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It’s Not Speedy Being Green: Why Seagate is Ditching the “Low-Power” HDD Market

It’s Not Speedy Being Green: Why Seagate is Ditching the “Low-Power” HDD Market
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Few people would want to say anything negative about energy conservation. We all know that power costs money and consumes a dangerous amount of non-renewable resources. It follows that anything people can do to cut down on energy waste is worth doing. But is it?

Intel was one of the first to educate the public that it’s not necessarily the wattage of a device that matters. More important is the amount of work done per watt in a given amount of time. If a processor can finish a job in record time by blasting through a workload at peak power consumption, then drop immediately back into an ultra-low-power idle state, there will be much less total power consumed than if that workload had been done more slowly by a lower power but less efficient processor. In other words, working harder so you can rest longer is the better approach to power efficiency. The test numbers are incontrovertible.

Fortunately, other segments within the computer market are starting to realize the same idea. Green is good, but it’s the end result that matters, not any gimmicks employed in getting there.

In the hard drive space, Seagate is stepping forward first to deliver an awkward but necessary message.

“This green drive category that’s sort of popped up over the last few years is really more hype and marketing fluff than it is reality,” says David Burks, a product manager within Seagate’s desktop hard drive group. “A green drive is marketed around the idea of saving electricity.’ But especially in a desktop environment, when you look at the numbers and you run the math, depending on the drive, you’ll save 20 cents, maybe 50 cents at the top end, per year in electricity costs from using a green drive in a PC. Meanwhile, you’re losing as much as 30% to 40% in your hard drive performance because you’re using 5400 RPM drives.”

Seagate is so committed to this new position that the company is killing off its entire line of Barracuda Green (low power) drives. Whereas most “green” drives use 5400 RPM spindle speeds, Seagate pushed to 5900 RPM, but even this was ultimately deemed unnecessary. Let’s dig into Seagate’s reasoning and see if it all adds up.

Time is Money

While every user will have different system usage patterns, we can take a few points of reference for the sake of exploring our point. Seagate estimates that an average desktop might run 2500 hours per year. That’s roughly eight hours per day, six days per week, ignoring all holidays and any other days off. Figuring a typical consumer’s use, about 60% of that time will be spent in sleep mode.

We could skew the numbers by looking at low-capacity drives with two or even one platter, but let’s not. We’ll compare the 3 TB Barracuda (7200 RPM) against the 2 TB Barracuda LP (5900 RPM), both of which feature three platters. The Barracuda has an average operating power of 8.0W and idle consumption of 5.4W. The green LP drive has an average operating power of 5.8W and an idle draw of 4.5W. This marks a difference of 38% (active) and 20% (idle). That sounds fairly significant, yes?