Hard drives are not only getting bigger, they're getting faster. This week Seagate is rolling out the fourth generation of its 7200-rpm Barracuda ATA (IDE) drives, claiming several improvements make it the fastest-available ATA drive for desktop PCs. The drives are scheduled for release in October in four configurations from a 10GB drive to a 40GB drive. The Barracuda ATA III drives feature an ATA/100 (sometimes referred to as UltraDMA-100) interface, which can transfer data at maximum burst rates of up to 100MB per second. PCs with ATA/100 interfaces have only recently started to become available. However, the drives are also compatible with earlier PCs equipped with ATA/66 and ATA/33 interfaces, albeit with lower peak performance. Inside the box, Seagate says, the internal data transfer rate has been upped 37 per cent to 500 megabits per second. In addition, a new 80MHz processor on the drive's controller is 25 per cent faster than the previous model of the Barracuda. The drives have an average 8.9 ms seek time and a 2MB buffer. The Barracuda drives use Seagate's third generation of Fluid Dynamic Bearings, which have liquid instead of ball bearings for the motor shaft for lower noise, reduced vibration, longer life, and increased shock resistance. The drives are designed to withstand 350G (350 times the force of gravity) while not operating, according to Seagate. The drives come packaged in the company's SeaShell - special packaging that protects the drives from up to 1000 g's of force during shipment and before installation. According to Seagate, the drives are suited to photo and video editing and storage, as well as CD mastering and MP3 file storage. Seagate also intends the drives for use in low-cost, multi-drive RAID installations. Primarily used in servers for increased performance and data security, RAID until recently has been used mainly with SCSI hard drives. Companies such as Adaptec and Promise Technology recently have released low-cost RAID controllers designed for ATA drives. The company says the Barracuda ATA III drives also include a faster and more complete version of Drive Self Test, which resides in ROM on the drive's circuit board. DST tracks errors and problems as they occur, and works automatically. Also included with all the drives is the latest version of SeaTools, a set of diagnostic utilities. SeaTools directly accesses the drives' DST and works with all SCSI and IDE drives from any manufacturer.