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Seagate Cheetah 4LP ST34501W

  March 24, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1998 SCSI Drive Roundup
See also our Drive Cooler Roundup

Though 3.8 gigs of storage space was still quite sufficient at the time, I turned my attention to replacing my Quantum Fireball TM last December. I was overhauling everything else with "the best you can get" at the time, so why not splurge a little on the storage too? I purchased IBM's Deskstar 5, an excellent drive, and tried my best to be satisfied. But the bug had bitten me, and I truly was itching for the best. I thought of the UltraPLEX CD-ROM that I had already decided on. An Ultra SCSI device, hmmm. Wouldn't it be great to have all storage devices in my system SCSI-based?

From what I had previously read, when it came to SCSI drives, there was Seagate's Cheetah and there was everything else. The only 10,000rpm drive (the Cheetah 9LP and Ultrastar 9ZX had been announced, but hadn't been yet released to distribution), the Cheetah raced ahead in almost any published benchmarks that I could find. Sure, it cost about 3 times more per megabyte, but hey, it was supposed to be fast! Fastest spindle speed, 7.7/8.7 millisecond read/write seek time, 512k buffer, UW SCSI, etc. Fast!

I received a plain brown box containing the drive along with Seagate's pocket-sized manual and a few extra jumpers. Installation was a breeze. I didn't have to touch the ID or termination settings at all; mounting the drive and connecting it to my 2940UW was all there was to it. A couple changes (boot order from A, C, SCSI to A, SCSI, C and disabling the onboard IDE controllers) were required in the motherboard's BIOS to minimize the POST boot-up time.

I was prepared to hear a whine. A 10,000rpm spindle probably wouldn't be the quiest thing in the world. And yes, there was a whine. It was intolerable. Even with the case closed my sensitive ears went through excruciating torture. Outside the room with the door closed, the noise was still loud enough to aggravate me. I decided to call Seagate tech-support and ask them if this level of noise was normal. After a brief period on the phone, a tech answered and asked me for the model number on my drive. "It's the Cheetah, ST34501W," I replied. "Wait a minute, let me look that up in our computer. Oh," she exclaimed, "That's our 10,000rpm model (yes, a Seagate tech had to consult her computer to determine that). The whine you hear is normal." I hung up depressed. As badly as I wanted the best in speed, I simply could not stay in the same room with the drive. Eventually I decided to try an exchange for another Cheetah. I'd try to give it one more chance before downgrading.

A week later I received my replacement. I installed it with trepidation, hoping the last drive was a fluke and that this one would bring the squeal down to a tolerable level. I powered it on and held my breath. Surely enough, the whine was there. This time, however, it was about one-fifth as loud. Though I was elated, I still found myself noticing the noise. It was much less objectionable, though, so I went ahead and tried to live with it.

I read in various places that the Cheetah generates enough heat to warrant an active cooling system. I had a drive cooler on order, but the first drive arrived before the cooler did. So, I decided to just slide it into one of my minitower's 3.5 inch drive bays. After all, there was a CPU fan, the power supply fan, and two auxiliary (one intake and one exhaust) fans in the case. How hot could it get? An hour later, the drive was certainly hot. Too hot to touch for more than a couple seconds. I'm no thermometer, but I'd guess the temperature was well above the recommend maximum of 50 degrees celsius.

By the time the replacement drive arrived, I had the drive cooler ready and waiting. The cooler consisted of a couple sleeve-bearing fans (ugh) behind a filter and faceplate with drive rails attached. Mounted in the assembly, the Cheetah is touchable after an hours use... still quite warm, though. A nice side effect of the cooler's fans (they're loud): they make the Cheetah's squeal slightly less noticable

How does it perform? I'd hardly call my uses demanding (these days, I use my computer for internet browsing and word processing... one of those popular sub $1k machines would do!) yet I did notice a substantial decrease in load times. Here's the figures:

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As seen in our 4.5 gig Ultra SCSI roundup, the Cheetah 4LP leads the pack when it comes to WinBench 98 performance under Windows 95. This advantage also carries into WinBench performance under NT. In both cases the Cheetah posted the highest scores we've seen in the Business and High end Disk WinMarks, as well as the lowest random access time. Surprisingly, despite its 10k rotation speed, the read transfer rate of the drive falls slightly behind the Barracuda 9LP. This is probably due to the Barracuda's increased areal density; it packs 1.8 gigs per platter to the Cheetah's 1.1. Under Threadmark, the Cheetah also lagged behind the Barracuda 9LP by a margin of about 5%. Keep in mind that the figures between the two are from different drive sizes. The heads of the Barracuda, in a drive twice the size of the Cheetah, had to travel less when seeking during the Threadmark and high-level WinBench tests.

Flatly stated, the Cheetah is not a quiet drive. The whine was always present, and quite noticable. Though I consider myself a pretty sensitive individual (I can't work on a monitor that's refreshing at a rate less than 85 Hz, for example), I eventually managed to tune the noise out. Still, a quick moment of concentration lets me hear it all over again. During idle time, the Cheetah constantly recalibrates itself (physical platter size fluctuates due to varying operating temperatures), making noise as if the actuator was seeking. Further, the head is moved from time to time to a different track. A head floating above a single track spinning at 10k for any extended period of time is apparently not a good thing. Seeks are very audible, putting even the notoriously loud Western Digital ATA drives to shame. This is simply not the drive for you if noise is any concern.

Make no mistake about it, the Cheetah 4LP is a fast drive. Despite the noise and the heat, I love it dearly and wouldn't want to go with anything slower in my personal system. However, with both the next generation 7200rpm SCSI drives arriving along with the new 10k rpm screamers (a literal label ) hitting the streets, it's the end of an era. The crown will be passed on to another drive.

Seagate Cheetah 4LP ST34501W
Estimated Price: $650
Specifications
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* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.


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