Seagate SkyHawk AI 20TB HDD Review: Mechanical Storage for AI Video

The Seagate SkyHawk AI hard drive is now available at up to 20TB for network video recorders (NVRs), AI video and imaging analytics, plus general server use. This HDD uses conventional magnetic recording (CMR) rather than shingled (SMR) to give the best performance for these workloads. Compared to Seagate’s Exos X20, the SkyHawk AI comes with three years of data recovery, ImagePerfect AI, and explicit support for up to 32 AI streams and 64 HD cameras. The regular SkyHawk has a shorter standard warranty, a lower workload rate limit (WRL), no explicit AI stream support, and is only available in smaller capacities.

The SkyHawk line of drives is set apart by Seagate’s surveillance-focused ImagePerfect firmware. It improves video and imaging workload performance and reliability through multi-tier caching (MTC), the ATA-8 streaming command set, write-intensive workload optimization, superior error correction code (ECC), and scheduler optimization. The latter two ensure that image quality remains high and that no frames are dropped. The rest help ensure that multiple sequential writing streams can be maintained, perfect for HD video camera recording. The AI ​​models tweak performance further for analytical workloads.

Specifications

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Product Seagate SkyHawk AI 20TB
Capacity 20 TB
Model # ST20000VE002
Pricing (USD) $429.99
Cost per GB (Rounded) $21.50
Interface SATA 6 Gb/s
Technology CMR (Helium)
RPM 7200
Sustained Transfer Rate Up to 285 MBps
Cache 256 MB
Workload Rate Limit (WRL) 550
MTBF (Hours) 2.5 Million
Warranty 5-Year (3-Year Services)

The 20TB Seagate SkyHawk AI HDD is very similar to the 20TB Seagate Exos X20, with the regular SkyHawk being closer to the IronWolf Pro. This makes sense as the hardware is effectively the same, although there are firmware and support differences. At the time of review the 20TB SkyHawk AI was priced the same as the Exos X20 on Amazon at $459.99, making it the better deal. Cheaper 20TB drives from rivals, for example the 20TB WD Red Pro NAS (opens in new tab)offer a general-purpose alternative.

The 3.5” 20TB SkyHawk AI only uses the SATA interface at 7200 RPM, and it can reach a sustained transfer rate of 285 MBps with a higher burst transfer rate. This is with CMR technology and 256MB of cache. Seagate states that this drive can handle up to 32 AI streams or channels with 120 real-time AI capture events per second or 96 compare events per second. The drive also supports up to 64 high definition cameras, as with the regular SkyHawk. Seagate also says this drive can do video analysis and recording simultaneously during GPU analytics workloads.

The standard 5-year warranty is backed by an additional 3-year +Rescue services warranty that includes data recovery. Seagate promises one attempt at data recovery with a claimed overall success rate of 95%. The recovered data is encrypted and returned. The drive also comes with SkyHawk Health Management (SHM) with RAID RapidRebuild. Other features include PowerChoice to improve efficiency and rotational vibration (RV) sensors to improve reliability, plus AcuTrac technology to improve functionality in multi-bay surveillance systems.

The SkyHawk AI has a workload rate limit (WRL) of 550TB, which is the threshold amount of data transfer per year to maintain the expected lifespan.

Software and Accessories

Beyond the recovery services, Seagate also offers multiple software downloads for this HDD. This includes SeaTools, an application designed to test the drive for health issues. Seagate offers a bootable version of these tools so you can boot from USB to test your drives. Seagate also offers a download for DiscWizard, an application that lets you backup and securely erase your data.

A Closer Look

The SkyHawk AI is an attractive HDD with a label that clearly indicates it is for video processing with the “surveillance” subtitle.

This drive has the typical connectors for SATA power and data. On-board we have DRAM for use as a write cache, a spindle motor controller, and Seagate’s main drive controller.

We see the three main components again. This is very similar to the Exos X20 internals. In this case, the memory is DDR3 rather than the DDR3L we found in the Exos. Seagate touts the size of this cache as being useful for buffering data streams. Traditionally, HDDs use volatile cache to buffer and merge writes to improve random write performance. Read performance improvements are more limited due to the relatively small size of the cache.

Seagate’s MTC is designed to add additional layers of caching with specialized roles, for example with a media cache (MC) layer to handle bursty workloads. The MC is not particularly useful with a drive like this as recording is sequential in nature, but MTC more broadly is the basis for the ImagePerfect firmware.

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