One of the major issues facing a prospective hard drive purchaser is the decision between an ATA and SCSI hard drive. It often seems that ATA offers the tantalizing benefit of many gigabytes for cheap while SCSI promises better performance at a higher cost. SCSI drives do not benefit from the economies of scale that ATA drives enjoy; as the "performance" rather than "mainstream" offering, SCSI drives outright cost more to manufacture in addition to sporting beefier margins for distributors and vendors. The addition of a SCSI controller to a system, whether an add-on card or built in to the motherboard, can not be ignored. Finally, SCSI drives tend to incorporate later technologies and better specs: higher rotation speeds, larger buffers, faster seek times, etc. All this translates into lots of expense.

Once in a while a manufacturer will produce the same mechanical drive in both an ATA and SCSI configuration. Quantum has done so with its Fireball series, the latest "SE" iteration being available in Ultra ATA and Ultra SCSI models. We decided to pick up 6.4 gigabyte versions of both and compare them head-to-head. The Ultra ATA protocol boasts a maximum transfer rate of 33.3 MB/sec compared to Ultra SCSI's 20 MB/sec. In the tests we performed, the testbed's boot drive (Seagate ST34555W) was inactive while the SCSI Fireball SE ran the tests. In the ATA Fireball's case, only one ATA device can be active at any given time per ATA channel. Either way, the maximum transfer rates were moot… neither drive comes close to saturating their respective interfaces.

The Quantum Fireball QM36400SE has a rotational speed of 5400 RPM, the maximum currently found in shipping ATA drives. Its buffer is on the low side, a relatively skimpy 128k. Quantum rates the Fireball SE's average seek time at 9.5ms. The drives use 2.1 GB platters. All this combined to give the ATA version a very respectable showing in the 6.4 GB ATA roundup.

For this test, we used an ABIT LX6 motherboard (v1.1, bios v C7Q), a 266 MHz Intel Pentium II processor, a 64MB 10ns SDRAM DIMM, and a Matrox Millennium II PCI 4MB (bios vf1.2, PowerDesk v3.80). The tests were run at 1024x768 with 24 bit color at 85 Hz using small fonts. ZDBop's Startup Manager was used to prevent loading of background applications. ZDBop's WinBench 98 v1.0's Disk Test Suites were run on the two drives. The SCSI controller used with the QM36400SE-S was the Adaptec AHA-2940U2W. Read caching and write caching were enabled. The boot drive (Seagate Hawk 4XL ST34555W) contained Windows 95 OSR 2.1 patched with Intel's 82371xB INF Update. For the QM36400SE-A, Windows 95 OSR 2.1 was installed, patched with Intel's 82371xB INF Update and Microsoft's REMIDEUP.EXE fix. The boot drive (Western Digital Caviar AC31600) resided on the primary ATA controller with the QM36400SE-A on the secondary channel. Here is a link to the test bed information.

The Test

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