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Quantum Fireball Plus LM QM330000LM-A
  April 13, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Quantum Corp.

Introduction

In this age of 10 gig per platter, 7200rpm disks, everyone's attention remains fixed on Maxtor's ever-popular DiamondMax Plus 40. First reviewed here at StorageReview.com over four months ago, the Plus 40 has enjoyed a long reign of popularity. Challengers coming from Western Digital and Seagate weren't quite speedy enough to dethrone the Maxtor drive from its coveted position. Quantum is the next to deliver its contender, the Fireball Plus LM.

Nearly a year ago, Quantum delivered its first 7200rpm ATA disk, the Fireball Plus KA. The KA was most notable for its competitive seek time. Specifications-wise, the unit was the first ATA drive to plumb the depths of sub-nine millisecond seek times. Measurements, though, painted an even rosier picture. Here we found the KA to boast an access time that not only handily beat its specs, but also one that matched some of the fastest SCSI disks around. Quantum followed up with the Fireball Plus KX, a higher-density drive whose access time clocked in a hair higher. Now the company's third-generation 7200rpm disk has entered the marketplace. How does it stack up?

On paper, the Fireball Plus LM is faster than the competition. Though it features the same 7200rpm spindle speed and 10.2 gig/platter areal density offered by the competition's current products, it's seek time that allows the Plus LM to step forward. At 8.5 milliseconds, only Seagate's Barracuda ATA II claims a faster spec. The LM is also notable as Quantum's first ATA drive to make the leap to the now standard 2 megs of buffer. The drive is available in configurations of up to three platters, yielding a flagship capacity of 30 gigabytes. A three-year warranty protects the drive.

The Fireball Plus LM is the first ATA drive to receive an individual review following the rollout of our new testbed. As a result, we're providing figures collected on both the new and old systems. We'll continue to do so for an interim period before phasing out the old testbed entirely.

WB99/Win2k Low-Level Measurements

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Click here to examine the STR graph for this drive

Stacked up against the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 40, its obvious competition, the Fireball Plus LM reveals an interesting contrast. In its outermost zones, the LM can't quite keep up with the Plus 40, delivering a top sequential transfer rate of 26.8 MB/sec, over 3 MB/sec lower than the Maxtor drive. However, the drive's STR deteriorates less over the platter. By the time the innermost zone comes in to play, it's the LM that leads the Plus 40, 20.3 MB/sec vs. 18.5 MB/sec.

It's in the area of access time, however, that the Plus LM shines. Despite its specified 8.5 millisecond seek time, the LM turns in a WinBench 99 Disk Access Time of just 11.5ms. To put this in proper perspective, subtract the 4.17ms of latency that a 7200rpm spindle speed delivers plus a bit of overhead: The LM's average seeks take around 7ms. This means that despite its higher spec, Quantum's drive turns in the lowest access time around, beating out even the 8.2ms spec'ed 'Cuda ATA II... and Maxtor's drive, whose access time clocks in at a relatively lofty 14 milliseconds.

WB99/Win2k WinMarks

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The LM measures a bit on the low side in the Business Disk WinMark 99. We found the drive lagging behind the DiamondMax Plus 40 by a margin of 9%. The LM's High-End Disk WinMark score, however, creeps past the Maxtor's by a margin of 2%.

IOMeter Performance

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It's in Intel's benchmark that the Fireball Plus LM shines. A fast access time combined with what must be stellar firmware power the LM to the top of the charts, allowing it to uniformly best the DiamondMax Plus 40 across the board.

In a simple linear test under a Workstation Access Pattern, the LM surpasses the Plus 40 by 12%. The difference rises to 15% in Very Light, Light, and Moderate Loads. Finally, in a Heavy Load situation, the LM tops the Plus 40 by a rather beefy 20%.

As evidenced by the above graphs, the Quantum unit's showing is quite impressive. We're witnessing a drive that's easily in a class of its own.

Legacy Tests

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For those readers still interested, the above graphs outline the Fireball Plus LM's performance in our original testbed. The Business and High-End Disk WinMark scores for the Quantum fall right in line with those turned in by Maxtor's unit, the disparity in both cases less than 2%.

In NT 4.0, the Plus 40 pulls away, with the LM clocking in with #'s about 10% less. It's interesting to note that while the Business Disk WinMark result is relatively the same between NT with the Old Testbed and Win2k with the New System, the margins are rather different in the High-End. Win2k with a 700 MHz processor turns out similar High-End scores for both the Maxtor and Quantum. NT4 with a 266 MHz processor, however, does not. Though some may attribute the disparity to differences in the OS, it may also indicate that WinBench99 scores don't always scale proportionately between drive models as processor speed increases.

Conclusion

Despite its "Quiet Drive Technology," the Fireball Plus LM's seeks are a bit more noticeable than those of the DiamondMax Plus 40. This can be expected to some extent: it's simply the price one pays for swift access. The drive runs slightly warm to the touch in our new testbed. Active cooling is not necessary in most situations.

Overall, the Fireball Plus LM delivers the most impressive performance we've yet measured from an ATA drive. Many readers have undoubtedly noticed SCSI's rise to prominence during StorageReview.com's recent "realignment" during our 2nd anniversary series. The Fireball Plus LM, however, goes to show that when given the proper mechanics, an ATA drive can keep up with similar SCSI units. Compare the LM to, say, Quantum's own Atlas V. While featuring similar data densities, the Atlas V boasts an impressive 10.4 millsecond access time. Under a Workstation Access Pattern, the LM actually comes out on top under lighter Loads. Even when the Load gets heavier, the LM trails by far less than many would believe.

-- 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.The bottom line? Though the term is certainly an overused cliché, the Fireball Plus LM's "SCSI-like" performance allows it to topple the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 40 to claim the coveted 7200rpm SR Leaderboard slot. As long as you can live with 30 gigs of capacity or less in a single drive, the LM is the ATA drive to get!

Quantum Fireball Plus LM QM330000LM-A
Estimated Price: $349
Also Available: QM320500LM-A (20.5 GB); QM3150000LM-A (15.0 GB); QM310200LM-A (10.2 GB)
Specifications
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