Maxtor's MaXLine III 250GB: Bringing 16MB Buffers and NCQ to Hard Drivesby Anand Lal Shimpi on June 25, 2004 12:03 AM EST
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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...