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Quantum Atlas 10k II QM336400TY-LW

  February 24, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Quantum Corp.
See also: Quantum's Atlas 10k II vs. Seagate's Cheetah 36LP: A Grudge Match!
See also: One Last Time: The Quantum Atlas 10k II

It's finally happened. At long last a major drive manufacturer has announced a hard disk that transcends the 10,000 rpm barrier. Oh yes, there was Hitachi, who more than a year ago presented its "Pegasus" drive, a 12,000 rpm unit that failed to become anything more than an interesting curiosity. No, this time it's Seagate, a company that has traditionally advanced spindle speeds ever since the fixed-disk world decided to move up from the comfortable 3600 rpm mark. The Cheetah X15 has been announced. Expect the hype to flow.

Let's take a step back and engage in a reality-check. Seagate projects that it'll ship the X15 in volume in "Q3 2000," which by calendar-year standards means we'll see the drive available for sale no earlier than July. We have no doubt that the X15 will be a groundbreaking drive in terms of performance. Until then, however, everyone will do well to remember that 10,000 rpm drives are still where the action is at when it comes to the ultimate in disk performance.

Seagate has recently started to ship its fourth-generation Cheetah 36LP. Observers have noted, however, that Seagate seems to have throttled back in the 10k rpm race. The 36LP is a very evolutionary improvement over its predecessor. The manufacturer is easing its 10k line into something that looks more and more like a mainstream SCSI solution. The net effect yields a fourth-generation 10k drive that provides performance equivalent to, but no greater than, last year's champ: the Atlas 10k.

There's another speedster on the horizon. Unlike the X15, it's likely that we'll see this drive within the next couple months. With all the hubbub that's bound to spread, hopefully there'll be few that have forgotten about the Quantum Atlas 10k II.

On paper, the new Atlas looks awesome. First and foremost, this drive features a not-yet-venerable 10,000 rpm spindle speed. It's obviously marketed as a direct competitor to the Cheetah 36LP. Unlike the Cheetah, however, the Atlas forges ahead by presenting a lower-than-ever seek time, weighing in at a petite 4.7 milliseconds, a full half lower than Seagate's offering. The 10k II spreads its 36.7 gigs of data capacity over one less platter than the Cheetah does (ie, five disks), yielding 7.3 gigs of data per platter. This is darn impressive for a reduced-platter-diameter 10k drive and promises truly awesome sequential transfer rates. The buffer found in this new Quantum is no less impressive; the Atlas comes to the table with eight megs, doubling the competition. As one would expect, this enterprise-class drive is backed by a five-year warranty.

The Atlas 10k II is Quantum's second-generation deployment of the Ultra160/m SCSI interface.'s current testbed features an Adaptec AHA-2940U2W, a card that maxes out at an 80 meg/sec transfer rate. Though the drive features a 160 meg/sec interface, the actual platter-to-buffer transfer rate tops out at a specified 47.5 megs a second, well within the limits of Ultra2 SCSI. In the near future, we're planning to deploy a new testbed featuring a more up-to-date Ultra160m SCSI host adapter as well as a new suite of benchmarks. The figures that follow are the result of our testing methodology as of mid-February 2000.

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Low-level figures turned in by the Atlas 10k II are breathtaking. Disk access time measured by WinBench 99 run in Windows NT clocks in at a svelte 7.8 milliseconds, a figure nearly 17% faster than that of the Cheetah 36LP. Sequential transfer rates in the outermost zone clock in at over 41 MB/sec, a figure that for the first time definitively breaks the old ultra-wide 40 meg/second limit.

The high-level results achieved by the Atlas are nothing less than awesome. In all six major categories, we found the Quantum drive besting the competition (again, the Cheetah 36LP) by double-digit margins. The 10k II is the first drive to break the 5000 KB/sec barrier in the Business Disk WinMark 99, racing past the Cheetah by over 24%. The Atlas also achieves impressive scores in the High-End Disk WinMark 99, placing nearly 15% faster than the Seagate feline. Margins in tests run in Windows NT 4.0 yield are of similar caliber. Here the Atlas trounces the Cheetah by 19% in the Business test and 24% in the High-End WinMark. The Atlas 10k II is the first drive to reach the 20,000 KB/sec mark in the latter test.

We've always felt that Adaptec's ThreadMark 2.0 benchmark has always been overly sensitive to sequential transfer rates. Thus, the ThreadMark scores turned in by the Atlas 10k II are testaments to the drive's incredible throughput. The Atlas annihilates the Cheetah in ThreadMark by the largest margins we've ever witnessed in a same-class comparison. The Quantum's score of 24.4 MB/sec in Windows 95 is over 62% higher than the figure achieved by the 36LP. The drive's NT score is the first to break 30 MB/sec, sailing by the Seagate by a margin of 51%. Whew!

Top-of-the-heap performance usually comes at a cost. The Atlas 10k II isn't the quietest drive we've tested. Noticeable idle noise was present- not so much a high-pitch whine as one might expect but rather a lower-pitched hum that we initially took for the sound of a dust-clogged drive cooler. It isn't something that distracted us, but the drive is nevertheless audible when we bother to listen. Seeks are what one would expect from a 10k drive. The actuator grinds away, significantly louder than an ATA drive. In our spacious testbed, the drive runs slightly warm to the touch. Smaller cases may need active cooling for best results.

The Safe Buy Award

Simply put, this designation means we'd purchase this product without regret. Sure, there may be a slightly better, slightly faster, and/or slightly less-expensive model from a competitor, but you can't go wrong with this particular unit. This award is applicable, of course, to all units at the top of their class, but also applies to units that, though not quite best-of-class, provide a strong showing nonetheless.After it's all said and done, the Quantum Atlas 10k II is by far the fastest drive we've ever laid our hands on. When it comes to performance, the Atlas is the best in every category: the best access time, the best transfer rate, the best Win9x performance, the best WinNT performance, the best Business performance, the best High-End performance, etc. The list goes on and on. Seagate's restraint in the 10k landscape has resulted in a ceding of the market to Quantum. The Atlas 10k II unequivocally trounces the Cheetah 36LP. A simple explanation may better put the new level of performance that Quantum's brought us into perspective. Our current test suite consists of eight distinct categories on which we keep our eyes: the six high-level tests outlined in the performance graphs shown above in addition to WB99's Disk Access Time and Disk/Read Transfer Rate. The Atlas 10k II is the first drive ever to sweep all eight categories. Mighty impressive indeed. Sure the Cheetah X15 sounds incredible, but there's no doubt that the 10k II will be available for sale far sooner. In fact, I'm using one in my own system right now (insert evil, conceited laugh) . Our congratulations go to Quantum for delivering such a fine drive!

Quantum Atlas 10k II QM336400TY-LW
Estimated Price: $720
Also Available: QM373400TY-LW (73.4 GB); QM318400TY-LW (18.4 GB); QM309200TY-LW (9.2 GB)
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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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