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Seagate Cheetah 73 ST173404LW
  May 3, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Seagate Technology.


Traditionally, it's been's policy to review the highest-capacity member of a given drive manufacturer's generation that retains a one-inch-high form factor. We've given these drives the moniker of "flagship"... we've contended that the performance delivered by a flagship unit is representative of the performance one can expect across the entire family. There have been some notable exceptions. IBM, for example, released its first 10k rpm drives solely in a 1.6" form factor and released the Ultrastar 18ZX well before the 9LZX, forcing us to take a look at the taller drive. We also made an exception for Hitachi's Pegasus, a 12,000rpm drive that was available only in a 1.6" version.

We've also decided to deviate from this policy when taking a look at Seagate's fourth-generation Cheetah offerings. Naturally, a look at the Cheetah 36LP was first. Shortly afterwards, we took a look at the Cheetah 18XL, a drive that not only featured a name different from the 36LP but also dissimilar performance (better, in fact... the 18XL rests in SR's Leaderboard listing). Next up is a look at the monstrous Ultra160/m SCSI Cheetah 73.

As its name implies, the 73 delivers an incredible 73.4 gigs of storage in a single drive, albeit in a 1.6"-high form factor. Though its scheduled to be bypassed amazingly quickly by the 75 gig ATA IBM Deskstar 75GXP, the Cheetah 73 is currently the largest single hard disk available. How does it differ from the Cheetah 36LP?

To achieve its enormous capacity, the 73 features 12 platters, each storing 6.1 gigs of data. The additional mass of the arms (doubled to 24 from the 36LP's 12) results in a slight increase in the drive's specified seek time- 5.6 milliseconds. Still no slouch, but decidedly mundane when there's drives on the horizon that dip below 5ms or even 4ms.

The 73's other specs remain identical to those of the 36LP and 18XL. As a Cheetah drive, the 73 features a 10,000rpm spindle speed. The unit comes equipped with a four meg buffer. It's backed by a five-year warranty.

In the past, we've attempted to gauge the effects of sequential transfer rates (nil in most situations) and buffer size (a mixed finding) on overall drive performance. The 73's increased seek time in a void of otherwise identical specs is probably as close as we can come to assessing this last quantifiable factor. Let's take a look at the results!

WB99/Win2k Low-Level Measurements

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Click here to examine the STR graph for this drive

The difference in access time between the Cheetah 36LP and the Cheetah 73 is greater than the specs imply. The 36LP's seek time is rated a 5.2 milliseconds vs. 5.6 for the 73, a difference of 0.4 milliseconds. Interestingly, however, WinBench 99 clocks the 36LP's access time at 0.7 milliseconds over the 73.

It should also be noted that while the 36LP and 73 share the same physical platters, the 73's transfer rates in both the outermost and innermost zones clock-in (albeit negligibly) slower.

WB99/Win2k WinMarks

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Despite both a higher access time and slightly lower access times, the Cheetah 73 manages to top the 36LP by a whopping 2% margin in the Business Disk WinMark 99. Yes, its insignificant, but we'd have placed our bets on a converse scenario.

Such a converse, in fact, occurs in the High-End Disk WinMark 99. Here we witness the 36LP edging past the 73 by the same 2%. IOMeter, however, may be more telling of differences. Let's see what Intel has to say.

IOMeter Performance

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IOMeter delivers results that we'd expect from the measured low-level differences between the Cheetah 36LP and the Cheetah 73. The 36LP consistently measures out to be faster than the 73 by margins of 6%-7% in the Workstation Access Pattern, regardless of load.


The Cheetah 73's large platter count requires a more powerful spindle motor and actuator- things that don't bode well when it comes to heat and noise. As one would expect, the 73 is noticeably noisier and quite a bit warmer than the Cheetah 36LP. In most cases, active cooling is warranted. Noise-wise, there fortunately is no more a grating, high-pitch whine than with the 36LP. Seeks, however, are definitely more "visceral," for the lack of a better term. You will definitely know this drive is there .

Overall, the Cheetah 73 delivers the performance we'd expect... a notch below the Cheetah 36LP but quite swift nevertheless. Even so, we're hesitant to recommend a 1.6" high drive to most users. Though there are some advantages (higher GB/$ ratio, takes up less space than 2 properly-cooled 1" drives), the costs when it comes to heat and noise are not insignificant. If you truly need 73 gigs right now, yes, consider the Cheetah 73. Otherwise, drives such as the Quantum Altas 10k II (sub-73 gig versions), the Cheetah 36LP, and especially the Cheetah 18XL will deliver performance that's a bit better along with substantial drops in acoustic and thermal issues.

Seagate Cheetah 73 ST173404LW
Estimated Price: $1660
Also Available: Cheetah 36LP (36.4 GB); Cheetah 18XL (18.2 GB, 9.1 GB)
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