Two years ago, Quantum's Atlas 10k drive splashed on the scene as a legitimate contender against established 10,000 RPM SCSI units from Seagate and IBM. The Atlas 10k delivered respectable scores across the board. A year later many searched longingly for the drive's successor, the Quantum Atlas 10k II. We managed to get our hands on an early pre-production sample of drive; the excitement raised by the initial review still rings in our minds. Readers simply could not wait to get their hands on a drive that seemed decisively faster than Seagate's offering, the Cheetah 36LP. Unfortunately, the 10k II didn't hit the channel for many months following that initial article. Quantum and Seagate both subsequently released a few firmware revisions- in the end net performance differences were small.
Quantum has since then merged with ATA powerhouse Maxtor. Though the deal was allegedly forged to break Quantum's manufacturing dependence on Matsushita-Kotobuki Electronics, a multi-billion dollar Japanese conglomerate, the net effect from our point of view is Maxtor's return to the SCSI arena. Though originally announced under the Quantum name, the Atlas 10k III represents Maxtor's first SCSI product in years.
As nomenclature suggests, the Atlas 10k III represents the third iteration of the venerable Quantum performance line. In addition to its 10,000 RPM spindle speed, the 10k III features a contemporary 18 gigabytes per platter. The flagship model, reviewed here, combines four of these disks to yield 73 GB of capacity. Maxtor specifies seek times at a svelte 4.5 milliseconds, the lowest yet claimed for a 10k RPM drive. The 10k III maintains the spacious 8-megabyte buffer debuted by its predecessor.
The Atlas 10k III unit reviewed here features an Ultra160 interface. Maxtor plans to ship Ultra160 and eventually Ultra320 versions of the drive. The performance differences yielded by the Ultra320 version should be negligible in all cases excepting only huge multi-drive arrays servicing applications that require high transfer rates. A single 10k III won't come close to saturating Ultra160.
Maxtor's drive represents an intriguing entry into the SCSI world. As the manufacturer's only SCSI product, the Atlas 10k III is positioned as a "one model fits all" solution. Hence the 10k III not only pits itself against the Cheetah 73LP as a "mainstream performance" SCSI product, but also against high-performance 15k RPM offering as well as applications that traditionally require 7200 RPM drives due to heat and noise concerns... not to mention filling high-capacity situations! Quite a tall order- is the Atlas 10k III up to the challenge? Let's take a look!