When it comes to hard drives (or virtually any other line of products, for that matter), a manufacturer faces two conflicting decisions. It can produce a different product to address different market segments, hoping that costs don't rise and confusion doesn't arise from the diversity. Or, a company can take a simplified approach and deliver a "one size fits all" approach, addressing multiple markets with the reduced complexity of managing a single line. With the Atlas 10k III and MAN lines, Maxtor and Fujitsu respectively take the latter approach. With its many Cheetah releases this year, however, Seagate epitomizes the former.
Oh sure, there's the 15,000 RPM Cheetah X15-36LP, by all reckonings the fastest drive around, aimed at the most demanding uses. Yet what about Seagate's 10k RPM line? If someone asked SR to predict the company's 10k RPM product spread last year, we'd have cited the Cheetah 73LP, available in 73 GB, 36, GB, and 18 GB versions. And yes, 2001 saw the release of a Cheetah 73LP (73 GB only), but also a Cheetah 36XL and now a Cheetah 36ES! Whew!
As we understood it, the 36XL was to address the mainstream 18 - 36 GB SCSI market with great time-to-market turnaround (it was easily the first 10k RPM drive of the year) while leaving the higher end (and higher capacity) to the 73LP. Due to its early release, the 36XL featured 9.1 GB/platter, a 50% increase over the older Cheetah 36LP. The 73LP, on the other hand, packed a whopping 18 GB on one platter. Perhaps muddying the waters even further, this spring Seagate announced the 36ES.
From pre-release promotional materials, we gathered that the 36ES was to be an "Entry-level SCSI" (hence the ES moniker) 10,000 RPM drive. Its originally specified seek time of 6.0, being a bit higher than the company's previous 10k drives, confirmed it. As time passed, however, the company quietly lowered the ES' claimed seek time to a Seagate-standard 5.2 ms. Further, the series model # (STxxxx06) hints that the 36ES is in fact a successor to the 36XL. Finally, the drive costs a bit more. Is it entry-level SCSI or the next generation? Perhaps a performance comparison is the only fair way to sort things out.
Like the Cheetah 73LP, the 36ES utilizes 18 GB platters. A two-disk configuration yields a flagship capacity of 36 gigabytes. As mentioned above, Seagate now specifies the 36ES' seek time at 5.2 milliseconds. A 4 MB buffer rounds out the package.
The unit reviewed here features an Ultra160 SCSI interface. Seagate also plans to ship a version equipped with an Ultra320 interface as the latter's infrastructure settles into place. The company backs its drive with an enterprise-standard 5-year warranty.