Maxtor Corporation is arguably the most prolific manufacturer of ATA drives. They've been at the forefront over the last two years in technologies such as the fastest spindle speeds, highest areal densities, or just plain largest drives. One only needs to look at the DiamondMax 80 to witness such leadership in action. Aside from IBM's Deskstar 40GV, the DM80 is the only drive currently shipping that features 20 GB/platter. And even IBM's drive can't match Maxtor's incredible 80 gigs of capacity. It seems Maxtor's position at the cutting edge can only strengthen after the company recently announced its intentions to acquire Quantum's hard disk division.
In this review we'll take a look at a close cousin to the massive 80 gig Maxtor... the DiamondMax VL40. The VL40 is the latest in Maxtor's "Value Line," though in all truthfulness we're seeing less and less in the specs that distinguish Maxtor's performance and value lines when it comes to specifications. Both the DM80 and the VL40, for example, feature 5400 RPM spindle speeds. They feature the same 20.4 GB/platters. They both even feature 2 megs of buffer, a break from the previous generation- like most other value-class drives, the VL20 featured only 512k of cache. Seek time is the one major area where a difference crops up. The DM80 is spec'ed at 9.0 milliseconds while the VL40 sports a more sedate 9.5 ms figure.
Indeed, aside from the slight difference in seek time (and, as we'll see in low-level testing, this difference is not large at all) the only thing that really distinguishes the VL40 from the DM80 is capacity. The VL40 line tops out at two platters (just as the value-oriented IBM Deskstar 40GV does) yielding a flagship capacity of about 40 gigs. The DM80 series, on the other hand, picks up where the VL40 leaves up, incorporating a minimum of three platters. So, in actuality, if you want a 20.4 GB/platter Maxtor drive 40 gigs or less in size, you'll end up with a VL40. Otherwise, the drive will be a DM80.
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 in favor 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).
The DiamondMax VL40 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/sec 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.