplish this by using multi-tier caching technology to load files and applications even faster. On the 3.5" model, the average data rate is 156 MB/s, while speeds on items in the cache reach 190 MB/s.

Seagate 1TB FireCuda 3.5" Internal Hybrid Drive
Seagate 1TB FireCuda 3.5" Internal Hybrid Drive

Gaming performance can be taken even further with Seagate's FireCuda NVMe PCIe M.2 SSDs. The FireCuda 510 is available in capacities up to 2TB and fits into M.2 2280 slots. It utilizes a PCIe 3.0 x4 interface and a 28GB SLC cache to deliver reads of up to 3450 MB/s and writes of up to 3200 MB/s. While those speeds are fast, they're not as fast as the FireCuda 520, whose PCIe 4.0 x4 interface drives read speeds of up to 5000 MB/s and write speeds of up to 4400 MB/s. The 510 and 520 also offer an MTBF of 1.8 million hours, although the FireCuda 520 is more durable in terms of its Total Bytes Written. However, you will need a system that supports PCIe 4.0 x4 to get the speeds of which the FireCuda 520 is capable.

Seagate 1TB FireCuda 520 M.2 Internal SSD
Seagate 1TB FireCuda 520 M.2 Internal SSD

Gaming, Outside the Box: the FireCuda Thunderbolt™ 3 Gaming Dock

Literally thinking outside the box, high-performance gaming drives and components don't have to be limited to what your system supports internally, and this is especially prevalent, thanks to the 40 Gb/s Thunderbolt™ 3 interface. Seagate traverses this path with its 4TB FireCuda Thunderbolt™ 3 Gaming Dock, which is both an external hard drive and a dock. Storage-wise, it has a 4TB hard drive and an M.2 NVMe slot so users can increase the overall storage capacity and increase performance.

Seagate 4TB FireCuda Thunderbolt 3 Gaming Dock
Seagate 4TB FireCuda Thunderbolt 3 Gaming Dock

It connects to your host system using a Thunderbolt™ 3 port and features a second Thunderbolt™ 3 port that can support a display; there is also one DisplayPort 1.4 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and five 10 Gb/s USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A ports, a headphone jack, and a microphone jack. While this dock can be paired with desktop and laptop systems, it would pair especially well with systems that need additional connectivity. Also, I imagine that this FireCuda dock would pair nicely with one of the aforementioned FireCuda SSDs.

The last few Seagate offerings—IronWolf, SkyHawk, and Exos—are designed with specialized purposes in mind. That's not to be said they can't be used for more general tasks, but they are designed for the power user.

Seagate IronWolf: For NAS Environments

Seagate IronWolf: For NAS Environments

Let's start with Seagate's IronWolf drives, which are available as a 3.5" hard drive, a 2.5" SATA III SSD, and an M.2 2280 NVMe PCIe SSD. The 3.5" drives are designed for home, SOHO, and DMB environments with 1-8 bay NAS arrays. IronWolf drives are available in up to 16TB and feature a workload rate of 180TB per year and an MTBF rating of 1 million hours. Select models also feature Rotational Vibration sensors and Health Management. All IronWolf drives are protected with AgileArray technology, which enables dual-plane balancing, power management, and RAID optimization in multi-bay environments. Warranty coverage on these drives is three years.

Seagate 16TB IronWolf 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal NAS HDD
Seagate 16TB IronWolf 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal NAS HDD

The IronWolf 110 SATA III 2.5" and 510 M.2 PCIe NVMe SSDs are likewise designed and tested for 24/7 multi-user environments, but their endurance and efficient caching makes them ideal for more demanding applications. Choose the IronWolf 110 for an all-flash NAS array or to enable tiered caching. IronWolf 110 SSDs also work well on creative pro and small/medium enterprise NAS systems. Available in capacities up to 3.8TB, the IronWolf 110 delivers sequential reads up to 560 MB/s, sequential writes up to 535 MB/s, 7000 Total Bytes Written, and an MTBF of 2 million hours.

Seagate 1.92TB IronWolf 510 M.2 PCIe NVMe Internal SSD
Seagate 1.92TB IronWolf 510 M.2 PCIe NVMe Internal SSD

Built with an M.2 2280 form factor and available in capacities up to 1.92TB, the IronWolf 510 likewise excels in tiered caching, creative pro NAS, and small/medium enterprise NAS usage, but its NVMe interface allows to it to perform reads of up to 3150 MB/s and writes of up to 850 MB/s. Other noteworthy specs include 3500 Total Bytes Written and an MTBF of 1.8 million hours.

Seagate 16TB IronWolf Pro 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal NAS HDD
Seagate 16TB IronWolf Pro 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal NAS HDD

While the 3.5" IronWolf drives may be great for 1-8 bay arrays, what do you do if you're building something bigger? Enter IronWolf Pro, which has been made specifically for creative pro, small/medium business, commercial, and enterprise NAS use in arrays with up to 24 bays. With capacities up to 16TB, all IronWolf Pro drives have Rotational Vibration sensors and are further backed by a workload rate of up to 300TB per year, an MTBF of 1.2 million hours, an annualized failure rate (AFR) of 0.73%, and 8760 power-on hours per year, meaning they are dying to be used 24/7. Ironwolf Pro drives also come with a 5-year data recovery plan included for added protection.

Seagate Exos X: For Hyperscale Enterprise Environments

Seagate Exos X: For Hyperscale Enterprise Environments

There's no question that IronWolf Pro drives are ambitious, but Seagate wasn't content to stop there. Taking things up another notch, or several, are its Exos X drives. While a few different models are available, I'm going to focus on the Exos X16, which is the company's flagship model. Available in capacities of 14TB or 16TB, these drives are for true enterprise use and are not limited by a certain number of drive bays. Are you working with hyperscale applications, cloud data centers, massive scale-out data centers, enterprise backup and restore, centralized surveillance, or high-capacity RAID systems? If so, Exos X16 is your huckleberry. Going above and beyond, users can expect an MTBF of 2.5 million hours, an AFR of 0.35%, 8760 power-on hours per year, and a workload rating of 550TB per year. Also notable is that Exos X16 drives are offered with either a SATA III 6 Gb/s interface or a SAS-3 12 Gb/s interface.

Seagate 16TB Exos X16 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal HDD
Seagate 16TB Exos X16 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal HDD

Seagate SkyHawk: Build a Surveillance System

Seagate SkyHawk: Build a Surveillance System

Last, but not least, are you running a surveillance system? If so, SkyHawk drives are right up your alley. SkyHawk drives are designed for network video recorders (NVRs) and surveillance DVRs. Available in capacities up to 10TB, different drives support arrays with greater or fewer bays. Some will handle 1-8 bay systems, while others can handle systems with up to 16 bays. SkyHawk drives also support 64 high-definition surveillance cameras, 1 million hours MTBF, and a workload rating of 180TB per year to ensure a long operational life.

Seagate 10TB SkyHawk Surveillance SATA III 3.5" Internal Hard Drive
Seagate 10TB SkyHawk Surveillance SATA III 3.5" Internal Hard Drive

While SkyHawk drives are respectable, your surveillance system may have greater needs, so check out SkyHawk AI drives, which are made for artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled surveillance solutions with up to 32 AI streams. SkyHawk AI drives, which are available in capacities up to 16TB, also support up to 64 cameras but are meant for systems with 16+ drive bays and support workloads of up to 550TB per year with an MTBF of 1.5 million hours and 8760 power-on hours per year. Both SkyHawk and SkyHawk AI drives are rounded out by ImagePerfect firmware and Rotational Vibration sensors.

Seagate 16TB SkyHawk AI 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal Surveillance HDD
Seagate 16TB SkyHawk AI 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal Surveillance HDD

After reading this, hopefully you have a better understanding of which Seagate is best suited for your needs. Still though, pay attention, since Seagate subdivides some of their drive families and optimizes certain ones for more intense workloads or arrays with a fewer/greater number of drive bays.

Do you have a preferred Seagate hard drive or SSD? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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