Quantum's Atlas 10k II has followed a topsy-turvy path in the eyes of StorageReview.com readers. Originally announced early November 1999, the 10k II's specs captivated SR readers... 10k RPM, 4.7 ms seek time, 7.3 GB/platter and an 8 MB buffer. What wasn't to like? Things hummed along right smoothly as Quantum managed to deliver us one of these hotly anticipated drives in February. Reviewed in our original testbed under our original methodology, the Atlas easily posted record-breaking scores in all low-level and high-level tests.
March 12th, 2000 marked StorageReview.com's second anniversary. We took the opportunity to commemorate the event with the unveiling of our all-new testbed and IOMeter benchmark suites. Some interesting upsets ensued... the much-heralded Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 40, for instance, turned in decidedly mediocre scores. And the Atlas 10k II, though maintaining (even increasing) it's massive WinBench margins, didn't fare as well when compared to competing drives such as the Seagate Cheetah 18XL in IOMeter.
Eventually drives from IBM and Fujitsu arrived. These units posted top scores in the important IOMeter Workstation Access Pattern tests. Quantum's unit increasingly started to fall by the wayside. As June rolled around, Seagate observed that we tested a prerelease version of the Cheetah 36LP and offered to submit a revised version of the drive featuring release-level firmware. In the interest of providing SR readers with the most accurate performance figures available, we accepted. We also contacted Quantum about a newer Atlas 10k II. After all, we had originally reviewed the drive in February- considering the extensive delays the drive experienced, the unit's firmware surely had been revised. A couple weeks later, another Atlas 10k II had arrived.
In June we published our look at the revised Cheetah 36LP and Atlas 10k II. Interestingly, though Seagate's unit recorded significant increases in its IOMeter (as well as WinBench) scores, the Quantum drive actually exhibited slight but measurable decreases. As a result, despite the Atlas' superior WinBench scores, we felt that the Cheetah 36LP clearly exhibited itself as the superior drive.
A month later, we were contacted by Quantum regarding the results of the second Atlas 10k II sample. Apparently there were some mishaps in communication both between Quantum and its public relations firm as well as between Quantum and StorageReview.com. Quantum claims that the 2nd sample received by SR was not to be reviewed as the final product. Instead, Quantum's PR firm shipped us (as well as other industry analysts) the drive to facilitate advanced looks and qualifications of the product. On the surface one may very well think: "Hey, Quantum's sore since they came out 2nd to the Cheetah 36LP in SR's latest tests." We are, however, are inclined to believe the explanation. Recognizing SR's position, Quantum was eager to get us an initial sample ASAP... hence the first evaluation unit back in February. Then Quantum's PR agency, not realizing that we had already received a prerelease unit (yes... these things happen believe it or not), included us in the batch for their prerelease shipments. The fact that we had written in requesting another sample seems to have been pure coincidence. This is corroborated by the total lack of response that we received from Quantum after requesting a revised unit... apparently our request never reached the appropriate party at Quantum.
The bottom line? Quantum has requested tests on a third sample that they claim is indicative of shipping units' performance. We've agreed to do so; this review presents the results. We realize this decision will not be without controversy. Indeed we had to consider the request very carefully before accepting.
StorageReview.com readers are a demanding lot... and we would not have it any other way! On one hand, they expect SR to maintain its reputation of being the first source to get its hands on a hot new drive. On the other, however, readers expect SR to maintain a database of performance figures that are as accurate as possible. These two expectations are inherently at odds with each other. Pressing a manufacturer to send us an evaluation unit ASAP will result in a review (preview) of a prerelease unit. Declining prerelease units will result in SR's inability to deliver the scoop on new drives: we'd have to leave it to sites which, modestly put, do not feature test suites as comprehensive nor methodologies as rigorous as ours.
In the end, declining to review this third sample would in effect punish Quantum for the initiative they demonstrated in providing SR with an evaluation unit far in advance of any others. It was, after all, the first sample that allowed us (and therefore readers) to get such an early look at the drive. On the opposite end, accepting Quantum's offer of a "final unit" permits SR to satisfy the antithetical issues of timeliness and accuracy as best possible. This policy stands for all manufacturers.
For our part, we'll be more careful in our communication with drive manufacturers and PR firms. We'll do our best to clarify whether a given article covers a prerelease or release product. And we'll continue striving to be the first and the best in bringing readers storage reviews.
This latest sample of the Atlas 10k II features firmware revision DE46, as opposed to the 2nd sample's DA40 and the original's D620. On paper, the drive has always remained the most impressive 10k RPM drive of 2000: 7.3 GB/platter, a 4.7 millisecond seek time, and an 8-megabyte buffer.
Let's see if the third time's the charm!