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IBM Deskstar 14GXP DTTA-371440

  June 9, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1998 ATA Drive Roundup
See also our Drive Cooler Roundup

The IBM Deskstar 5/8 led the pack of last year's ATA drives in both performance and noise considerations, albeit (initially) at a hefty price. Since then, newer offerings from Seagate and Maxtor have leapfrogged over the Deskstar. Using faster spindle-speeds or higher areal densities, the Medalist Pro 7200 and DiamondMax 2880 have posted the most impressive ATA drive benchmarks we've ever seen. And these numbers do translate into performance: These drives are fast!

IBM Deskstar 14GXPIBM's Deskstar 14GXP is one of two new drive families that the computer monolith has brought to market this year. Not content to watch its competitors pass it by, IBM has incorporated improvements from both the Medalist Pro and the DiamondMax series. The greater magnetic sensitivity of giant-magnetoresistive (GMR) heads allows data to be written on and read from smaller bit patterns with no loss in accuracy. Utilizing GMR IBM has managed to pack 2.9 gigabytes onto a single platter, matching the densities provided by Maxtor's latest drives (an even more impressive implementation of GMR occurs with the Deskstar 16GP, with an unprecedented 3.3GB/platter). Unlike the DiamondMax, however, the 14GXP boasts a 7200rpm spindle speed. A 9.5 millisecond access time and a 512k buffer wrap up this attractive package. No doubt about it, on paper the drive looks like it'll perform! Warranty information is unavailable at this time, but there's no reason to expect anything less than the typical 3 year protection that accompanies most ATA drives. The drive tested here is the top-capacity DTTA-371440, utilizing five platters to deliver an astounding 14.4 gigabytes of storage.

Though it was announced in November of 1997, the Deskstar 14GXP has yet to reach distribution by vendors for sale to end-users, being supplied only to a handful of large OEMs. We've seen the 14GXP pop up in various internet advertisements here and there over the past month, always at a rather high price. Calls to vendors listing the drive for sale invariably end with a "try back next month or so." The drive tested in this review is one that shipped with such a system; as such, no drive-specific documentation or packaging was included. Nevertheless, the installation and preparation for testing was pain-free. The drive came preset as a "master" ATA drive and went into our testbed without a hitch.

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 is presented below.

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The Deskstar 14GXP posted some impressive figures. It bested the previous Win95 WinBench champion, the Seagate Medalist Pro (not an old drive by any means!), by 13% in the Business WinMark and 7% in the High-End tests. The Medalist Pro, however, stumbled in NT, passing the crown to the Maxtor DiamondMax 2880. Here too the 14GXP managed to creep past by a margin of 2-4%.

As was the case with the Deskstar 8, the 14GXP was less peppy under Threadmark 2.0 than one would expect from a drive that did so well in WinBench. Both the DiamondMax 2880 and the Medalist Pro were out of reach for the Deskstar, outperforming the newcomer by margins of 11-16%. Again, however, I feel this draws more question to the applicability of the tests performed by Threadmark. The Cheetah 2, for example, does not feel 50% faster than its predecessor as Adaptec's benchmark likes to indicate. The Quantum Bigfoot TX doesn't come close to feeling 7% faster than the Deskstar 8 as Threadmark would lead one to believe; indeed, the TX is the slowest-feeling drive I've used since SR's inception. In both cases, however, the subjective performance difference felt correlates very closely to the figures that ZD's WinBench reports. And let's not even touch the outrageous figures Threadmark claims for the FastTrack ATA RAID controller . The Deskstar 14GXP is no exception to this trend. Despite its lower Threadmark scores, the 14GXP leaves little doubt: As WinBench scores indicate, the IBM drive feels like the fastest ATA drive I've ever used.

Why continue to use Threadmark then? When we originally launched the site, SR started only with WinBench scores. We soon relented and performed Threadmark on every drive we test, however, due to strong demand by readers. Because visitors request it, we'll continue to use Threadmark, though I can't help but feel that its results may be misleading.

Let's return to the subject of the 14GXP's performance, shall we? Seagate's Medalist Pro, the first 7200rpm ATA drive, managed to keep noise down by virtue of its fluid-based bearings, reducing the amount of metal-to-metal contact. Perhaps for the same reason, however, the drive runs quite hot. The 14GXP claims no such special bearings. I can hear the drive spin up, but once its up to full speed, there's no noticable idle noise. Seek noise is quite low, approaching that of the Deskstar 5/8. Definitely a notch quieter than the Medalist Pro. The 14GXP definitely runs warmer than its predecessors. Running in a drive cooler, the unit is slightly warm to the touch after about three hours of operation. Without active cooling, the Deskstar runs hotter than most ATA drives, excepting the Seagates. The temperature of the 14GXP feels closer to that of the 6.5 gig rather the (scalding) 9.1 gig Medalist Pro. It'll probably work well in most cases provided that the case isn't crammed with many peripherals and cables choking off ventilation.

In conclusion, the Deskstar 14GXP is the fastest ATA drive around; for most uses, it'll even give most 7200rpm SCSI drives a run for their money! It also continues the Deskstar's tradition of quiet operation, a definite plus for any 7200 drive. As was the case with the introduction of the Deskstar 5, however, there are currently two large drawbacks. First, the drive can not be found for individual purchase anywhere. If you need a drive now, you probably won't end up with a 14GXP- look instead to the DiamondMax 2880 or the Medalist Pro 7200. Secondly, the prices we can find listed for the drive are rather high. True, $650 gets you not only a very fast drive, but a very large drive to boot. The slightly smaller, slightly slower 11.5 gig DiamondMax may be had for just little more than half the cost. Still, the second problem is irrelevant until the first gets fixed: Hopefully by the time the 14GXP hits wide distribution, it'll cost significantly less, 'cause its one hell of a drive!

IBM Deskstar 14GXP DTTA-371440
Estimated Price: $650
Specifications
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* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.

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