The stakes in the 7200rpm drive race are heating up. During the infancy of the 7200rpm ATA disk, the contest boiled down to an IBM vs. Maxtor showdown. The Deskstar 14GXP and DiamondMax Plus 2500 were the two fastest ATA drives around. Our personal favorite, as one can see in the Summer 1998 ATA Drive Roundup, was the DiamondMax. Since then, however, Quantum and Western Digital have entered the race en force, obscuring initial lines. Maxtor's DiamondMax Plus 5120, though delivering great performance, failed to stand out of the crowd like it did with the 2500.
A fast-forward to late 1999 muddies the situation even more. Seagate, the 7200rpm ATA pioneer, has finally rejoined the competition with the release of its awesome Barracuda ATA. Seagate's reentry means that all six major drive manufacturer's are competing for your storage dollar with state-of-the-art 7200rpm drives. Thus far, StorageReview.com has taken a look at two of these new-breed disks, the Quantum Fireball Plus KX and Barracuda ATA. Both have advanced ATA performance to new limits.
Maxtor's entry in this latest battle is the DiamondMax Plus 6800. As its name indicates, this newest Maxtor is a 7200rpm unit featuring 6.8 gigs per platter. Its seek time is specified as "less than nine milliseconds." Unlike its predecessor, the Plus 5120, the Plus 6800 was designed from the ground up to go toe-to-toe with Western Digital's Expert and IBM's Deskstar GXP series. The drive features an ATA-66 interface and a two megabyte buffer. Judging from Maxtor's press releases and white papers issued on the drive, the manufacturer takes great pride in the electronics of the Plus 6800. This newest Maxtor incorporates the company's "DualWave" processor, theoretically increasing performance and reliability through the use of fewer parts. A look at the effects of a simple cache increase (Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 5120, OEM vs. Retail) proved that increasing cache size alone provides little if any increase in performance. Maxtor takes great pains to emphasize, however, that the DualWave controller was designed with two megabytes of buffer in mind. A three-year warranty protects the drive.
As an ATA-66 drive, the DiamondMax Plus 6800 may pose problems to some motherboards running an Award BIOS. We are not aware of a utility to disable ATA-66 operation at the time of this writing [Editor's Note: Maxtor has since informed us that a utility, 66UPDATE.EXE is available from http://www.maxtor.com/library/main.html]. Be sure to upgrade your motherboard's bios to the latest available version before installing this drive.
Our initial Plus 6800 sample proved to be defective. The unit would start out with a transfer rate of about 17 MB/sec on the outer platters (in other words, well below the level of its predecessor) and slowly increase to about 20 towards the middle of the disk. Further, access times weighed in at an unflattering 25 milliseconds. We thus arranged for an exchange. It should be noted that the second unit, unlike the first, didn't arrive in a sealed anti-static wrapper. It did, however, turn in low-level performance figures that matched expectations.