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!