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Maxtor DiamondMax 60 96147U8
  May 10, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Maxtor Corp.

Introduction

Advances in areal density seem inexorable. We opened the year 2000 with hard drives packing a whopping 10 gigabytes per platter... yet less than five months later, ten gigs a platter seems rather tame. Now we've got drives with 15 gigs on a single disk just around the horizon. Research divisions of manufacturers such as IBM, Seagate, and Fujitsu keep on proclaiming breakthrough after breakthrough in recording technology that just keeps pushing the "superparamagnetic limit" (the theoretical maximum areal density) further and further back. Current estimates imply that 200 gig/platter drives won't be out of the ordinary 10 years from now!

Despite the major breakthroughs that come from the huge conglomerates listed above, the smaller Maxtor Corp. has been the most instrumental in quickly bringing these benefits to bear on shipping products. Shortly after StorageReview.com's launch in March 98, Maxtor was the first to ship a 2.9 gig/platter drive, the DiamondMax 2880. Similarly, the 4.3 gig/platter plateau was broached first by Maxtor with the DiamondMax 4320. The first drive to hit 6.8 gigs/platter? The DiamondMax 6800, of course. Finally, the DiamondMax 40 was the first to break the 10 gig/platter barrier.

The race to deliver the first 15 gig/platter unit is a tight one. Maxtor, Quantum, and IBM all promise delivery of such drives within a couple weeks. IBM's unit, in particular, is intriguing due to its 7200rpm operation. Yet it was little surprise to us that Maxtor was the first company to actually deliver a unit into our hands.

Unlike all other manufacturers, Maxtor has yet to throttle back platter counts in its venerable 5400rpm DiamondMax line. Big Blue, the other holdout, has finally caved, deciding to ship its upcoming 5400rpm drive (20 GB/platter, no less!) with only two disks in the flagship model. As its name implies, however, the DiamondMax 60 in its largest incarnation packs 60 gigs of data into a single 1" high form factor utilizing four platters. Wow!

The 60's other primary specs are right in line with its predecessors. The unit features 5400rpm operation, a 9 millisecond seek time, and a 2 meg buffer. A three-year warranty backs the drive.

Extolling the virtues of quiet operation has become quite popular with manufacturers these days. Maxtor's "Silent Store" technology debuts with the DiamondMax 60. Maxtor describes the two modes of Silent Store as such:

"Performance mode operates in a seek profile that is fully optimized for the fastest possible performance. The quiet mode brings seek acoustics within one dBA of idle acoustics, with minimal change to performance, to accommodate noise-sensitive storage environments."

Simply put, Silent Store allows one to slow down seeks, muting produced noise. According to a Maxtor representative, the mode can't be end-user toggled. Since the drive is marketed towards entry-level rather than performance-oriented situations, it ships by default in "Quiet Mode." OEMs or VARs ordering quantities of the drive can request them to be toggled to "Performance" before shipping from the factory. The reliability hit parade also continues... on this front, the DiamondMax 60 debuts "Adaptive ATA Control," a technology which nebulously senses "environmental conditions" and adjusts ATA timings accordingly. Uh, ok .

So, how does Maxtor's latest and greatest 5400rpm unit perform? Let's move on to some figures!

WB99/Win2k Low-Level Measurements

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Click here to examine the STR graph for this drive

The DiamondMax 60 sets new heights for sequential transfer rates achieved by a 5400rpm drive. The 60's impressive areal density allows for a blistering 28 MB/sec STR in the drive's outermost zone (about the first 8 gigs of the drive). As measurements move towards the inner zones, STR steadily decays, bottoming about at about 17 MB/sec.

Access time weighs in at 14.4 milliseconds. Factoring out the 5.56ms rotational latency associated with all 5400rpm drives, this yields (ignoring other overheads) a seek time of about 8.8 milliseconds... just as Maxtor advertises (< 9.0ms). We're left to wonder, however, how much swifter the seek time would be if the drives weren't in "Quiet Mode." Nevertheless, such low-level figures aren't bad at all for a 5400rpm unit.

WB99/Win2k WinMarks

Let me begin this section by introducing an interesting quandary...

Folks may remember the difficulty we had in revising the 5400rpm slot of our Leaderboard during our 2nd anniversary blitz. We'd decided to go with two major performance measures, WinBench 99 and IOMeter.

The drive that performed best in WinBench 99 was Western Digital's 10 GB/platter Caviar. Interestingly, however, the Caviar places near the bottom in IOMeter measures!

On the other hand, the best performing drives in IOMeter were Quantum's Fireball lct series. These drives, though, fare poorly in WinBench!

Since we give more weight to IOMeter results rather than those for WB99, the Fireball lct10 reigns as our current 5400rpm champ. Nevertheless, we realize that many readers value and weigh WB99 results very highly when considering drive purchases. Thus, to compare the DiamondMax 60 to the Fireball lct10 alone (a poor WB99 performer) would yield an unusually high contrast. A comparison with WD's Caviar is better warranted.

Comparing the DM60's performance to the Caviar in IOMeter, however, would imply that the WD drive set the previous 5400rpm mark... untrue, since that distinction remains with the Fireball lct.

We've therefore decided to depart from our usual practice of comparing a reviewed drive with our current leaderboard incumbent and instead moved to compare the DM60 with the drives that previously scored best in the respective benchmarks.

Without further ado, let's look at high-end WinBench 99 results.

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The DiamondMax 60 manages to top the Western Digital Caviar WD307AA by a 5% margin in the Business Disk WinMark 99. The gap increases to 7% with the High-End Disk WinMark. Though not a decisive victory, the results once again allow Maxtor to claim top WB99 results for 5400rpm drives, a distinction previously taken away from the company by the WD307AA.

IOMeter Performance

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When it comes to IOMeter Workstation performance, the DiamondMax 60 is best contrasted against the Quantum Fireball lct10. The Maxtor starts off well, outpacing the Quantum by a margin of 5% under a Linear load. The Fireball narrows the margin to just 1%, however, as the load increases to Very Light. Unfortunately for the DM60, as the load increases to Light, Moderate, and Heavy levels, the modest Fireball lct10 manages to pull away, leaving the DM60 trailing by 6%-10%. When it comes to IOMeter, the lct10 is the faster drive.

As an aside, it should be noted that the DM60 blows away the lct10 in WB99 by margins approaching 40%. These little pearls (as irrelevant as we think they are) can be gleaned from the powerful StorageReview.com database!

Conclusion

As is the case with virtually all 5400rpm drives, the DiamondMax 60 runs rather coolly. Active cooling should be unnecessary except in the most cramped of conditions.

It's when it comes to noise, however, that the Maxtor drive shines. As we've stated before, the drive ships in "Quiet Mode," where seek speed is slightly sacrificed in exchange for dampened operation. The DM60 is one of the quietest we've heard yet, with seeks just barely audible above the power supply fan... quieter even than the Quantum Fireball lct10!

In conclusion, though it continues Maxtor's impressive time-to-market with the latest in areal densities, the DiamondMax 60 isn't quite the performance leader we were hoping. At least not yet, that is. Currently the Quantum Fireball lct series tops the charts in IOMeter results. This may change, however, with the direct competitor to the DM60, the Fireball lct15. In an effort to target certain markets, Quantum has ratcheted the lct15 down to 4400rpm operation. The lct series' leading IOMeter scores, therefore, are likely in jeopardy.

All things considered, it should be obvious that 5400rpm (or sub-5400rpm, for that matter) drives aren't geared towards users seeking high-performance. Rather, these drives are made to fit the bill in other areas: high GB/$ ratios and situations demanding cool and quiet operation. Under such parameters, the DM60 is a success. Those looking for quiet operation need look no further than the DM60. And though the DM60 may not be the primary drive of choice for performance-oriented machines, the drive (especially in its flagship 60 gig incarnation) could serve quite well in such machines as a secondary/backup/archives disk... all the more so considering the surprisingly rock-bottom prices for which we've seen previously massive Maxtor's selling. There's no reason to expect the DiamondMax 60 will be any different.

Maxtor DiamondMax 60 96147U8
Estimated Price: $349
Also Available: 94610U8 (46.1 GB)
Specifications
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