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Western Digital Caviar WD205BA

  January 20, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Western Digital Corp.

When it comes to ATA performance, it's always Maxtor and Western Digital at the front of the pack, trading blows and vying for top performance. Maxtor's latest 7200rpm unit, the mighty DiamondMax Plus 40, delivers impressive scores across the board. At the time of the review, we noted that none of the competition had even announced a drive in the same class. We should have known better. As things have turned out, WD announced a competing drive the next day and Maxtor has yet to deliver the Plus 40 in wide availability.

In a departure from previous practice, WD's latest 7200rpm drive bears the Caviar name. The flagship model bears just two 10.2 gig platters, delivering a top capacity of "only" 20 gigs. Though still a lot of space, this means the unit weighs in at just half the capacity of Maxtor's behemoth. Perhaps this is why the drive is part of the Caviar rather than Expert family. All previous Expert flagships have sported WD's 4 platter design. An 8.9 millisecond access time and 2 megabyte buffer finish off the package. The drive features a three-year warranty.

It should be noted that this Caviar family's model # is identical to some of the lower-capacity members of the Expert WD273BA line. The 20 gig version of that Expert, for example, is also called "WD205BA." The 10 gig unit of both lines is called the "WD102BA." Judging by the specs, however, it's clear that the Caviar WD205BA will outperform the Expert WD205BA. Even the names can lend to confusion. Given the same model #'s, we would assume an "Expert" class drive would best a "Caviar" unit. Our evaluation unit sports a label with "WD Caviar" in small letters above "205BA" in a larger font. Our Expert WD273BA (we don't have an Expert WD205BA handy, unfortunately), on the other hand, is marked as an expert. Bottom line: If you can examine the drives you'll be able to tell the difference; if not, things can be iffy.

As we've done with all other ATA-66 drives, the Caviar was tested using Promise's Ultra66 controller. The ATA-66 unit does not work properly with our old-bios (kept old to control variables) LX-based motherboard. Though this shouldn't be an issue with most motherboards these days, Western Digital provides a utility to force the drive into ATA-33 operation. No loss of performance would occur should this be necessary.

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Naturally, the Caviar is best compared to the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 40. On low levels, though the Caviar turns in a slightly lower access time, it can't match the DiamondMax's 30 MB/sec sequential transfer rates. As we've indicated in the past, though, transfer rates are hardly everything.

Though the scores are close in high-level tests, the WD drive falls just short of the Maxtor's lofty scores. The Business Disk WinMark 99 run under Windows 95 reveals a negligible 2% difference in Maxtor's favor. The High-End WinMark difference is slightly more substantial, with the Caviar trailing by 7%. Traditionally Maxtor would put considerable distance between itself and its competitors when it came to the Disk Winmarks in Windows NT. Here, however, the overall difference is relatively slim, with the Caviar trailing the DiamondMax by margins of 4% and 6% respectively in the Business and High-End WinMarks. ThreadMark turns in virtually identical scores for both drives, with the Maxtor edging out the WD by margins of 1% or less.

The maturity of 7200rpm drives when it comes to heat and noise continues to become more and more obvious. The Caviar joins the DiamondMax Plus 40 with no idle noise, quiet, muffled seeks, and cool operation. To us, WD's labeling of a 7200rpm unit as a Caviar is indication that the manufacturer believes 7200rpm drives have hit the mainstream.

The StorageReview.com Safe Buy Award



Simply put, this designation means we'd purchase this product without regret. Sure, there may be a slightly better, slightly faster, and/or slightly less-expensive model from a competitor, but you can't go wrong with this particular unit. This award is applicable, of course, to all units at the top of their class, but also applies to units that, though not quite best-of-class, provide a strong showing nonetheless.In summary, despite its name, the Caviar WD205BA is one of the fastest ATA drives around. The fact that it is almost as fast as the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 40 is complimentary, not derogatory. If you're looking for more than 20 gigs of space, the Maxtor is still the only choice. However, the performance margins between the two drives are slim. Combine this with the fact that both drives deliver commendable temperature and noise levels and you have a virtual tossup that may very well boil down to what drive becomes available first and at what price you can purchase them. Our only caveat is the confusing nomenclature. It's something that can throw off resellers as well as end users (this also seems to happen regularly with Maxtor's retail-box packages). As always, the buyer should make sure he/she knows exactly what's being purchased before committing.

Western Digital Caviar WD205BA
Estimated Price: $189
Also Available: WD153BA (15.3 GB); WD102BA (10.2 GB)
Specifications
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* Note: Threadmark 2.0 test results are the average of five trials.
WinBench99 test results are the average of three trials.


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