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Tested: Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1-terabyte hard drive

Psst! Limewire fans! We've just got hold of the Barracuda 7200.11 -- a hard drive with a stonking 1 terabyte of space for all your entirely legal downloads

Back in June, Seagate promised us a 1-terabyte hard disk drive in time for autumn, and here it is: the Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000340AS. This drive is so large, so capacious, that according to the University of California at Berkeley, it can store as much information as turning 50,000 trees into paper.

Seagate has managed this feat by using perpendicular recording technology, which you can read more about on page 3 of this article. The end result is higher data density than possible with traditional longitudinal recording technology and 1,000GB of pure, unadulterated storage joy.

Seagate is aiming the 7200.11 at pretty much everyone. It says it's intended for use in "workstations, desktop RAID systems, gaming PCs, high-end PCs, mainstream PCs", and as a general backup solution. When we installed it, Windows reported the available space as being 931.5GB, which is lower than the 1,000GB one would expect due to the differences between the decimal and binary methods of counting bits and bytes. Either way, it's possible for one 7200.11 drive to store nearly 1,400 DivX movies, 500,000 high-resolution images, or 240,000 MP3s -- that's more than any single drive that came before it.

If the £225 required to purchase the ST31000340AS is too rich for your blood, Seagate also offers Barracuda 7200.11 drives in 750GB and 500GB versions, costing £127 and £65 respectively. All three have the same Serial ATA II interface, 32MB of cache memory and 7,200rpm spindle speed.

Let's take a look at how it performs.

The 7200.11 isn't designed simply to be a massive dustbin for your digital crap -- it's purportedly quite quick, too. Nobody's ever going to get excited about a 7,200rpm spindle speed (10,000rpm is usually required to get our juices flowing) but the 32MB of cache memory provided helps performance by giving fast access to temporary files.

The 7200.11 also uses native command queuing (NCQ), which can improve disk access speeds under certain situations. The drive can internally optimise the order in which received read and write commands are executed. This can reduce the amount of unnecessary toing and froing by the drive's heads, making it operate faster, and potentially reducing wear and tear. It's ideally used in servers due to the almost random nature in which files are requested in those environments, but can unfortunately be a hindrance in games, or applications where sequential reading and writing is most common.

We tested the 7200.1 using the hard drive benchmark component of PC Mark 2005, where it scored 5,802. This is a middle-of-the-road score in our experience -- we don't normally get out of bed for drives that score less than 6,500, but we'll forgive it this indiscretion because it's just so huge.

But how do they make it so big? Let's find out.

Perpendicular recording
Old-school longitudinal recording works by laying magnetic elements (which represent bits) flat against the surface of the disk platter, like a row of dominoes laying face up. But perpendicular recording stands the bits on their ends, which means more can occupy the same amount of room.

Longitudinal recording has an estimated limit of between 100 and 200 gigabits per square inch, but perpendicular recording technology is said to allow densities of up to 1 terabit per square inch. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that longitudinal recording has just about had its day.

You can get a better idea of how perpendicular recording works by watching this (surprisingly humorous) flash video, courtesy of Hitachi.

On to the specs.

All seems in order, so what's our final verdict?

The ST31000340AS makes an ideal drive for backing up your data, but it certainly isn't for everyone. Currently it costs £225, which is expensive considering a pair of Seagate 7200.11 500GB drives costs £130 in total. You may even be better off getting a pair of 750GB hard drives for £127 each. As with all new technology, the prices will start to fall over time, but so will the cost of the smaller Seagate drives.

If you haven't got enough room to add a second hard disk drive, or you don't want two separate drives humming, whirring and bringing your power supply to its knees, the ST31000340AS is decent value. Pick one up now from e-tropolis.co.uk.