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Maxtor DiamondMax VL40 34098H4
  October 5, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Maxtor Corp.


Maxtor Corporation is arguably the most prolific manufacturer of ATA drives. They've been at the forefront over the last two years in technologies such as the fastest spindle speeds, highest areal densities, or just plain largest drives. One only needs to look at the DiamondMax 80 to witness such leadership in action. Aside from IBM's Deskstar 40GV, the DM80 is the only drive currently shipping that features 20 GB/platter. And even IBM's drive can't match Maxtor's incredible 80 gigs of capacity. It seems Maxtor's position at the cutting edge can only strengthen after the company recently announced its intentions to acquire Quantum's hard disk division.

In this review we'll take a look at a close cousin to the massive 80 gig Maxtor... the DiamondMax VL40. The VL40 is the latest in Maxtor's "Value Line," though in all truthfulness we're seeing less and less in the specs that distinguish Maxtor's performance and value lines when it comes to specifications. Both the DM80 and the VL40, for example, feature 5400 RPM spindle speeds. They feature the same 20.4 GB/platters. They both even feature 2 megs of buffer, a break from the previous generation- like most other value-class drives, the VL20 featured only 512k of cache. Seek time is the one major area where a difference crops up. The DM80 is spec'ed at 9.0 milliseconds while the VL40 sports a more sedate 9.5 ms figure.

Indeed, aside from the slight difference in seek time (and, as we'll see in low-level testing, this difference is not large at all) the only thing that really distinguishes the VL40 from the DM80 is capacity. The VL40 line tops out at two platters (just as the value-oriented IBM Deskstar 40GV does) yielding a flagship capacity of about 40 gigs. The DM80 series, on the other hand, picks up where the VL40 leaves up, incorporating a minimum of three platters. So, in actuality, if you want a 20.4 GB/platter Maxtor drive 40 gigs or less in size, you'll end up with a VL40. Otherwise, the drive will be a DM80.

In recent times, Maxtor has joined the fray in catering to users looking for quieter drive operation with its "Silent Store" operation. It modifies seek and cache patterns to minimize noise in favor of performance. The manufacturer initially intended to leave the option of toggling quiet operation at the factory level. Since then, however, they've decided to leave it to end-users. A utility may be downloaded from Maxtor's site to switch quiet mode on or off here. For the purposes of this review, quiet mode was disabled (amset /off in the utility).

The DiamondMax VL40 is one of the first of a new breed of drives that will ship exclusively with the ATA-100 interface. Remember that since IDE drives have yet to break sequential transfer rates greater than even 40 MB/sec that ATA-66 (and in most cases, even ATA-33) interfaces will run the drive at optimal performance. Our testbed remains equipped with a Promise Ultra66 controller.

WB99/Win2k Low-Level Measurements

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Click here to examine the STR graph for this drive

Like the DiamondMax 80, the VL40 falls somewhat short of its specified seek time. WinBench 99 measures the drive's access time at 15.8 milliseconds. Subtracting the 5.6 ms of 5400 RPM rotational latency yields a measured seek time of 10.2 ms.

Outer zone transfer rates fall just shy of of 30 MB/sec while inner track figures rest at 17.5 MB/sec. These figures are identical to those of the DiamondMax 80.

WB99/Win2k WinMarks

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Differences between the VL40 and its big brother are relatively minor in the WinBench Disk WinMarks. The VL40 trails the DiamondMax 80 by 4% in the Business test and by 5% in the High-End... just about what one would expect given the slight difference in measured access times.

The VL40's score of 6.8 MB/sec and 16.8 MB/sec respectively in the Business and High-End tests give it a substantial lead over IBM's Deskstar 40GV. In such a comparison the Maxtor blows away the IBM by margins of 17% to 27%.

IOMeter Performance

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The VL40 lags the DiamondMax 80 by a mere 1% when it comes to the IOMeter Workstation Index, a normalized average of the Light, Medium, and Heavy loads of our own IOMeter Workstation access pattern. This means that, like the DM80, the VL40 can't keep up with category leaders such as IBM's Deskstar 40GV and Samsung's SpinPoint V10200. A comparison with IBM's drive, for example, reveals the VL40 falling behind by nearly 16%.

This again yields a marked contrast between the industry's most popular and accepted benchmark (WinBench 99) and IOMeter, a much more configurable (and thus, by definition, more "synthetic") measure. Though our experience in every day use correlates better with IOMeter than WinBench 99, there has been significant dissent. Those who favor WB99 would argue that Maxtor's drive is much faster than IBM's.


Featuring just two platters, the VL40 flagship is an unobtrusive unit. The unit remained cool to the touch even after running without active cooling for hours on end. Seeks were quite muted and acceptable and idle noise was virtually undetectable over our testbed's power supply fan.

In the end, the Maxtor DiamondMax VL40 is basically the DiamondMax 80 in smaller capacity configurations. It provides virtually the same performance as its larger brother. The one thing it lacks is the huge capacities. Thing is, huge capacity is the biggest thing going for the DM80. As a result, the VL40 faces stiff competition from manufacturers such as IBM and Samsung. Given comparable pricing, we'd go with the Deskstar 40GV over the VL40 due to its more balanced performance.

Maxtor DiamondMax VL40 34098H4
Estimated Price: $179
Also Available: 33073H3 (30.7 GB); 32049H2 (20.4 GB); 31535H2 (15.3 GB); 31024H1 (10.2 GB)
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