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Maxtor Atlas 10k III
  July 11, 2001 Author: Eugene Ra  

Maxtor Atlas 10k III Available Capacities *
Model Number
18 GB
36 GB
73 GB
* The benchmark scores presented in this review represent expected performance across the entire line.
Estimated Flagship Price: $1050 MSRP (73GB)
Evaluation unit provided by Maxtor Corp.


Two years ago, Quantum's Atlas 10k drive splashed on the scene as a legitimate contender against established 10,000 RPM SCSI units from Seagate and IBM. The Atlas 10k delivered respectable scores across the board. A year later many searched longingly for the drive's successor, the Quantum Atlas 10k II. We managed to get our hands on an early pre-production sample of drive; the excitement raised by the initial review still rings in our minds. Readers simply could not wait to get their hands on a drive that seemed decisively faster than Seagate's offering, the Cheetah 36LP. Unfortunately, the 10k II didn't hit the channel for many months following that initial article. Quantum and Seagate both subsequently released a few firmware revisions- in the end net performance differences were small.

Quantum has since then merged with ATA powerhouse Maxtor. Though the deal was allegedly forged to break Quantum's manufacturing dependence on Matsushita-Kotobuki Electronics, a multi-billion dollar Japanese conglomerate, the net effect from our point of view is Maxtor's return to the SCSI arena. Though originally announced under the Quantum name, the Atlas 10k III represents Maxtor's first SCSI product in years.

As nomenclature suggests, the Atlas 10k III represents the third iteration of the venerable Quantum performance line. In addition to its 10,000 RPM spindle speed, the 10k III features a contemporary 18 gigabytes per platter. The flagship model, reviewed here, combines four of these disks to yield 73 GB of capacity. Maxtor specifies seek times at a svelte 4.5 milliseconds, the lowest yet claimed for a 10k RPM drive. The 10k III maintains the spacious 8-megabyte buffer debuted by its predecessor.

The Atlas 10k III unit reviewed here features an Ultra160 interface. Maxtor plans to ship Ultra160 and eventually Ultra320 versions of the drive. The performance differences yielded by the Ultra320 version should be negligible in all cases excepting only huge multi-drive arrays servicing applications that require high transfer rates. A single 10k III won't come close to saturating Ultra160.

Maxtor's drive represents an intriguing entry into the SCSI world. As the manufacturer's only SCSI product, the Atlas 10k III is positioned as a "one model fits all" solution. Hence the 10k III not only pits itself against the Cheetah 73LP as a "mainstream performance" SCSI product, but also against high-performance 15k RPM offering as well as applications that traditionally require 7200 RPM drives due to heat and noise concerns... not to mention filling high-capacity situations! Quite a tall order- is the Atlas 10k III up to the challenge? Let's take a look!

WB99/Win2k Low-Level Measurements

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Click here to examine the STR graph for this drive

WinBench 99 measures the Atlas 10k III's access time at 7.9 milliseconds... identical to its predecessor. As a result, subtracting 3 ms of rotational latency yields a measured seek time of 4.9 milliseconds, a bit off of Maxtor's 4.5 ms claim. Even so, the 10k III's times come in more than half a millisecond lower than Seagate's Cheetah 73LP.

Maxtor's outer-zone transfer rates weigh in at 53.9 MB/sec. The drive manages to maintain at least 50 MB/sec halfway through before eventually decaying to an inner-zone rate of 34.9 MB/sec. The Cheetah 73LP manages slightly higher rates on the outer zone as well as a much smoother graph overall.

WB99/Win2k WinMarks

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The Atlas 10k III's Business Disk WinMark 99 of 8.6 MB/sec actually regresses slightly from that of its predecessor. As a result, it trails the Seagate Cheetah 73LP by about 3%... as well as the category leader, IBM's Ultrastar 36Z15 by a more substantial 15%.

High-end WinMarks are a different story, however. The 10k III's score of 27.5 MB/sec is the highest we've yet seen, leading even the IBM by 8%. Not bad for a lowly 10,000 RPM drive.

IOMeter Performance

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Maxtor's drive continues its excellent performance in our IOMeter indices, normalized averages of light, medium, and heavy loads of's custom access patterns. The Atlas manages to best Seagate's offering by a margin of 3%-5% under all patterns. It becomes clear, however, that the 10k III's lower spindle speed puts it at a disadvantage under these loads when compared to 15k RPM units from Seagate and IBM. The Atlas simply can't keep up with those powerhouses in these situations.


Despite its record-breaking 10k RPM performance, the most intriguing aspect of the Atlas 10k III may very well be its acoustics. Maxtor states that they "designed in acoustic levels of a 7200 rpm drive into a 10,000 rpm drive." All too often phrases like these are merely marketing hogwash. Amazingly, however, the Atlas 10k III at idle turns in noise floors little different from that of today's 7200 RPM ATA drives! It's by far the quietest 10k RPM drive at idle that we've yet heard. As one would expect from its swift access times, however, the 10k III's seeks are a different story. They're rather loud and churn away. Nonetheless, overall lack of noise is admirable. The 10k III runs quite warm to the touch after extended heavy usage. Active cooling may be warranted in many cases.

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. Overall, though it can't compete with the 15k RPM offerings from the competition in high-end server and database applications, the Atlas 10k III is nonetheless a stellar performer. It delivers the highest performance to date for a 10,000 RPM drive coupled with the quietest idle noise around. It's 73 gigabyte flagship capacity also outstrips that which 15k RPM drives offer. Thus, if you require lower noise levels or higher capacities than what 15k RPM units offer, the 10k III should be your choice.

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