It's finally happened. At long last a major drive manufacturer has announced a hard disk that transcends the 10,000 rpm barrier. Oh yes, there was Hitachi, who more than a year ago presented its "Pegasus" drive, a 12,000 rpm unit that failed to become anything more than an interesting curiosity. No, this time it's Seagate, a company that has traditionally advanced spindle speeds ever since the fixed-disk world decided to move up from the comfortable 3600 rpm mark. The Cheetah X15 has been announced. Expect the hype to flow.
Let's take a step back and engage in a reality-check. Seagate projects that it'll ship the X15 in volume in "Q3 2000," which by calendar-year standards means we'll see the drive available for sale no earlier than July. We have no doubt that the X15 will be a groundbreaking drive in terms of performance. Until then, however, everyone will do well to remember that 10,000 rpm drives are still where the action is at when it comes to the ultimate in disk performance.
Seagate has recently started to ship its fourth-generation Cheetah 36LP. Observers have noted, however, that Seagate seems to have throttled back in the 10k rpm race. The 36LP is a very evolutionary improvement over its predecessor. The manufacturer is easing its 10k line into something that looks more and more like a mainstream SCSI solution. The net effect yields a fourth-generation 10k drive that provides performance equivalent to, but no greater than, last year's champ: the Atlas 10k.
There's another speedster on the horizon. Unlike the X15, it's likely that we'll see this drive within the next couple months. With all the hubbub that's bound to spread, hopefully there'll be few that have forgotten about the Quantum Atlas 10k II.
On paper, the new Atlas looks awesome. First and foremost, this drive features a not-yet-venerable 10,000 rpm spindle speed. It's obviously marketed as a direct competitor to the Cheetah 36LP. Unlike the Cheetah, however, the Atlas forges ahead by presenting a lower-than-ever seek time, weighing in at a petite 4.7 milliseconds, a full half lower than Seagate's offering. The 10k II spreads its 36.7 gigs of data capacity over one less platter than the Cheetah does (ie, five disks), yielding 7.3 gigs of data per platter. This is darn impressive for a reduced-platter-diameter 10k drive and promises truly awesome sequential transfer rates. The buffer found in this new Quantum is no less impressive; the Atlas comes to the table with eight megs, doubling the competition. As one would expect, this enterprise-class drive is backed by a five-year warranty.
The Atlas 10k II is Quantum's second-generation deployment of the Ultra160/m SCSI interface. StorageReview.com's current testbed features an Adaptec AHA-2940U2W, a card that maxes out at an 80 meg/sec transfer rate. Though the drive features a 160 meg/sec interface, the actual platter-to-buffer transfer rate tops out at a specified 47.5 megs a second, well within the limits of Ultra2 SCSI. In the near future, we're planning to deploy a new testbed featuring a more up-to-date Ultra160m SCSI host adapter as well as a new suite of benchmarks. The figures that follow are the result of our testing methodology as of mid-February 2000.