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Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 45 54610H6
  September 11, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Maxtor Corp.


Introduction

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.


WB99/Win2k Low-Level Measurements

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Click here to examine the STR graph for this drive

The DiamondMax Plus 45 achieves a sequential transfer rate of 32.6 MB/sec in its outer zone. Though such a figure places the drive ahead of the 25 MB/sec - 30 MB/sec we saw from 10 GB/platter units, it's still notably lower than the 37.2 MB/sec achieved by the 15 GB/platter IBM Deskstar 75GXP. The Maxtor's transfer rate, however, "decays" more gracefully as data moves inward. Inner tracks weighed in at 21.7 MB/sec, faster than IBM's inner score of 19.7 MB/sec.

With a measured access time of 12.9 milliseconds, this Maxtor is no Fireball Plus LM. This figure is, however, a significant improvement over its predecessor, the DiamondMax Plus 40, and the swiftest score we've recorded from Maxtor to date. It seems that Maxtor's reasoning against a fourth platter is vindicated.

We'll move on now to some WinMarks as we start to assess what improvements these figures yield.


WB99/Win2k WinMarks

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The DiamondMax Plus 45 weighs in with a Business Disk WinMark 99 score of 7.84 MB/sec, a new record for an ATA drive. This score edges past the previous record, held by IBM's Deskstar 75GXP, by about 2%. The Maxtor's High-End Disk WinMark of 18.7 MB/sec is the second-highest recorded for an ATA drive, trailing the Deskstar by about 3%.


IOMeter Performance

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Despite its improved access time, the DiamondMax Plus 45 runs into trouble when compared to the best from the competition (the IBM Deskstar 75 GXP and the Quantum Fireball Plus LM). In the IOMeter Workstation Index (a normalized average of Light, Medium and Heavy loads), the Maxtor lags category-leading Quantum's offering by a significant 15%. The Plus 45's score of 142.82 actually trails that of its predecessor, the DiamondMax Plus 40, by about 1%.

What has happened here? A closer look at the individual IOMeter load scores yields an answer. By nature of its superior access time, the Plus 45 posts better scores than the Plus 40 in Linear, Very Light, and Light situations. By the time the I/O depth reaches Medium or Heavy, however, the Plus 40 leads. As a result, we've got to conclude that firmware/caching algorithms that aren't conducive to top-flight IOMeter scores are inhibiting the Plus 45's superior mechanics.

Did Maxtor's firmware tweaks that yielded improvements in WinBench 99 hurt its IOMeter scores? That may very well be the case. Why would a manufacturer do so? After all, StorageReview.com readers know that we weigh IOMeter scores more heavily than WinBench 99 results. We should take a moment to note that even SCSI heavyweights Seagate and Quantum believe that WinBench 99 is a much more accurate measure of workstation disk performance than our IOMeter Workstation access pattern. Why? According to the engineers, while workstation disk accesses -are- predominately random in nature, these random seeks tend to occur over a tight area. In other words, the actuator will access data within a relatively tight cluster of tracks for many seeks before encountering a request requiring a long stroke. After such a movement, requested data again continues to be in a confined area. While IOMeter can simulate the random/sequential balance well, it can't in its current incarnation simulate this "localized" activity.

Again, according to manufacturer engineers, it is this localized activity that elevates the ineffable (at least at the review level) buffer/caching/firmware algorithms and strategies to the forefront when it comes to workstation performance. Thus, manufacturers such as Seagate and Quantum fully stand by WB99 results that show the Cuda ATA II and Fireball Plus LM substantially outperforming the SCSI Barracuda 18XL and Atlas V. These manufacturers do agree that IOMeter is the best measure in database and file server situations, where accesses are completely random and not localized in nature.

So, according to Seagate and Quantum, the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 45 is one hot drive, despite its mediocre IOMeter showing .


Conclusion

The Diamondmax Plus 45's heat and noise levels are par for the 7200 RPM course. Though it isn't nearly as quiet as the Fujitsu MPF-AH or the Samsung SpinPoint V10200, the Plus 45's noise should be tolerable by most... it's along the same lines as its predecessor. Several hours of extensive churning (IOMeter's default, completely random access pattern) resulted in a drive warm, not hot, to the touch.

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.So, where does the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 45 rank in the grand scheme of things? If you agree with manufacturers that WinBench 99 is the ultimate measure of workstation performance, it does very well indeed. The Plus 45 vies with the IBM Deskstar 75GXP as the fastest ATA drive ever. If, however, you find IOMeter to correlate better with your own observations, the Plus 45 is far from anything to write home about. For our part, we believe the Deskstar 75GXP successfully defends its crown as the best 7200 RPM drive around. The IBM posts WinBench 99 scores that are the equal of the Maxtor while also delivering IOMeter results that rival the Quantum Fireball Plus LM; truly the best of both worlds. At an estimated street price of $179, however, the Plus 45 is subtantially less costly than the 75GXP. So, if you need a drive less expensive than the 75GXP but larger than the Fireball Plus LM, consider the DiamondMax Plus 45.

Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 45 - 54610H6
Estimated Price: $179
Also Available: 53073H4 (30.7 GB); 52049H3 (20.4 GB); 51536H2 (15.3 GB)
Specifications
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