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Western Digital Expert WD273BA

  September 6, 1999 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1999 ATA Drive Roundup.
Evaluation unit provided by Western Digital Corp.
Promise Ultra66 provided by Promise Technology.

It wasn't very long ago when retail giant Western Digital was known for poorly performing ATA hard drives. The manufacturer had been hit with some hard times, which sapped R&D efforts. It became evident with drives such as the Caviar AC38400 and AC310100 that WD units simply didn't keep up with the best of the competition. All of this changed, however, when the Expert AC418000 hit the scene. The culmination of an agreement with IBM in which WD gained access to IBM technologies, the Expert's performance was nothing less than stunning.

Maxtor, in our view the undisputed leader in ATA performance during 1998, found itself eclipsed by Western Digital's Expert and newly-rejuvenated Caviar lines. WD illustrated just how far they'd come back in our Summer 1999 ATA Drive Roundup, where the company grabbed our Editor's Choice Awards in both the 5400rpm and 7200rpm categories.

Recently, however, Maxtor has struck back with a vengeance, delivering the blazing DiamondMax Plus 6800. Though the newest DiamondMax posted record figures in most major catagories, its claim to the crown still seemed somewhat suspect. All gazes were, after all, watching for the latest drive to ship from Irvine, CA.

The specifications of the Expert WD273BA read like an evolutionary improvement of a previous hit. As the next-generation Expert, the drive of course features a 7200rpm spindle speed. Seek time remains unchanged at 9.0 milliseconds. Like many other next-generation drives shipping from competitors, the WD273BA features 6.8 gigs per platter, yielding a flagship four-platter capacity of 27.3 gigabytes. The two megabyte buffer that seemed to endear so many fans is also present. A three-year warranty protects the drive.

As an ATA-66 drive, the WD205AA may pose problems to some current motherboards running an Award BIOS. If you don't have a dedicated ATA-66 drive, we recommend disabling ATA-66 operation with this utility. No loss of performance will occur running this drive in ATA-33.

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As the successor to the 7200rpm Editor's Choice drive in our recent Drive Roundup, the WD273BA is a drive from which we expect nothing less than the best. In a way it delivers, setting record scores for an ATA drive in Windows 95. In some cases, however, the margin of victory was disappointingly slim. Let's take Business Disk WinMark 99 results, for example. The WD drive (which is, after all, based on Win-9x-powerhouse IBM's technology) edges by the DiamondMax Plus 6800 by a nearly unnoticeable 2%. When it comes to the High-End Disk WinMark, the Expert triumphs by a beefy 18% margin. It should be noted, however, that the DiamondMax is rather soft in the High-End WinMark in Win9x. When comparing the Expert to another new-generation drive, say, the Quantum Fireball KX, the Expert still leads, but by a less impressive margin of 8%.

WinBench results under NT, however, are were things start to get tough for the Expert. NT is, after all, the traditional domain of DiamondMax drives. Here we find the Plus 6800 leading the Expert by some clear margins. The WD drive trailed the Maxtor by 15% in the Business Disk WinMark. High-End tests show WD closing the gap slightly, falling behind by 12%.

ThreadMark 2.0 mostly confirms the divide revealed by WinBench 99. Adaptec's Benchmark displays the Expert leading the DiamondMax by 8% in Windows 95. WD's disk, however, trails the Maxtor in NT by 10%.

Run without active cooling, the Expert is warm to the touch, but not too hot. It'll work in most well-ventilated cases without a drive cooler. Noise? Though there've been some isolated reports of a high-pitched spindle-related idle noise, we found the original Expert to be quite an unobtrusive drive. The new Expert continues the tradition, only more so. Our sample presents no high-pitch idle noise; seeks are even more muted than before. The Expert is one of the quietest drives we've tested; if it weren't for the Fujitsu MPD series drives, this WD would have a shot at the title "quietest around."

Overall, the Expert WD273BA delivers the best ATA performance yet under Windows 9x. In particular, it seems to be the drive of choice for users looking to run high-end applications in Win 9x. When it comes to NT, however, the Expert not only trails the category-leading DiamondMax Plus 6800, but also lags behind competiting drives from Seagate and Quantum. Make no mistake, the WD273BA is an evolutionary advancement, improving on the performance delivered by the AC418000 in virtually every category. In the end, however, the improvements don't add up to the oomph necessary to displace the Plus 6800 as the fastest overall ATA drive.

Western Digital Expert WD273BA
Estimated Price: $349
Also Available: : WD205BA (20.5 GB); WD136BA (13.6 GB); WD102BA (10.2 GB); WD68BA (6.8 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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