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Quantum Fireball EX QM312700EX-A

  October 22, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also Quantum Fireball EL QM310200EL-A
See also our Summer 1998 ATA Drive Roundup

Though the Storage Review was admittedly late to the party in obtaining a Fireball EX, there's no denying that there was quite a lag between the June 8 press release and the final availability of the drive for purchase by end-users. For the past two months, we've seen a frenzy of requests for reviews of this latest Fireball not unlike the enthusiasm we witnessed for, say, the Ultrastar 9ES. Since Quantum's initial announcement, Maxtor and IBM have started shipping drives featuring 7200rpm spindle speeds. Further, Maxtor is preparing to ship a drive that stuffs an astounding 4.3 gigabytes of data on a single platter. On paper, the Fireball EX looks like it brings too little to the party too late. Can it compare? Let's take a look.

Quantum Fireball EXFirst and foremost, Quantum's premiere ATA drive features a 5400rpm spindle speed. With an areal density of 3.2 gigs per platter, the flagship of the EX line tested here stores 12.7 gigs of data across four disks. The drive's seek time is rated at a rather standard 9.5 milliseconds. A 512k buffer rounds out the package.

Like its predecessor, the Fireball EL, the EX features Quantum's "Shock Protection System." SPS was developed to minimize the "head slap," violent contact between the drive's heads and the platters, that typically occurs during transit and installation. Again, despite the supposed increase in reliability, the EX is backed by a standard 3-year warranty .

Installation proceeded without a hitch into our testbed system. The results of five benchmark trials are presented below:

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The Fireball EX turned in some mighty impressive figures under WinBench 98. Though only a 5400rpm drive, the EX can be counted among the best ATA drives currently available, turning out performance figures that rival even the 7200rpm DiamondMax Plus and Deskstar 14GXP. The EX lagged behind the 14GXP, a strong Win95 performer, by only 6% in the Win95 Business Disk WinMark and a miniscule 1% in the Win95 High-End tests. Turning in an even more impressive NT run, the EX actually surpassed the Deskstar in Windows NT WinMarks by margins of one to five percent. A comparison with the DiamondMax Plus yields more even results; since the DiamondMax is a more balanced performer between the two flavors of Microsoft's OS, the EX generally lagged (albeit only slightly) in each major category. A notable exception should be pointed out in the Win95 High-End WinMark: here the EX actually comes out on top over the Plus 2500. Again, not a bad showing at all for a 5400 rpm drive!

According to ThreadMark 2.0, the Fireball EX matches the Deskstar 14GXP's performance under NT and actually outruns the IBM unit in Win95 by about 6%. ThreadMark is always a Maxtor strong hold; though the EX's scores are certainly respectable, they lagged behind the Diamond Max Plus' by about 19%. Again, however, it's important to emphasize that ThreadMark results don't seem to correspond to real-world "feel" as much as WinBench 98.

So, basically, Quantum's 5400rpm drive gives the 7200rpm competition a run for their money. What about heat and noise? Here's the kicker: while delivering performance comparable to that of a 7200rpm unit, the Fireball EX operates both quietly and coolly. There wasn't a noticeable high pitch whine and seeks were rather muffled and unobtrusive. Even when looped in a constant seek motion while operating without active cooling, the EX became only warm to the touch. One should have little problem integrating the drive into any system.

I regret not being able to try out the Fireball EX before now; it's definitely a stellar performer! Quantum delivers 7200rpm performance without 7200rpm noise and heat. Not unlike a situation that arose earlier this year when Maxtor's 5400rpm 2880 managed to edge out Seagate's 7200rpm Medalist Pro in many performance tests. The margin here is even tighter- the EX is breathing down the necks of the very best. Due to its lower areal density and/or platter count, the 12.7GB EX isn't the largest disk one can buy. Yet despite the upcoming DiamondMax 4320, the Fireball EX is without question the fastest 5400rpm drive around. This of course begs the question: What could Quantum do if it delivered a 7200rpm Fireball? .

Quantum Fireball EX QM312700EX-A
Estimated Price: $330
Available in 3.2GB, 5.1GB, 6.4GB, 10.2GB, and 12.7GB capacities.
Specifications
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* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.


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