These days most people don’t pay much attention to spinning rust. Everyone is using SSDs now, so you don’t see many headlines about hard drives anymore. However, Seagate has just announced what amounts to the fastest hard drives ever made. They’re so fast, they’re equivalent in throughput to a SATA SSD. Though that’s still “slow” compared with an NVME drive, anyone who has ever used a SATA SSD knows they don’t feel slow to your eyes and fingers. A hard drive can’t match an SSD’s instantaneous search speeds, but for data transfers, it’s still pretty fast.
The drives in question are Seagate’s new Exos 2X18. They’re the company’s second-generation Mach.2 drives, which are helium-sealed and feature dual actuators. They’re being offered in 16TB and 18TB capacities, using either SATA 6Gbps or SAS 12Gbps interfaces according to HotHardware. According to the drives’ spec sheet, the SATA version offers 545MB/s and the SAS drives deliver 554MB/s sustained transfer rates. That is exactly on par with a SATA SSD, which is quite fast for a spinning drive. They don’t achieve this breakthrough via super-fast spindle speeds either. These are 7,200rpm drives, but the dual actuators allow for increased transfer rates.
Each drive is essentially two drives in one with dual actuators, which can work in parallel. That allows them to be configured with 9TB and 8TB of capacity per actuator. It’s reminiscent of a RAID 0 setup internally. Both actuators serve I/O requests concurrently via dedicated data channels. The new 2×18 drives are slightly faster than the previous gen, dubbed 2×14. Those offer maximum sustained rates of 524MB/s. With this latest capacity increase, the drives are now on par with SSDs.
At least, that’s true of their sequential transfer rates. One area where mechanical drives will never match solid-state is in seek times. On a solid-state drive, it’s practically instantaneous, measuring in the sub-20 microseconds. Seagate’s spec sheet lists the latency for the 2×18 drives as 4.16ms. That’s a lifetime to an end user, but since these are enterprise drives it’s a different ballgame. They’re designed to go into racks, not your gaming PC.
Still, compared to Seagate’s single actuator drives you can see the benefits of the dual actuator design. A drive like the 20TB Exos X20 has the same SATA 6Gb/s interface and 7,2000rpm spindle speed. However, its maximum transfer rate is a mere 270MB/s. Therefore it’s exactly half what the 2×18 offers. Seagate hasn’t said when the drives will be available or what they will cost. They will include a five-year warranty and are rated for 2.5 million hours of mean time between failure (MTBF).
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