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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  • titte - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    I would strongly discourage from buing a disk from Maxtor. I recently bought a 250gig Maxline III but the disk fails to work with my nForce-chipset. The disk works ok on other machine and it's not a driver issue since Maxtors boot ISO fails to read/write to the disk. There is an article about the issue here http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=29570">http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=29570 and i also found an issue in the maxtor knowledgebase (can't seem to find it anymore though). This would be ok if maxtor support was up to the task but their resonses are almost autogenerated answers like "reinstall drivers". My problem description clearly states that drivers has been reinstalled and drive fails even when started from their diagnostics boot CD.... Reply
  • darksage429 - Thursday, October 14, 2004 - link

    Two questions:
    If you were to run them in RAID-0, would it beat Raptor's RAID-0 performance?

    and

    Would NCQ benefit those running Bittorrent?
    Reply
  • Kaido - Tuesday, June 29, 2004 - link

    Raptor + NCQ + 16mb cache = $250 *I'm* willing to pay :D

    So is this going to be an Intel-only thing like Hyperthreading, or will it be available on AMD motherboards too...an a64 with this Maxtor hard drive would be sick! :)
    Reply
  • Kaido - Tuesday, June 29, 2004 - link

    Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Tuesday, June 29, 2004 - link

    33 - I believe the article on Storage Review specifically stated that they will be doing an NCQ article in the near future, once they get all the necessary hardware in. Reply
  • quanta - Tuesday, June 29, 2004 - link

    I read the storagereview's article, but it did not test drive's NCQ capability. Rather, it only tested 'non-native' TCQ. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, June 27, 2004 - link

    The arguement is still that NCQ will be more helpful the more multi-tasking oriented our systems become.

    As for me, I sure could use it right now. I'm always playing MP3s, editing large sound and image files (photoshop is an insane resource hog), copying files between drives, and opening huge PDF, PPT and Word documents (I really wish marketing people would realize that we don't need print quality images in our online presentations). Most of the CDs I use everyday are actually images on my drive that I mount using Daemon Tools.

    I would also argue that everything is HD limited. Whenever you power up, open a program, or open a large file that little hourglass alwasy rears its ugly head. Sure, once everything gets shuffled off into RAM things are fine, but that wait time is still the most annoying bottleneck in my system. And if you've ever wanted to open or copy more than one file or program at a time, then there's an argument for NCQ.
    Reply
  • Pariah - Saturday, June 26, 2004 - link

    "The raptor has TCQ, which is basically the same, but in the raptor's case, it is actually an ATA implementation. TCQ has been around for awhile, originally from SCSI."

    Without going into the technical differences, which nobody probably cares about, the Raptor TCQ is quite different from SATA II NCQ. While SATA II NCQ is actually closer to current SCSI TCQ than the Raptor legacy ATA TCQ is. TCQ is a rather generic term used to describe a whole bunch of different schemes. NCQ is just a name used to describe the new form of TCQ used in SATA.

    "Both Intel and AMD are banking the future of their microprocessor designs heavily on a shift towards more multithreaded/multitasking usage patterns."

    It would appear to be more the other way around. Intel and AMD aren't betting on that, they really don't have a choice, and everyone else will have to adapt to that whether they like it or not. Intel has seen there is a limit to how fast you can push the clockrates of current CPU tech before the heat and power requirements exceed what is practical for users. In comes Pentium M, out goes Tejas. You can't compare CPU development to hard drive development because they don't run in parallel (no pun intended). There are quite a few CPU limited applications for home users even today, while there are very few HD limited applications, and even fewer scenarios where any of us would be running multiple such applications. For TCQ/NCQ to be effective, a user truly has to be hammering their drives and that is a rare occurence and unlikely to be for any length of time.

    There's a reason it has taken so long for the technology to reach ATA, and it has nothing to do with the evolution of the home user. One form of TCQ has been in PATA for years, but no one every used it because there was no use for it in the home. There still isn't, the difference now is that ATA, and more specifically SATA, is moving into the lowend enterprise and server markets which DO benefit from such technologies. The ability to use SATA drives on upcoming SAS controllers is further evidence that the markets are blurring a bit in the middle between ATA and SCSI. The needs of users haven't changed, nor are they, the target markets for the technologies have changed.

    "Right now I've got an IM client, an email client, a handful of browsers, Excel, Word, a calendar app, Photoshop and iTunes running. Of those, I'm concurrently managing tasks in the browser, MP3 player and Mail applications."

    Yup, those are some pretty hardcore HD usage applications. I bet you can just hear your drive grinding away under that workload.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, June 26, 2004 - link

    brentpresley

    TCQ won't be nearly as widely used as NCQ on the desktop, I expect the Raptor to be the only desktop SATA drive to support it; as far as I know, no chipset manufacturer is planning on including TCQ support in their south bridges.

    FacelessNobody

    NCQ, like Hyper Threading, improves performance in multitasking situations and not in single thread, single application scenarios. Both Intel and AMD are banking the future of their microprocessor designs heavily on a shift towards more multithreaded/multitasking usage patterns. I would tend to agree that this is a fairly logical progression for PCs to take. Already today we do some fairly heavy multitasking on PCs. Right now I've got an IM client, an email client, a handful of browsers, Excel, Word, a calendar app, Photoshop and iTunes running. Of those, I'm concurrently managing tasks in the browser, MP3 player and Mail applications. Start adding media encoding (which will happen once more people start using their PCs as media servers as well as work/play machines), multiuser environments (e.g. someone using the computer to play a game while someone else uses the same system to work in Word) through technologies like Vanderpool and then you have a clear benefit to technologies like NCQ and Hyper Threading. I'd honestly be curious to see the impact of NCQ on Media Center systems, I'd expect there to be a sizable performance boost - the only difficult part is measuring performance to be able to put into a graph.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • brentpresley - Saturday, June 26, 2004 - link

    74GB raptor is TCQ, as this document shows:
    http://www.westerndigital.com/en/library/sata/2579...

    Still, it would have been nice to compare the raptor running tcq w/ the maxtor ncq. Both are next-gen desktop technologies.
    Reply

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