iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






IDE Hard Drives Review - Spring 2002

It's April already, all leading companies have announced their plans for the current year (at press conferences, seminars, sites), and CeBit is over. Let's see what we have now on the market and what we are going to get in the near future.

Main tendencies

As I thought, the ATA/133 will obviously remain just a marketing step of Maxtor. It's arguable whether it is successful or not, but all leading manufacturers (except Samsung) said that they would stop production of drives with this interface anymore. The Intel's position is also clear - its chipsets won't support ATA/133. And it's not a problem to get over 137 GBytes on the software level, for example, by reflashing the BIOS without replacing the controller.

However, there is a reserve of the medal - almost all controller makers have released chips and cards, including RAID controllers, which support this standard. ALi chipsets also support the ATA/133. However, it's not a good way-out for all to buy an external controller (even inexpensive) without much performance gain and use, thus, discs from only one company. Tests of chipsets with the ATA/133 support are still ahead, but you shouldn't expect much performance boost either. I think that it's better to buy a drive larger than to try to milk the ATA/133.

It is clear why the companies have taken such a position. They are now getting prepared for production of drives with the Serial ATA interface which promises to remain for long.

What should we expect else this year? As usual, increase in record density and growth of disc sizes. I consider that by year-end 20 GBytes drives won't be very popular. Drives with 10.000 rpm are not announced yet, but it doesn't mean we won't see them this year.

Now let's speak about companies, their products and plans in detail. The companies will be spoken about in the alphabetic order; and I won't give any figures concerning their shares because they can be measured differently.

The latest product from IBM - DeskStar 120GXP series - turned out to be very successful, and at present it leads in performance among 7200 rpm drives (probably it was last to enter the market). As ever, there are some interesting technical peculiarities, but whether it is reliable or not will be clear only in half a year. The company ceased production of new models of 5400 rpm and they say that they aren't aimed at the share extension - the only that matters is the profitable business. It seems that there will be nothing new till the year-end.

This is the only company which produces drives with the ATA/133 interface and drives of a size over 120 GBytes. The 7200 rpm drives - D740X - are quite competitive even in the ATA/100 mode. The ATA/133 mode doesn't provide a considerable performance gain. If only they made the cache-buffer larger... But this is a prerogative of Western Digital. Unfortunately, we haven't tested yet the largest drives - Maxtor D540X-4N, but they must have a decent performance. New products should be expected by the end of the summer. Unfortunately, I don't know whether the company is going to start production of drives with the Serial ATA interface in the near future.

This is a company which make a great progress on the IDE drives market. At present it produces lines of drives of 40 GBytes per platter and 5400 spindle speed (SpinPoint SV line) and 7200 rpm (SpinPoint SP line). The Samsung drives are still less efficient than the leaders, but the company does its best to succeed, especially in the firmware development sphere. The new drives are being tested now, and the results look better. Besides, the drives are already popular due to their low price.

This is a pioneer in production of drives with 40 GBytes per platter. The U6 (5400 rpm) and Barracuda ATA IV (7200 rpm) drives appeared in Q3 last year but at present they can't compete against the latest models of the competitors. I think by the summer we should expect drives with 80 GBytes per platter.

The company actively promotes the Serial ATA standard, and it often demonstrated a sample of such drive at some displays. The mass production of the drives with the Serial ATA interface is expected to start at the year-end.

Well, the company has at last awakened. The company struggles for its name, ceases production of recovered drives, moves to 40 GBytes which improves the performance, produces drives with a 8 MBytes cache - all these things make us treat Western Digital with greater respect. It makes sense to take a look at the WD Caviar AB drives working at 5400 rpm. The drive, actually, rotates faster (6000 rpm) and, thus, allows lifting the performance.

In promotion of the Serial ATA Western Digital has caught up with Seagate. Western Digital doesn't produce drives with the SCSI interface (the prospects of which have become vague when the Serial ATA appeared), that is why the company isn't afraid of competition with its own products. Of course, there is a working sample, but it seems that the WD1200BB is the last drive with the traditional IDE/ATA interface produced by Western Digital. Then there will be only Serial ATA. At the same time, at first the drives will be probably supplied with Serial ATA to Parallel ATA adapters. But Western Digital is not going to sell drives with the Serial ATA controllers like Maxtor which bundles its drives with the ATA/133 controllers in some cases.

That is why the year promises to be interesting, at least starting from summer. Well, we will see what we will see.

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