If you’ve ever spent some time messing about with video or sorting out photographs of your loved ones you’ll know how quickly even a big capacity hard drive can fill up. When you step away from the single-user desktop and instead move in to the world where you’re perhaps running a website, or even small business, then the data requirements sky rocket.
Large drive arrays fall in to two main categories. On the one hand you have a NAS, which means Network Attached Storage but in general is more usually applied to home bays of between 2 and 6 drives. In the business world you have arrays which can have dozens of drives installed for petabytes of storage capacity. Seagate, the masters of storage for as long as we can remember, have two high capacity drives which are very similar in a lot of ways, but have different intended audiences.
The IronWolf NAS drive is a 20TB model that can push 300 TB/Year and still be within the warranty, and is aimed squarely at those of you with a voracious data appetite and perhaps a 4 bay NAS to keep your data stored for whatever purpose you’re using it. The Exos X20 is a big step up from that, designed to fuel the needs of Enterprise customers who might have 20 or more of these drives in a rack. What really steps the Exos X20 up from the IronWolf is the inclusion of a helium sealed unit, keeping temperatures low whilst also stabilising the drive for the kind of hard life that Enterprise drives are expected to have. With 500 TB/Y throughput and twice the Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF) – 2.5 Million hours on the Exos compared to 1.2M on the IronWolf – it’s clear the Exos is for those who are very serious about their storage.
When dealing with good old mechanical HDDs we’re not expecting the performance between the two to be massively different, but that’s the great benefit of testing hardware such as this, which lives at the upper end of its segment, you never know. Is the step up to the Exos worth the extra outlay, or will the IronWolf be all the storage you’re likely to need?
Input/output Operations Per Second is a popular speed claim on a lot of drives, but the reality is that for most of us you’ll not be asking too much of your drive because you’re the only person accessing them. Drives such as this Seagate pairing are designed for those will have multiple users making requests, so IOPS is a more important measure of the drive.
Here the Exos X20 really shows how it’s a big step up in technology within the familiar casing, with a massive uptick in Write IOPS potential compared to the IronWolf. Enterprise technology doesn’t muck around.
There is no point in including any of the solid state solutions in our graphs because mechanical drives don’t remotely compare in the speed stakes. Where they win out is reliability and longevity, the cornerstones of mission critical storage solutions.
ATTO was designed back in the days when a HDD was your only storage option and the idea of a pair of drives such as these new Seagate offerings, 20TBs worth, seemed like the insanity of science fiction.
Crystal Disk Mark 5
The write benefits of the Exos that we saw in the Anvil benchmark continue here. It might not be enormously quicker than the IronWolf, but at this end of the speed range any improvement is very noticeable.
Crystal Disk Mark 6
Those write speed improvements in smaller block sizes continue to stand proud in the newer Crystal Disk Mark of the two. The Exos is seven times faster at 4K block writes than the IronWolf, as befits its target market.
With Helium sealed inside, even drives as enormous as this pairing still stay cool even under massive loading. This is the highest temperature we could achieve, and that was using them as hard as they might be if constantly accessed all day.
We’re not going to pretend that the average user will require a 20TB HDD, least of all that most of you will need a NAS full of them in a RAID array. Even if you’re making movies in 4K it will be a long while before you fill up either of the two Seagate drives we have here, let alone many of them.
However, when you’re dealing with huge storage for mission critical functions then reliability stands miles above transfer rates. If we can use a metaphor here, the average container ship is slower than a speedboat, but because the container ship goes at 25-30 knots 24/7 instead of 100 knots in short bursts, it ends up being about the same on average. Which is why it’s significantly cheaper to transfer stuff around the world by cargo ship, and not significantly slower. Network storage is much the same idea. If you’ve got enough of them in a RAID array you can have data moved at decent speeds, but moved all day every day. Certainly when compared to the fragility and heat generated by a solid state option, you can understand why everyone who wants enormous storage capacity still runs 3.5″ HHDs such as the Seagate pairing.
The two models here have slightly different target audiences. The IronWolf is the NAS version of a drive we’ve already looked at, and is for those of you with a 2 or 4 bay NAS – although it supports up to 24 bays – and the 300 TB/y and 1.2 million hour Mean Time Before Failure represent this. Far beyond the usage that most people will demand of it. The Exos X20 on the other hand is an Enterprise drive for people with the kind of voracious, endless, data appetite that would put a hummingbird to shame. It has nearly twice the workload limit, up to 550 TB/y, and twice the MTBF – 2.5 million hours – plus the ability to be run in an array of unlimited size. The kind of array that Google or Netflix would have on hand. However, if you were planning to use just one of these as a behemoth within your system then the Seagate Exos also has a significantly faster write speed than the IronWolf, so might be just as popular for desktop users looking to offload all their gaming footage to a single drive.
Two different takes upon a similar formula leave the Seagate IronWolf NAS 20TB and Exos X20 as challengers for the long term, bulk storage crowns. Clearly you have to have a specialist use case to need such a storage solution, but if you do then the Seagate will leave you sated and thus they win our OC3D Enthusiast Award.