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IBM Ultrastar 9ZX DGVS09U

  May 15, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1998 SCSI Drive Roundup
See also our Drive Cooler Roundup

Ever since it was announced in late 1996 (and ever since it appeared for purchase mid-1997), the Seagate Cheetah 4LP has been regarded as the fastest drive that money could buy. Seagate has since moved onwards, introducing its second-generation Cheetah 9LP. IBM, unlike Seagateís other big-name competitor, has thrown down the gauntlet and challenged Seagate for the title of "fastest disk" with the introduction of the Ultrastar 9ZX.

IBM Ultrastar 9ZX The 9ZX is the first non-Seagate drive to feature a 10,000rpm spindle speed - 10,020rpm to be exact. Unlike most of the other 9.1 gig drives that the Storage Review has recently tested, the 9ZX does not feature a "low profile," 1" form factor. Itís taller- 1.6", reminding me of the early 3.5" ATA drives from the late 80ís and early 90ís. The drive places its 9.1 gigs of data on six separate platters as opposed to the five that current low-profile SCSI units use. In addition to increasing the driveís height, having six platters reduces areal density (and probably linear density) from the typical 1.8 gigabytes to 1.5GB per platter. Even so, the spec is still a cut above previous generation models. The drive also features a speedy 6.3 millisecond seek time and the now-standard one megabyte buffer. The drive is backed by a five-year warranty. The driveís idle power consumption is rated at 16.5 watts, a bit higher than the Cheetah 9LPís 13.7. An Ultra2 SCSI version of the drive will be available soon; in this review, Iíll take a look at the Ultra-Wide DGVS09U.

Installation was fairly smooth. The 9ZXís increased height forced me to clear the area above it (a leftover WD AC36400 was still mounted in the bay above). Though the SCSI drive had enough clearance to slide into the bay, the top of the unit was too close to comfort to the Western Digital- probably not a good thing ventilation-wise when using a 10k beast! Like the Ultrastar 9LP, the 9ZXís write-caching could not be enabled by ThreadMark 2.0. I had to turn once again to EZ-SCSI 5.0ís SCSI Explorer to permanently enable the setting.

The Ultrastar 9ZX arrived with a leaflet outling SCSI ID settings. Curiously, it glossed over termination settings. Also interesting was the lack of any kind of notices or warnings about cooling or proper ventilation. Was this a good or bad sign? I hadnít decided yet .

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.

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Itís pretty obvious that 10,000rpm SCSI drives (along with the other great specs that always accompany high spindle speeds - we shouldnít forget the correlation between high-speed specs) compete in a field separate from their slower 7200rpm brethren. The Ultrastar 9ZX screams past every drive save only the Cheetah 9LP. In that matchup, the 9ZX turns out scores 2-5% lower in ZDís WinBench 98. Differences in ThreadMark were a bit meatier, around 20% or so.

Rather than delivering the high-pitch squeal that Iíve associated with the Seagate Cheetahs, the Ultrastar 9ZX has a lower-pitched (but still quite audible) whine not unlike that of the Quantum Viking II. Personally, I find the 9ZXís sound less bothersome, though associates who donít even notice the Cheetahís squeal commented on the intrustiveness of the IBMís whirr. Seek noise is a step below the rumble of the Cheetah. The 9ZX runs pretty hot, even mounted within a cooler. The cooler I use for testing is an all-in-one unit with 3.5"-5.25" mounting rails built-in to the entire assembly. Thus, the fans blow air in directly at the front of the drive. With a low-profile unit, this results in the air splitting and flowing across the top and bottom, resulting in decent cooling. The 9ZXís increased stature, though, seemed to "stonewall" the air, hindering ventilation of the top part of the drive. Mounting a faceplate with a couple fans in it (such as the one included in the "Just Cooler" cooling assembly) in the bay above the drive helped ventilation considerably. Thus, the 9ZX requires a lot of space: Although its only a 1.6" high 3.5" disk, you may need two 5.25" drive bays to mount and cool it properly.

As a 10,000rpm unit, the 9ZX is one of the fastest drives out there; in terms of performance, definitely a cut above any 7200 disk. That said, I must admit that Iíve done IBM a disservice by taking a look at the Ultrastar 9ZX only after reviewing the Cheetah 9LP. Had I taken a look at the former before the latter, Iíd be raving about how the 9ZX bested the original Cheetah 4LP by margins of 5-17%. Unfortunately for IBM, I didnít . Since itís finally available in wide distribution, Iíd choose the Cheetah 9LP over the Ultrastar 9ZX despite the slightly higher price due to its smaller form factor and higher performance. After all, if youíre looking at 10k rpm drives, cost is probably a secondary concern to performance- Whatís another $100 or so?

IBM Ultrastar 9ZX DGVS09U
Estimated Price: $1100
Specifications
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* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.


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