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Western Digital Caviar AC38400

  June 5, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1998 ATA Drive Roundup

In the past few months, many ATA drive manufacturers have announced their next generation drives, incorporating new highs in spindle speed and/or areal density. One drive manufacturer conspicuously absent from the fray was Western Digital. Recently, though, the company quietly announced the launch of the newest in the caviar series, the 8.4 gig AC38400.

Western Digital CaviarWhile other ATA drive manufacturers use up to four platters per drive to maximize offered capacity, Western Digital has religiously stuck with a 3-platter maximum. As a result, their 6.4GB AC36400, the largest WD ATA drive previously available, lagged a bit behind others in capacity. The AC38400 is no exception- it too incorporates 3 platters. 8.4 gigs of storage these days is rather mundane, but distributing it across only 3 disks results in an areal density of 2.8 gigabytes per platter, previously reached only by the Maxtor DiamondMax 2880 and IBMís Deskstar 14/16. Other specifications remain the same: 9.5 millisecond access time, 256k buffer, and 5400rpm spindle speed. WDís standard 3 year warranty protects the drive.

The unit tested here was retail-boxed; such packages of WDís are always a marvel to behold, with handholding-galore everywhere you turn. A very nicely written and illustrated manual guides the user every step of the way. Mounting equipment and overlay/copy software are also included. The drive installed without a hitch.

ZDBopís WinBench 98 along with Adaptecís 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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What can I say here? I have to be harsh. Despite the increase in areal density, the AC38400 shows little gain from its predecessor. WinBench 98 scores were right in line with the older drive. Compared with the closest-capacity current-generation drive from a competing manufacturer, the Caviar gets trounced. Seagateís Medalist Pro ST39140A blew away the WD by a margin of 20% in every major test category. The DiamondMax 2880 also outdistances the Caviar in a similar fashion. Heck, even last yearís IBM Deskstar 8, while lagging in Threadmark, outpaces the WD by about 10% in the more substantial WinBench 98 tests.

On the plus side, the AC38400 operates quietly, a bit quieter than the AC36400, but not as silent as the Deskstar 5/8. The drive also had the benefit (in some regards, that is) of being tested right after the Medalist Pro . When compared to the Seagate, the Caviar feels ice-cold, even outside a drive fan. It should work fine in any system, no matter how cramped.

Simply put, the AC38400 delivers last yearís performance today. The Medalist Pro, though a bit pricier/hotter, delivers substantially greater performance. The same can be said for the Maxtor DiamondMax 2880, which should be available in an 8.4 gig version for the same price wherever you can find the WD. Either drive is a better choice and a better value for virtually all users. Avoid this one.

Western Digital Caviar AC38400
Estimated Price: $299
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* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.


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