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Maxtor DiamondMax 4320 91728D8

  October 1, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1999 ATA Drive Roundup.
See also Maxtor DiamondMax 4320 91728D8 Revisited
Evaluation unit provided by Maxtor Corp.

Several years ago, the general consensus among users was that Western Digital's Caviar line of hard drives were the best around when it came to pushing the envelope of both capacity and performance. My, how times have changed. Though IBM's Deskstar 5 and 8 were the innovators last year, the herald leading the charge of ATA drives today is none other than Maxtor Corporation, a company once perceived as the eternal retail second-fiddle to the mighty WDC. Since the release of the DiamondMax 2880, Maxtor has been the company pushing the frontiers of capacity and speed. The trend continues with the latest generation of the DiamondMax series: The 4320.

As can be inferred by its name, the DiamondMax 4320 is the first drive to pack an incredible 4.3 gigabytes of data onto a single platter. Ever-increasing areal density is the number one reason we see ever-increasing drive sizes; the flagship of the 4320 family stores a massive 17.2 gigs on its four platters. Like its predecessors, the drive features an average seek time of 9.0 milliseconds and a 5400rpm rotation speed. When it comes to buffer size, it's interesting to note that there's a schism in the 4320 family. The drives that use 2 disks or less (from 4.3 gigs to 8.5 gigs in capacity) have 256k buffers. The 3 and 4 disk models (10.8 gigs to the 17.2 gig model reviewed here) are equipped with a more spacious 512k buffer. Thus, the "all the various capacity drives within the same family perform the same" rule-of-thumb may not be as applicable with this drive family. The 4320 is backed by an industry-standard three-year warranty.

The evaluation unit reviewed here features the standard Ultra ATA interface that we've all become familiar with over the last year and a half. Later shipments of the DiamondMax 4320 will, however, be the first Maxtor drives to incorporate new Ultra ATA/66 interface technology. According to Quantum, the primary developer of the new interface, Ultra ATA/66 "enhances data integrity through improved timing margins and the use of Cyclical Redundancy Check (CRC)" and "doubles the current burst data transfer rate to 66 megabytes per second." The value of the latter benefit is rather dubious at the present time, since top drives such as the DiamondMax 4320 are just beginning to push past the limits of DMA mode 2, the predecessor to Ultra ATA. However, improved data integrity is always a welcome feature. Ultra ATA/66 will require an 80-conductor cable; such assemblies can be purchased today from companies such as Circuit Assembly Corp.

Installation of the drive was painless under Windows 95. As is the case when drives larger than 8.4GB are used, Windows NT had to be updated with the ATA-FIXI.EXE patch.

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The DiamondMax 4320 is not best contrasted with it's own predecessor, the 3400, but rather with IBM's largest ATA drive, the monster Deskstar 16GP. In such a head-to-head comparison, the 4320 performs quite admirably. Under Windows 95, a traditional Deskstar stronghold, the 4320 delivered near-identical WinMark 98 performance, within a +-1% margin. Unsurprisingly, the Maxtor drive sailed passed the Deskstar in Windows NT (Maxtor's strength) by a margin of 18% in the Business and 11% in the High-End Disk WinMarks.

Maxtor's recent drives have also excelled under ThreadMark 2.0 and the DiamondMax 4320 is no exception. The Win95 ThreadMark result of 7 MB/sec puts the drive on par with its venerable predecessor, the 2880, placing 17% higher than the Deskstar 16GP. The NT result, interestingly enough, is the highest we've ever recorded for an ATA drive, just a hair less than 10 MB/sec, blowing past the 16GP by a huge 45% margin and even besting Maxtor's own 7200rpm DiamondMax Plus by 6%!

As is the norm for most 5400rpm drives, the DiamondMax 4320 operated unobstrusively. Even after extensive use outside of a drive cooler the unit was just mildly warm to the touch. Idle noise was inaudible while seeks were just loud enough to let me know the drive was working.

Easily the top-performing 5400rpm drive yet tested at the Storage Review, the DiamondMax 4320 is a no-brainer recommendation to those of you looking for an extremely high-capacity drive at a reasonable price. It simply equals or outperforms the Deskstar 16GP in all fronts. Further, the 4320 provides slightly higher capacity using a more conventional four-disk assembly rather than the 16GP's five, which is likely better for reliability as well as performance. Since it's available in a wide range of capacities, the 4320 will slowly replace the DiamondMax 3400 and 2880 as they're phased out. Thus, one of these best-of-class units should be on your short list even if your criteria is "small and inexpensive." The 17.2GB model, however, is particularly sweet. It's drives like these that make you ask yourself "how can anyone ever fill up this much space?" Of course, such thoughts are conveniently forgotten as you toss out the "miniscule" drive 2 years later in favor of a larger model .

Maxtor DiamondMax 4320 91728D8
Estimated Price: $399
Available in 4.3 GB, 6.4 GB, 8.5 GB, 10.8 GB, 13.0 GB, 15.1 GB, and 17.2 GB capacities.
Specifications
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* Note: Threadmark 2.0 and WinBench98 test results are the average of five trials.
WinBench99 test results are the average of three trials.


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