iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






HDD Digest' 2001

Hard drives meant for high-performance systems weren't much paid attention to at our site in 2001. But it doesn't mean there was nothing interesting in this sphere. Let me try to fill this gap. So, lets see what the top manufacturers announced last year.


Drives with a spindle speed of 7200 rpm are meant for entry-level high-performance systems. The Barracuda 36ES is the junior model of this class. The 7th generation of the Barracuda drives supports both Ultra160 and Ultra SCSI interfaces with the maximum speed of 20 MBytes/sec. A recording density of these models is only 9.2 MBytes per platter. An access time is 8.5msec. The buffer size is 2 MBytes. In December the company announced the 8th generation of this series - Barracuda 36ES2. Their speed of operation is almost the same as of the predecessors, but reliability and operating characteristics are different: Nonoperating Shock - 350G against 200G, a noise level - 2 against 3.5 Bels and power consumption - 6.25 W against 8 W.

The Barracuda 180 released in April 2001 has the largest size - 180 GBytes! Therefore, its other characteristics are quite different as well: 40.64mm (half-height) and a weight of 1.043 kg. However, an access time is quite small - 7.4 ms, and a surface reading speed is only 41 MBytes/sec (in our tests) which is 5 times less as compared with the Barracuda 36ES. It should be noted that the drive contains 12 platters and 24(!) heads. By the way its noise level and power consumption are not so great as you can expect. It is interesting that the warranty period is 5 years against 3 for other Barracuda models. There is also a version of the disc with a buffer extended up to 16 MBytes which is meant for video data processing systems and other applications working with large data volumes.

Right after the release of the Barracuda 180 the SAN systems makers started announcements of their products based on this drive. For example, the maximum size of the MAGNITUDE SAN from XIOtech increased 2.5 times thus reaching 11.5TB.

As you remember, a hard drive with a 10.000 rpm speed was first announced by Seagate in 1996. Since that time the Cheetah family changed several generations, and today the company produces drives of the 5th and 6th generation. Their size varies from 9 to 73 GBytes. For the five years the Cheetah series changed significantly: a disc size increased 16 times, a recording density - 5 times, a surface reading speed - 2.5 times, an access time improved by 1.25. Moreover, reliability, a noise level and power consumption also improved. The latest model - Cheetah 36ES - has more impressive parameters. Besides, it will be equipped with the fastest SCSI interface - Ultra320. At present, over 15 million 10K RPM Seagate drives of the Cheetah series are already sold out.

Another record of this company is the Cheetah X15 series which has the highest spindle speed - 15.000 rpm. The first model was released in 2000, and in 2001 we saw the Cheetah X15 36LP. Apart from the twice higher size (36 GBytes against 18) this drive has a smaller access time - 3.6 ms against 3.9 ms. A recording density is 2.5 times bigger as well, which allowed for a faster linear reading - 58 MBytes/sec against 39. The operating characteristics became better as well, in particular, a noise level and a maximum possible acceleration in a standby mode. Besides, the company plans to start production of this model with the Ultra320 interface in the beginning of this year. 15K RPM drives are so popular that the company managed to sell out one million already.


In the SCSI sphere products are mainly based on the Quantum solutions. High-performance drives from this company were always leading in our tests, for example, Atlas V or the latest product in the 10K RPM class - Atlas 10K III. Apart from the speed the drive has a low noise level and a low working temperature. The Atlas 10K III model comes with the Ultra320 interface and thus it becomes a very interesting solution - a linear reading speed of 10K rpm discs reaches today 52 MBytes/sec and three discs in one channel load up the Ultra160 entirely. By the way, Maxtor is currently collaborating with top makers of SCSI chips and controllers - Adaptec and LSI Logic - for a correct realization of the Ultra320 protocol and the company announced complete compatibility of the Atlas 10K III Ultra320 with controllers from this companies. 15K rpm models are expected in the beginning of this year.


The latest model of the 7200 rpm class - Ultrastar 36LP - was released two years ago. Maybe this sphere is not so profitable anymore. The company either doesn't plan on producing large discs such as Seagate Barracuda 180. That is why we will hardly see soon new models of this class from IBM.

In the 10K rpm class there are currently two series - Ultrastar 36LZX and Ultrastar 73LZX. The former one is two years old and its has much worse speed characteristics than those of the competitors. The Ultrastar 73LZX which replaced it is produced in 9/18/36/73 GBytes configurations, has the Ultra160 interface (the Ultra320 is coming soon) and a 4 MBytes buffer. The recording density increased twice and now it is 6 GBytes per platter, though the leaders come with 9 GBytes per platter.

Supplies of the Ultrastar 36Z15 drive with 15K rpm speed announced yet in February 2001 were first in delay as IBM thought it might be unprofitable. However, at the year-end the supplies were resumed. The line includes 18 and 36 GBytes models with a recording density of 4.6 GBytes per side. The drives have a 4 MBytes buffer and the Ultra160/Ultra320 interface.


Fujitsu drives are rather efficient. But like IBM the company ceased production of 7200 rpm SCSI drives. The latest models of this series are Allegro-6L (MAH3xxx) which are of 9 and 18 GBytes, come with a 4 MBytes buffer and the Ultra160 interface.

In the 10K rpm class the Allegro-6LE (MAJ3xxx) drives were replaced with new Allegro-7LE (MAN3xxx) models which belong to the fifth generation of the 10K rpm drives from Fujitsu. The line includes 18/36/73 GBytes models equipped with a 8 MBytes buffer and Ultra160/Ultra320 interface. These drives showed a high performance level in our tests.

The first 15K rpm drive from Fujitsu - Allegro-7LX (MAM3xxx) - had a successful debut. It was the first competitor against the Cheeatah X15 in our lab. Although the drive fought with the second generation of 15K rpm drives from Seagate - Cheetah X15 36LP, it managed to beat it in some tests.

As for IDE models, we paid a good deal of attention to them, that is why we will just dwell on the general trends of the last year.

The first obvious tendency is concentration of production. If a company can't achieve an effective production it either leaves the market (like Fujitsu) or amalgamates with another one (Maxtor-Quantum). The only exception is IBM who manages to maintain breakeven production of IDE drives.

The second tendency is unification and standardization (with the purpose of cost reduction). And the palm here belongs to the Western Digital whose 7200 and 5400 rpm models have identical engines; and it sometimes gives us curious solutions (for example, a WD Caviar drive of the AB series whose spindle speed was 7200 rpm instead of the required one).

The third tendency is aligning of forces. When there appears a leader (last year it was Seagate) the rest of the manufacturers catch up with it quickly. Therefore, reliability and a noise level of drives become of the upmost importance. IBM is again an exception as it can afford to make a pause announcing its new devices much later than the competitors.

Another tendency is installation of hard drives into home electronic systems.

Now I'd like to speak about the technologies used in the IDE drives, what news the last year brought us and what we should expect this year.

Last year a recording density per platter increased twice - up to 40 GBytes. Today it is already possible to produce drives of 200 GBytes. A recording density and drive sizes will increase further. Another evolutionary process - growth of a buffer size - is less probable. The Caviar 1000JB " Special Edition" from Western Digital would hardly be a bestseller although it's speedier in some tests.

Now a little on revolutionary changes. One of the revolutionary ideas - further development of the IDE/ATA interface - was suggested last year by Maxtor. The company offers "two in one" - Fast Drives (ATA/133) and Big Drives in one packet. The ATA/133 interface seems to be a marketing step as a throughput of the ATA/100 (and even ATA/66) is more than enough. But if we combine the ATA/133 interface and a 8 MBytes buffer it will be an interesting solution... But it is yet to be done. And as for the Big Drives there is no any alternative to this technology which would allow for IDE drives larger than 137 GBytes. The Serial ATA exists only as a sample today. And although Intel is not going to support the ATA/133, such controllers from other top companies (Promise and HighPoint) make me think that this interface is quite promising.

One more revolutionary product which may appear this year is an IDE drive with a spindle speed of 10.000 rpm from Seagate. The company has the required technological possibilities, that is why if the company decides the market is ready we will see this product this year.

And now a little about the boom of IDE RAID controllers. While in 2000 these controllers were used mainly as a budget solution for home use, last year the market was glutted with a great deal of controllers with server functions (4-channel and more controllers with RAID 5 support). The current year will give as an answer whether such solutions will be popular or they will disappear soon.

We promise to keep you on track with the latest events in the HDD industry, and at the end of this year we will see whether our forecasts are true.

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