For most of the year 2000, Maxtor's DiamondMax Plus 40 has occupied an enviable position... it seems that the majority of hardware enthusiasts all around the world have regarded the Plus 40 as the ATA drive to beat despite the arrival of more than competitive units from IBM and Quantum. Though StorageReview.com managed to review the Plus 40 in December 1999, the drive wasn't widely available through retail channels for the following three months. Our enthusiastic review combined with the drive's lack of availability elevated it to near-mythical status; in e-mail and in our forums, we'd never witnessed a frenzy like the one for the DiamondMax Plus 40.
A competitor of the Maxtor drive, the IBM Deskstar 75GXP, paved the way to a next-generation areal density of 15 GB/platter. Thus the thoughts of many turned to the Plus 40's successor: When would the DiamondMax Plus 60 be announced? Surely the drive would boast performance never seen before... and the extra capacity wouldn't hurt either.
As it turns out, Maxtor threw a wrench into the expectations of SR readers. Though they long were a bastion of huge, four-platter designs, Maxtor's newest 7200 RPM drive incorporated at most three disks. Combined with the expected 15 GB/platter, this yielded a flagship capacity of 45 gigs... just 5 gigs more space than delivered by its predecessor.
Why the change? It comes down to remaining competitive in access times. According to Maxtor's marketing reps, the decreases in performance (or the inordinate increase in price to circumvent such decreases) associated with maintaining more than six arms on the actuator were too great. In addition to adding weight to the actuator assembly, every arm added decreases the tolerances and margins involved in having all heads align precisely within the correct cylinder. With 28,400 tracks per inch on one of Maxtor's 15 gig platters, the precision needed to maintain speed with a boatload of arms is quite high.
This problem isn't Maxtor's alone. Empirical evidence of the diminishing returns associated with increased arm counts can be found in StorageReview.com's own database. IBM's Deskstar 75GXP series features 15 GB platters combined with 7200 RPM operation. Both the three-disk (45 GB) and five-disk (75 GB) models ostensibly feature a seek time of 8.5 milliseconds. Yet the 75 gig version delivers a 13.3 millisecond access time (too high)... unlike the 45 gig model, which clocks in at 12.4 milliseconds (on target).
The pullback to three platters has yielded the first Maxtor ATA drive that features a specified seek time of under 9 milliseconds... 8.7 ms, to be exact. As usual, a three-year warranty backs the drive.
In recent times, Maxtor has joined the fray in catering to users looking for quieter drive operation with its "Silent Store" operation. It modifies seek and cache patterns to minimize noise at the cost of performance. The manufacturer initially intended to leave the option of toggling quiet operation at the factory level. Since then, however, they've decided to leave it to end-users. A utility may be downloaded from Maxtor's site to switch quiet mode on or off here. For the purposes of this review, quiet mode was disabled (amset /off in the utility).
Like the DiamondMax 80, the DiamondMax Plus 45 is one of the first of a new breed of drives that will ship exclusively with the ATA-100 interface. Remember that since IDE drives have yet to break sequential transfer rates greater than even 40 MB/se that ATA-66 (and in most cases, even ATA-33) interfaces will run the drive at optimal performance. Our testbed remains equipped with a Promise Ultra66 controller.
Let's turn now to WinBench 99 for some low-level performance figures.