Since it was first announced well over a year ago, Seagate's 10k RPM Cheetah family of disks has been regarded as the highest performing units around. Indeed the Cheetah was quite swift (see 4.5GB Ultra SCSI drive roundup), outperforming all other drives available by a considerable margin. Since then, however, IBM has come up with its first 10k RPM offering, the Ultrastar 9ZX, a drive the Storage Review plans to take a look at in the near future. Seagate has not stood still either, announcing its second generation Cheetah family, the 9LP. As happens all too often in the drive industry, the Cheetah 9LP shipped 6 months after its initial announcement. I've been drooling ever since.
The core spindle speed of the Cheetahs has not changed; these are still 10,000 RPM units. There are other important modifications, however. Seagate has increased data density, packing 1.5 gigs on each of the 9LP's six platters. This increase in platter capacity (from 1.1 gigs on the original Cheetah) allows the 9LP to sport a standard 1" high, 3.5" form-factor rather than the 1.6" height that its predecessor used. Seek time has been lowered to an astonishing 5.4 milliseconds, a full 30% lower than that of the previous line. The drive's buffer is a full meg, twice the size of its predecessor. In addition to providing these performance increases, Seagate also claims a 25% reduction in power consumption, translating into significantly less operating heat. The drives are warranted by an enterprise-standard five years. The model evaluated here is the ST39102LW, a 9.1 GB Ultra2 SCSI drive.
Upon opening Seagate's familiar brown-box packaging, I was greeted with a folded piece of paper congratulating me on my purchase of the "highest performing disc drive available in the market today!" The leaflet then went on describing how 10k RPM drives dissipate more heat due to increased motor power. I played it safe and installed it in a drive cooler. Seagate's typical pocket-size documentation, dry but thorough, was also enclosed.
Ultra2 (LVD) SCSI is most popularly cited for increasing the maximum transfer rate of the SCSI bus to 80 MB/sec. That's certainly nice, but there's no doubt that even this drive won't come close to taxing that bandwidth limit. Differential technology, however, allows for longer cable length- in LVD's case, a relatively luxurious 12 meters. The Storage Review Testbed's Adaptec AHA-2940U2W came with an LVD cable which, until recently, just sat in a closet unused. This cable show's off LVD's length-limit, stretching a good four feet or so with 5 68 pin connectors ready to go. For those of you who haven't seen one of these cables yet, take my word for it: Its -ugly-. Each of the 68 conductors run separated from each other, only coming together at each connection point. I suppose this is to allow one to snake the cable all around the inside of a case, making sharp bends without placing stress on it. A nice feature of LVD cables is the built in termination at the end so you don't have to worry about per-device termination settings. The terminator seemed rather flimsy though, with the plastic circuit-board protector easily popping off. It's a pain to pry off of a drive once it has been attached.
The 2940U2W features separate connectors for "legacy" Ultra and Ultra2 devices. Apparently if you have an Ultra SCSI device connected to the LVD bus the entire bandwidth limit is halved to 40 MB/sec. Adaptec provides these two separate connections along with a bridge chip as part of their "SpeedFlex" technology, electrically isolating the two buses to allow optimal performance. The testbed's Hawk 4XL's boot drive and UltraPlex CD-ROM were connected to the UltraSCSI connectors while the Cheetah 9LP was placed on the LVD segment.
I should note that the drive, while an Ultra2 SCSI unit, has two separate transceivers built into it allowing it to operate in either Ultra2 (LVD) or Ultra (Single-Ended, SE) modes. The drive comes configured to automatically detect and operate in the appropriate mode. Users can also shunt a jumper located on the bottom of the drive to force single-ended operation.
ZDBop's Winbench 98 along with Adaptec's Threadmark 2.0 were both run on the unit in Windows 95 OSR 2.1 and Windows NT Workstation 4.0. The drive was partitioned into a single volume of maximum size. The average of 5 trials are presented below.