Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/284



Have you ever found yourself standing in the checkout isle of a store, wishing that you could buy every single flavor of gum, every single brand of TV, and every last pair of shoes so you could find out which one you like the most? Its unfortunate that advertising cannot always be as truthful as wed like it to be, and if there was ever an industry in which advertising sold more products that sheer quality it would be the computer hardware industry. The computer hardware industry simply changes too quickly for any one person to stay on top of it all, which is where the advertising strength of one company will give their products the edge over those that dare compete, even those that are superior in quality and performance.

Case in point would be the fixed disk storage market. The amount of attention given to the latest in CPUs, video cards, memory and even motherboard trends generally outweighs the latest innovations in hard disk technology by an incredible factor. When it comes to buying a hard drive, at the end of an expensive system configuration spending spree, most consumers tend to spend whatever money they have left in their budget on purchasing the most storage available for the price. For a user that cares about nothing more than storage, this approach is an intelligent one. But for the performance user, if youve funneled a good $1500 into a speedy system, a sluggish yet expensive hard drive may end up being the bottleneck your brand new computer is blessed with right out of the box.

AnandTechs solution? We grabbed the corporate card and went shopping, dropping by TC Computers Website, AnandTech picked up 8 of the top selling Ultra ATA 33/66 Hard Drives available at the time.

This first installment in a number of bi-monthly segments will deal with a realistic approach to comparing the performance of some of the most popular drives you will encounter when attempting to complete that high-performance system. The drives in this initial installment, as well as all to come in the future, will be rated according to real world performance under Windows 98 and Windows NT, as well as according to price current of the date of the publication of the article.

Each installment will build on the previous, including all previously tested drives as well as the new additions for the particular update. By the end of AnandTechs investigation, a winner will be crowned, and a greater understanding of the general performance trends will hopefully be attained.

The Drives

* Ultra ATA/66 Drives

The Drives

Drive

Rotational Speed Cache Interface
IBM Deskstar 14GXP

7200 RPM

512KB

Ultra ATA/33
IBM Deskstar 16GP 5400 RPM 512KB Ultra ATA/33
Fujitsu MPC310AT 5400 RPM 256KB Ultra ATA/33
Maxtor DiamondMax 4320 5400 RPM 512KB Ultra ATA/33
Quantum Fireball EX 5400 RPM 512KB Ultra ATA/33
Seagate Medalist ST34321A 5400 RPM 128KB Ultra ATA/33
Western Digital Caviar 8.4GB 5400 RPM 256KB Ultra ATA/33
Western Digital Caviar 20.4GB 5400 RPM 2MB Ultra ATA/66

Western Digital Expert 9.1GB

7200 RPM 2MB Ultra ATA/66


Setting up the Test

AnandTech prepared two identical test beds for each individual hard drive, the first was a setup running Windows 98 with a single FAT32 partition occupying the full size of the hard disk. The second setup was one running Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 4 with a single 4GB NTFS partition. In both cases, the only installed software was the operating system, and the benchmark utilities.

The complete test system configuration was as follows:

  • Intel Pentium II 400 w/ L2 Cache ECC Checking Disabled
  • ABIT BX6 Revision 2.0 Motherboard
  • Promise Ultra66 Ultra ATA/66 PCI Hard Disk Controller
  • Ultra ATA/66 40-pin 80-conductor HDD cable
  • Microsoft Windows 98
  • Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 4
  • Ziff Davis Winbench 99
  • Ziff Davis Winstone 99

The Promise Ultra66 controller card was used in all of the tests, regardless of whether or not the drive being tested was Ultra ATA/66 compliant in order to remove any performance variations between the BX6’s on-board PCI IDE controller and the Ultra66 controller. The Promise Ultra66 driver revision tested was 1.42

Each hard disk was partitioned and cleanly formatted right out of the packaging as to prevent any skewing of the data. For purposes of consistency, each benchmark was run a total of 5 times, and the average then taken from those 5 benchmark trials.

Ziff Davis’ Winbench 99 was used to show the real-world transfer rates achieved by the individual drives, measured in megabytes per second. Ziff Davis’ Winstone 99 was used to show the real world performance increase by using one drive as opposed to another while running Business or High-End applications depending on the test bed. Both tests are designed to represent real world cases including sequential reads/writes to the disk (audio/video editing applications), random data access, as well as CPU utilization and disk access time.



Windows 98 (FAT32) Performance

If all you’ll be running is your standard set of Business Applications under Windows 98, the Business Winstone 99 performance comparison illustrates the relatively small difference between the fastest performing drive and the slowest performing drive. The impact on your system as a whole in applications where intensive disk usage is not dominant is barely noticeable. If you’re the type of user that finds yourself running these types of programs, you’re better off looking for the most inexpensive hard drive out of those presented to you, as well as the drive that offers the largest capacity for the price.

The two Ultra ATA/66 participants in the roundup, the Western Digital Caviar 20.4 and the Expert 9.1 both dominate the top of the charts in raw transfer rates. The Ultra ATA/66 specification’s increased burst transfer rates aid the two contenders in improving their overall performance.

The same situation is transferred over into the High-End realm, where the Caviar 20.4 takes the quick lead over the rest of the competition, followed by a close second with the Expert 9.1. The slowest out of the bunch, as can be expected, is the aging Seagate Medalist ST34321A which can be considered the crippled veteran of this comparison.



Due to the design of the hard disk, it is faster for data to be read on the outer most tracks of the physical disk rather than on the inner most. The performance of a drive when reading from/writing to the outermost tracks is directly related to the rotational speed of the drive. This next test illustrates the dividing line between those hard drives than have 5400 RPM motors, and those with the faster 7200 RPM motors.

As you can probably guess, the top two winners are all 7200 RPM drives, and the drive that came in as the absolute fastest happened to be both a 7200 RPM as well as an Ultra ATA/66 drive, the Western Digital Expert 9.1GB.

Interestingly enough, the 4th runner up, the Quantum Fireball EX, is actually a 5400 RPM drive that happens to be tied with IBM’s 7200 RPM 14GXP. This helps illustrate the fact that 7200 RPM drives are not necessarily faster than their 5200 RPM counterparts.

The same situation is illustrated here, however it is quite obvious that there is little that has been changed with the Caviar line since the days of the 8.4GB drives as the 20GB Caviar tied with its 8.4GB counterpart in the Inner Track transfer rate tests. The Expert 9.1GB once again came out on top, followed by the DiamondMax 4320 which held up a reasonably close second place, keep in mind that the DiamondMax 4320 is only a 5400 RPM Ultra ATA/33 drive.

Western Digital’s new Expert series seems to be quite a force to be reckoned with, offering high performance and a relatively low disk access time. The older Caviars are pure disappointments, offering the slowest disk access times out of the entire roundup.

Those users that are into small-time, budget audio/video-editing and will want to pay close attention to the following comparison chart for disk access time.

The CPU utilization of the various drives hardly varies, leaving even the most CPU dependent Caviar drive no more than 2% away from IBM’s leading Deskstar. CPU Utilization is a consideration, however not too big of one in this roundup.



Windows NT (NTFS) Performance

Under Windows NT, the picture remains virtually unchanged. The Maxtor DiamondMax does take the narrow lead over the Western Digital in the Business Application performance, however it takes a close back seat to the Ultra ATA/66 (and also 7200 RPM) WD Expert drive in the High-End Application Performance.

The Experts 2MB cache and 7200 RPM spin rate give it the touch needed to take the narrow lead away from the extremely competitive Maxtor DiamondMax, a 5400 RPM drive.



The Western Digital Expert 9.1GB’s larger cache, Ultra ATA/66 support, and 7200 RPM spin rate make it the highest performing Windows NT EIDE drive out of the bunch. Will things change in the near future with Ultra ATA/66 drives from IBM arriving on the scene? Only time will tell…



Price per Megabyte Comparison

For those users that are simply interested in storage space, the 20GB Western Digital Caviar offers the most bang for your buck, weighing in at around $0.015 per megabyte of storage space. The higher performing Expert 9.1GB offers the worst storage value bearing the Western Digital name, it is a small price to pay for killer performance. The Maxtor DiamondMax and the Fujitsu drives offer reasonable alternatives to Western Digitals Caviar for users that are looking for affordable hard disk storage space.

Conclusion

In this introductory roundup, the Western Digital Expert 9.1 proved to be the best overall performer due to its 7200 RPM spin rate, impressive 2MB cache, and Ultra ATA/66 interface protocol. If you need an even larger storage capacity, the Expert series is available in an 18GB flavor as well, for an added premium of course. Unfortunately, the Price Comparison shows that the Expert is not the most economical, leaving the cheaper 5400 RPM alternatives to be the ideal solutions for most users on budgets. The 7200 RPM IBM Deskstar 14GXP is a bit cheaper than the Expert, and does offer an in-between capacity of 14.4GB making it another alternative to WD's latest concoctions.

Users just looking for the most bang for their buck will probably find themselves at home with the 20.4GB Caviar drive from WD, in many cases it outperforms the rest of the competition due to its 2MB buffer and design. How will things change when IBM's Ultra ATA/66 drives hit the market? Western Digital has had a series of failures in the past with their cheaper Caviar drives, let's see how far the new Expert line can pull them out of their grave before the competition steps in to make things a bit more interesting. Until next time...

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