hard drive history

1999: maturity

Seagate U8 8.4GB ST38410A

Photo: Red Hill.

Seagate U8 Family

After the sluggish U4, the U8 was a pleasant surprise. On paper, it should have been only marginally faster. By comparison with the older U4, it had a less miserly 512k cache and a slightly better data rate, but the same lack-lustre factory-claimed seek time (probably the most important single figure in modern drives).

In practice, however, the U8 performed admirably; it was noticeably faster than we had expected from the raw figures — indeed, the seek was half a millisecond faster than Seagate claimed! — and we were happy to use the it as one of our frontline drives.

The 8.4 and 17GB versions were the volume products, and with some reason. When these drives were current in late 1999 and the first half of 2000, the 8GB U8 was one of the cheapest drives around, and amply big enough for many business and non-games home users, so it sold well. The 13GB U8 was only twenty or thirty dollars more and substantially bigger, but then the 17GB monster was bigger again and still not expensive, so most buyers went with one priority or the other: the best price for a decent size (the 8.4GB) or the biggest size at a decent price (the 17GB), while the in-between model (13GB) sold quite slowly.

Like the U4, this drive came in Seagate's distinctive rubberised anti-shock packaging. It did nothing for its looks, but was an excellent innovation from the point of view of preventing handling damage — easily the most common cause of hard drive failure, then and now. The U8 became a firm favourite here: cheap, decently reliable, and quite capable of holding its own in the performance department, at least until the superb Samsung SpinPoint V1020 arrived a little later on. Its longer-term performance was not so good though: over the subsequent years, we experienced a steady trickle of failed U8s returning faulty and we wound up replacing quite a number of them.

Data rate285.5Mbit/secSpin rate5400 RPM
Seek time10.0msBuffer512k
Platter capacity8.6GBInterfaceATA-66
ST38410A8.62GB2 MR heads***
ST313021A13.02GB3 MR heads*
ST317221A17.25GB5 MR heads****