The dawn of the 10,000rpm hard drive was the announcement of the Seagate Cheetah 4LP in October 1996. Though the drive didn't actually ship in mass quantities for nearly half a year afterwards, it rapidly established the Cheetah family as the fastest around. Late 1997/Early 1998, IBM joined the fray when it delivered the Ultrastar 9ZX. Seagate's next-generation Cheetah 9LP, however, managed to wrestle the crown back, delivering a drive with higher areal density, allowing for transfer rates and form factors that the 9ZX couldn't match.
We're now in the era of third-generation 10k rpm disks. With the release of the Ultrastar 18LZX, Big Blue has finally caught up with Seagate when it comes to gigs per platter in the 10k arena. So which drive rules the roost? The incumbent Cheetah line or IBM's improved 10k rpm offerings? Surprisingly, it's neither. A newcomer to the 10k rpm battle, Quantum, unexpectedly seized the title with the debut of the mighty Atlas 10k. No shipping 10k rpm drive, whether it be from Seagate, IBM, or Fujitsu, has been able to match the speed delivered by the Atlas.
Soon, Western Digital will step into the ring. Like Quantum, the company is a fledgling player in the 10k stakes. Earlier this year, WD managed to surprise many with the excellent time-to-market and decent performance of it's 3.0 gig/platter drive, the Enterprise WDE18300. Though eventually supplanted by Quantum's Atlas IV, the 7200rpm Enterprise compared quite favorably to the latest offerings from seasoned players such as Seagate and IBM. It became quite clear that WD did indeed know how to deliver solid SCSI offerings to the marketplace. It is thus with some anticipation that the industry awaits the delivery of the WDE18310.
In a way, the Enterprise WDE18310 is a "third-and-a-half" generation disk. While current 10k offerings from other manufacturers feature 3 gigs per platter (or even 3.6 gigs/platter in the case of Fujitsu's model), the Enterprise takes it to another level, packing an almost ATA-like 4.6 gigs per platter. When it comes to 10k rpm disks, though, things get a bit fuzzy. Most manufacturers reduce physical platter radius to shave off precious milliseconds on their top-end units. Western Digital has eschewed this approach, arguing that a drive utilizing traditionally sized platters with a smaller platter count than the competition would yield a drive that's cooler, quieter, and more reliable. Thus, though probably not quite the data density of a fourth-generation drive such as a hypothetical Cheetah 36LP, an 18 GB 10k rpm drive with only 4 platters is still unprecedented. Despite it's larger platters. the Enterprise features a speedy 5.2 millisecond access time. A two megabyte buffer wraps up the package. The drive is backed by a five-year warranty.
The Enterprise WDE18310 evaluated in this review is a pre-release unit. Western Digital, however, believes that the sample's performance is indicative of the final product.