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Maxtor DiamondMax 6800 92720U8

  July 26, 1999 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1999 ATA Drive Roundup.
Evaluation unit provided by Maxtor Corp.
Promise Ultra66 provided by Promise Technology.

Since the release of the DiamondMax 2880, Maxtor has proven to be a force in the ATA drive battle. The manufacturer's forte in the 5400rpm landscape was proven again later with the DiamondMax 4320, the best 5400rpm 4.3 GB/platter disk released. Interestingly, however, Maxtor opted to sit out of the 5.1 GB/platter round (instead releasing a unique 5.1 GB/platter 7200rpm design) in favor of waiting for it's chance in the 6.8 GB phase.

That time has finally come. This year, the competition is much stiffer. The only manufacturer that has yet to announce a 6.8 GB/platter 5400rpm drive is Seagate. All others (IBM, WD, Quantum, and Fujitsu) have or will have such drives on the market. Once again, however, Maxtor has shown superior time-to-market initiative: the DiamondMax 6800 was the first to actually hit the shelves.

The 6800 features, of course, a 5400rpm spindle speed. There seem to be some signs, however, that the heyday of 5400rpm drives is ending. Two of Maxtor's competitors, Quantum and Western Digital, recently proved that they possess the technology to create four-platter ATA designs. Both companies, however, seem to have relegated 5400rpm drives to "second-tier" status, where the largest disks in each 5400rpm family will feature only three platters. Maxtor, on the other hand, continues to use its "Formula 4" assembly method to crank out up to four platters per drive. Thus, the 6800 is currently the largest drive available, weighing in at a whopping 27.2 gigs. Seek time is specified as "less than 9.0 milliseconds." The drive features a standard three-year warranty.

With the release of the 6800, Maxtor has finally joined its competitors in reaching the two megabyte buffer plateau. As we found earlier, however, simply increasing cache size beyond 512k doesn't have much affect on drive performance. When it comes to electronics/firmware, however, Maxtor makes it clear that the two meg buffer is accompanied by a host of other improvements. The cache consists of 100 MHz SDRAM memory (as opposed to what? Good question ). Also debuting in the 6800 is the company's "DualWave controller." Said to mimic the processing architecture found in high-end SCSI units, DualWave "improves drive and system performance through a 90% reduction in drive command overhead." The bottom line? Hopefully we'll find out when we get to some test figures.

The DiamondMax 6800 is also the first Maxtor drive out of the gate that features an ATA-66 interface. Once again, we must sound our standard warning about potential incompatibilities between ATA-66 drives and certain Award BIOSes found on LX and BX motherboards. Currently we are not aware of any utilities available to disable ATA-66 operation on a Maxtor drive. Thus, a motherboard (they're scarce) with built-in ATA-66 operation or a PCI ATA-66 controller may be necessary for proper operation of the unit. Incidentally, it is for this reason why we've used a Promise Ultra66 controller to test all ATA-66 drives. We don't use it for increased performance (neither the Ultra66 nor any other ATA-66 solution will increase the performance of current disks) but rather for consistency where situations such as this (lack of ATA-66 disable utilities) may arise!

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When compared to the performance champ of the last generation, Western Digital's Caviar AC420400, the DiamondMax 6800 weighs in with mixed results. Despite its next-generation status, the 6800 trails the Caviar by 3% in Business Disk WinMark 99 tests run under Windows 95. The margin increases to 9% in the High-End WinMark. Windows NT is where Maxtor drives have traditionally flexed their muscles. True to form, the 6800 pulls ahead of the Caviar by 13% in the Business Disk WinMark test run under NT. Interestingly, however, the 6800 is the first Maxtor drive we've tested to post a High-End Disk WinMark that falls below its own score in Windows 95. Thus, the Maxtor actually falls behind the WD by a margin of 5% in the High-End test.

ThreadMark is another benchmark where Maxtor drives typically do well. Under Windows 95, results are a virtual tie, with the Maxtor placing just 1% behind the Caviar. In Windows NT, the 6800 rips away, surpassing the WD by a margin of 23%.

Noise produced by the 6800 when seeking was typical for a Maxtor drive. While not exactly as silent as current Fujitsu offerings, the drive's seeks were not a bother at all- just loud enough to let the user know the drive is doing its job. As expected of a 5400rpm drive, heat is simply not an issue.

In conclusion, it seems that the high expectations we held for the DiamondMax 6800 weren't quite met. As a next-generation drive from one of the premiere ATA drive manufacturers, we expected the 6800 to push into new grounds for a 5400rpm drive. In the end, however, it turns out that the 6800 provides performance that, while decent, doesn't muscle out the best of a previous generation. When it comes to capacity, however, the 6800 is currently without peer. Packing 27 gigs into a 1" profile, the 6800 can hold more of your data than even the five-platter IBM Deskstar 25GP. Upcoming 5400rpm offerings from Quantum and Western Digital won't be challenging such capacity. There are indications that the DiamondMax 6800 will be the first drive to break that mystical one-cent/megabyte floor. Thus, if you crave the most space for the smallest outlay of cash possible, the 6800 may very well be your ticket.

Maxtor DiamondMax 6800 92720U8
Estimated Price: $349
Also Available: 92040U6 (20.4 GB); 91360U4 (13.6 GB); 91020U3 (10.2 GB); 90845U3 (8.4 GB); 90650U2 (6.5 GB)
Specifications
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* Note: Threadmark 2.0 test results are the average of five trials.
WinBench99 test results are the average of three trials.


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