Technology in the hard drive industry is seemingly at a standstill compared to many of the other markets that we look at on a daily basis. Take the CPU industry for example; we get brand new microprocessor architectures every 5 years, clock speed bumps multiple times during the year, and new features just about every 18 months. And look at the GPU industry, where 12 months is all it takes for a brand new architecture to be put in place and a new king of speed to be crowned. But with hard drives, it's very rare that we get to talk about a new technology or advancement, other than platter densities and disk sizes. Ironically enough, it took a launch from Intel to bring us the ability to look at some brand new technology in hard drives.

Intel's new 925X and 915 chipsets that we previewed earlier this week brought support for a number of brand new technologies such as DDR2 memory and PCI Express graphics. Included in the new features are a set of brand new storage features made possible by Intel's new ICH6R, the chip that is home to Intel's SATA and PATA disk controllers. Intel's new ICH not only makes four SATA ports standard on all new 9xx based motherboards, but it also brings even more flexible RAID technology to the desktop.

Dubbed Intel's Matrix RAID, the new ICH allows for RAID 0 and RAID 1 arrays to be created across partitions, and not only across physical disks. For example, using Intel's Matrix RAID, you could take two 120GB disks and make half of the new array a RAID 0 partition and the other half, a RAID 1 partition. The flexibility is interesting, but as you will see from our upcoming Raptor RAID 0 article, the benefits of RAID 0 are often more theoretical than practical - reducing the usefulness of the Matrix RAID feature for desktop users.

An even more interesting feature is that Intel's ICH6 enables support for a technology called Native Command Queuing (NCQ). Maxtor is the first company to provide sampling quantities of NCQ enabled drives to reviewers, and thus, we were given the opportunity to look at Maxtor's latest and greatest - - the MaXLine III.

What makes the MaXLine III an interesting drive is not only its support for NCQ (which will we explain in greater detail shortly), but also that it is the first desktop hard drive with a 16MB buffer, twice that of the current fastest drives.

So, what do a 16MB buffer, 250GB capacity and NCQ support offer for real world performance?

You're about to find out...

Native Command Queuing
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  • broberts - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    While the the article stresses that the tests attempt to duplicate real world conditions I noticed that, at least for the one benchmark, the o/s is on a separate drive. IMO most "real world" systems contain one drive, or at least one logical drive (RAID). Having the o/s and swap file on the same drive would, I suspect (and even with 1GB of RAM which is a little over the top), tend to highlight the difference between NCQ and TCQ performance.

    NCQ should only make a real difference when disk head movement is the bottleneck. A test such as loading a big program isn't going to really test anything unless the program is fragmented or some o/s activity (like swapping) concurrently takes place on the drive.

    I also wonder how much of the advantages of NCQ are negated by the bigger cache? 16MB in a desktop environment is significant. It may well account for the closeness of the numbers reported.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    Thanks for the responses guys, we're committed to making our storage coverage top notch on par with the articles in our other sections so it's going to take lots of constructive criticism to make sure we're providing that; keep it coming.

    You've already noticed that there were no sound/heat tests in the article. We got great response from the MP3s I posted of the drives in our first HDD roundup under the new suite, but we're still lacking a good quantitative way of comparing the sound levels of these hard drives. In the worst case scenario I could always just use a trusty SPL meter, but I want to do something a little more useful. Give me another week or so and I'll see if I can't at least have a prototype of what I'm trying to do.

    In terms of our excitement about NCQ, the conclusion never stated that NCQ increased performance tremendously across the board. But also remember that we only had three heavy-multitasking benchmarks, and the performance boost we saw in one of them (a very common scenario, who doesn't copy a file and browse the net or check email?) was nothing short of outstanding. NCQ is sort of like Hyper Threading in the sense that it doesn't improve performance by 20% across the board, but in a few very real world scenarios, the performance boost is nothing short of impressive. And as workloads become more parallelized in nature, we'll continue to see bigger benefits from NCQ. For current sequential desktop applications, NCQ doesn't do anything at all; but remember that AMD and Intel are both going down the multicore CPU route for a reason - desktop usage patterns are changing. We're very excited about NCQ as a technology because it anticipates that changing environment and definitely improves performance in it.

    Will you see a performance boost from NCQ today? If you're a heavy multitasker at all, then yes. Otherwise, no. Just ask yourself, how many times have you copied a file while doing other things in the background. A 10% performance gain in that one test is much more than any other real world hard drive performance improvement we've seen in recent history.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Operandi - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    I thought it was a pretty good article. I don't know where your people are coming from saying sounds like Maxtor PR paper. It may not be as fast as the raptor but then again it's a 250-300 gig drive not 74, fair trade if you ask me.

    As far as noise goes it should be identical to Diamond Max series. There is no reason for it to be any louder, aside from the 16 meg buffer and NCQ the drive is most likely identical mechanically.
    Reply
  • GhandiInstinct - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    So, I am also curious, how loud is it? How much will it cost?

    MaxLine or Raptor?

    Seems to me, as a gamer, Raptor won in all the gaming related benchmarks.
    Reply
  • Pariah - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    I agree with #11. I got the same impression aftering reading the conclusion which didn't seem to take any of the rest of the article into account. The conclusion seemed to be based in wishful thinking of what he had wanted to see, rather than being based on the numbers his article actually produced, which were not nearly as positive.

    The Raptor does not support NCQ. It supports the old ATA TCQ which is inferior in its implementation. However, looking at the lackluster performance of NCQ, it's not hard to believe the even worse #'s that StorageReview just posted on the Raptor's TCQ performance in workstation benchmarks.

    Also, the 7200.7's do not support NCQ either. Seagate announced a new version of the 7200.7 that will, but has not reached the market yet.
    Reply
  • Jeff7181 - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    What would make it any louder than Maxtor's other 7200 RPM drives? I doubt they'd go back to using ball bearings and noisy servo's just to give us NCQ. Reply
  • T8000 - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    It would indeed be interesting to see how other drives that support NCQ, like the Seagate and the Raptor 74 GB would benefit from it.

    Altough, I am not sure if the Raptor has NCQ or TCQ, but that could make it even more interesting, as NCQ and TCQ could be compared.
    Reply
  • QuaiBoy - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    This article reads like Maxtor promotional copy, giving the Maxtor high praise in tests where it fails to even outpace it's 7200RPM competition. Also, like #9 said, how loud is it? Vibration? Heat? Interesting omissions to the article... bet it sounds like a jet turbine given my past experiences with Maxtor. Reply
  • bwall04 - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    I'm not sure why this was overlooked but the 74GB Raptor supports NCQ. I think it would paint a clearer picture of the performance of NCQ and situations where it is beneficial if the review could be edited to add in these results.
    Kudos to Maxtor for stepping up with something to compete with my Raptors, and with 3x the storage!!
    Reply
  • jcromano - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    How loud is it? Reply

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