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IBM Deskstar 37GP DPTA-353750

  September 28, 1999 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1999 ATA Drive Roundup.
Evaluation unit provided by ThorTek.

For the past couple years, it's seemed that no glance at a generation of hard disks was complete without a look at Big Blue's offerings. Ever since the Deskstar 5, IBM's ATA series has consistently delivered the best or near best-of-class performance. Enthusiasts around the world seem to collectively hold their breaths as we inch () towards reviews of IBM's latest units.

Last week we examined the Deskstar 34GXP. Like previous Deskstars, the 34GXP proved to be a speedy design, perhaps the best ATA choice for Windows 9x users. Manufacturers still churn out tried-and-true 5400rpm disks, however. IBM is no exception, simultaneously delivering the Deskstar 37GP along with its 7200rpm brother.

IBM seems to have eschewed paths followed by other manufacturers such as Quantum and Western Digital. The latter, arguing that 5400rpm drives represent storage options for undemanding entry-level users, have scaled back the largest "flagship" designs in their latest 5400rpm drive line. Instead of incorporating four platters, as both companies have demonstrated in the 7200rpm lines, Quantum and WD chose to scale back to three platters, yielding a top capacity of "only" 20 gigs.

Big Blue, however, like Maxtor, has chosen to barrel ahead with a flagship 5400rpm design incorporates just as many platters as its 7200rpm units. The Deskstar 37GP's 5 platters, each weighing in at an impressive 7.5 gigabytes, yields an incredible top capacity of 37.5 gigs. The 37GP is the second largest hard drive around, yielding only to Seagate's 11-platter 1.6" Barracuda 50 (a SCSI drive, of course).

The drive's seeks are rated at a very standard 9.0 milliseconds. Like it's predecessor, the Deskstar 25GP, the 37GP's top-capacity models are equipped with a two megabyte buffer. It should be noted, however, that the two smaller units in the series (22.5 GB and 15.5 GB) are equipped with a 512k buffer. Nevertheless, it's likely that the smaller buffer doesn't significantly impact performance. IBM protects the drive with a three-year warranty.

As an ATA-66 drive, the Deskstar 37GP 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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An interesting comparison arises when we set the Deskstar 37GP against WD's Caviar WD205AA. Readers may recall that the specs and performance between the Deskstar 25GP and the Caviar AC420400 were quite similar. In this successive generation, however, we're seeing some differences. IBM has packed more data per platter on the 37GP than WD did with the WD205AA. On the flip side, WD states that its incorporated a variety of proprietary improvements in the firmware side that make the WD205AA a drive all their own.

A look at the transfer rates delivered by low-level WinBench 99 tests show that while the IBM packs more data per platter, the two drives sport virtually the same transfer rate on the outer tracks. When the test gets to the inner track, however, the WD proves to be slightly faster. It seems IBM's improved GB/platter arises from more densly packed tracks rather than squeezing in more data per track.

Higher-level benchmarks generally discern more differences between drives. Test under Windows 95 show the two units to be close. The Business Disk WinMark 99 shows IBM's drive trailing behind the WD by a slim 3% margin. The High-End WinMark, however, reverses the situation, placing the Deskstar ahead of the Caviar by about 4%.

The drives diverge quite a bit with tests conducted under Windows NT. Here the 37GP places about 10% below the WD205AA in the Business Disk WinMark. High-End tests increase the margin to 15%. ThreadMark also emphasizes the difference. The IBM trails WD's drive by a margin of 21% in Windows 95 and 26% in NT.

As is the case these days with 5400rpm drives, heat is a non-issue. The drive is barely warm to the touch after extended use without active cooling. When it comes to noise, the Deskstar is quiet. There's no high-pitched squeal and seeks were muted.

Overall, like the Caviar, the Deskstar 37GP provides top-flight 5400rpm performance in Windows 9x. In NT, however, WD's drive flexes its muscles and outguns the 37GP by significant margins. One should note, however, that WD has implemented a recall on the 205AA family of drives manufacturers within certain dates. This slightly muddies what would have otherwise been a clear choice in the 5400rpm arena. As a drive that outraces offerings from Maxtor and Quantum in Windows 9x, the Deskstar 37GP may thus be worth consideration.

IBM Deskstar 37GP DPTA-353750
Estimated Price: $449
Also Available: : DPTA-353000 (30.0 GB); DPTA-352250 (22.5 GB); DPTA-351500 (15.0 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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