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Seagate Medalist Pro ST39140A

  March 29, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1998 ATA Drive Roundup
See also our Drive Cooler Roundup

During my upgrade phase back in December, I read quite a bit about Seagate's 7200rpm Medalist Pro that was supposedly the fastest ATA drive available. I looked everywhere, trying to pick one up; needless to say, I always ended up empty-handed. Seagate had announced the drive a couple months before but hadn't yet started shipping them. I ended up purchasing the IBM Deskstar 5 (and later, the Seagate Cheetah) instead.

The Medalist Pro ST39140A has finally arrived. Featuring 4 platters holding nearly 2.3 gigs each, the drive brings high density to the party along with a 512k buffer and 9.5/10.5 millisecond read/write seek times. The drive's 7200rpm rotation speed has a two fold effect on performance. First, the data itself passes under the head more quickly, increasing the continuous data transfer rate. Secondly, the faster spindle speed lowers "rotational latency", or the average time it takes for the needed part of the disc to rotate under the head. A 7200rpm spindle speed shaves about 1.4 milliseconds off of the average access time (access time = seek time + latency), a significant reduction at today's speeds.

The Medalist Pro also debut's Seagate's "fluid dynamic bearing motors." Described by the manufacturer as a "viscous oil", the new technology reduces the noise often created conventional ball bearings. Seagate also claims that this increases reliability, though I then can't help but wonder why this technology isn't found in the company's next-generation enterprise class Cheetah and Barracuda drives. Despite the claim of increased reliability, Seagate backs the drive with no more than the virtual ATA standard warranty, 3 years.

At the time I ordered, the drive seemed to be available from only a handful of mail-order vendors. The package was a typical Seagate brown box. In addition the drive itself, the box contained a large sheet outlining various installation procedures along with a copy of Seagate's DiscWizard disk management software. Certain machines may run into problems using a drive larger than 8.4GB. The Storage Review testbed, with an Abit LX6 motherboard and running Win95/WinNT, accepted the drive without the use of additional software.

ZDBop's WinBench 98 along with Adaptec's Threadmark 2.0 were both run on the unit in Windows 95 OSR 2.1 and Windows NT Workstation 4.0 The drive was partitioned into a single volume of maximum size. The average of 5 trials is presented below.

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As the figures clearly show, the Medalist Pro blew into new territories of ATA performance, posting improvements ranging from 12% to 18% higher than the previous ATA WinBench 98 champ, the IBM Deskstar 8. The drive also posted new records in both access times and transfer rate. ThreadMark-wise, the unit blew the doors off the old ATA records, pushing into the 8 MB/sec range under NT.

For a 7200rpm drive, the Seagate is commendably quiet. The high-pitched whine that often accompanies ball bearings and high spindle speeds was nonexistent. The drive's noise level while seeking is a bit higher than the IBM drives, however. Even so, the noise was nothing compared to the churning one hears when using a Barracuda or Cheetah .

Speaking of the Cheetah, the Medalist Pro seemed to match it in one area: Heat. After the initial installation and first run of WinBench, the drive was amazingly hot. I'd venture to say that no other 7200rpm SCSI drive that I've used generated as much heat as this ATA newcomer. The results of the first pass at WinBench were notably poor, probably due to slow seek times from the drive exceeding its rated work temperature of 55 degrees Celsius. Once placed in the drive cooler that I normally use with my Cheetah, the drive ran much cooler and posted the results listed above.

Seagate's Medalist Pro ST39140A undeniably raises the bar for performance in the ATA drive arena. Blazing speed combined with quiet operation make the unit a standout. Unfortunately, heat seems to be a major concern. I consider a drive cooler mandatory for this drive, a first in the ATA realm, not only to prevent premature drive failure but also to achieve maximum performance. If you already suffer from heat problems (anyone overlocking out there??), you may be better off with another unit. If, however, your system is well ventilated, the ST39140A is second to none.

Seagate Medalist Pro ST39140A
Estimated Price: $459
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* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.


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