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Quantum Fireball EL QM310200EL-A

  July 4, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1998 ATA Drive Roundup
See also our Drive Cooler Roundup

For quite some time, all was quiet on Quantumís ATA front as the Fireball SE and Bigfoot TX continued to be the companyís latest offerings. Late April, however, brought in a change as Quantum announced the Fireball EL series. However, just as the drive was reaching distribution, the company trumped the line by announcing the Fireball EX. The EX, at the time of this writing, hasnít yet reached volume shipment levels yet. So, in this article, weíll take a look at Quantumís current top ATA offering, the 10.2 gigabyte Fireball EL.

Quantum Fireball ELFor its new ATA drives, Quantum is still sticking with tried-and-true 5400rpm spindle speeds rather than ratcheting up to 7200rpm like much of the competition. Theyíve bumped up areal density to 2.5 gigabytes per platter, a bit of an improvement over the older Fireball SEís 2.1 GB/platter. Seek time is rated at 9.5 milliseconds. Finally, the relatively light 128k buffer has been increased to a spacious 512k. A bare OEM unit was tested in this review.

The Fireball EL debuts Quantumís "Shock Protection System" (SPS). Quantum argues that a significant cause of both out-of-box and long-term failure arises from accidental impact to the drives, whether it be hitting the unit with a hand tool or ramming it into place. Such jolts cause "head slap," where the driveís read/write heads are lifted from the surface and slammed back down, damaging the platter and throwing up microscopic debris particles. Such particles can hinder todayís magnetoresistive heads from reading data properly, and can eventually lead to failure of the drive. SPS is a method employed by Quantum to minimize head slap by preventing the lifting of the head. Itís supposed to significantly increase reliability and confidence in the drive; nevertheless, the EL is protected by an ATA-standard 3 year warranty .

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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The Fireball EL provides performance on par with that of the Maxtor DiamondMax 2880. The ELís WinBench 98 scores slid past the 2880ís by about 3%, the exception being the high-end WinMark under Windows NT, where the Fireball trailed by about 7%. In Adaptecís Threadmark 2.0 (a stronghold of the DiamondMax series), the EL fell short of the Maxtor by about 18%.

The Fireball EL is the hottest 5400rpm drive that weíve tested here at the Storage Review. Tests were conducted with the unit placed in a drive cooler. Touching the drive after extended use, however, hinted at warm operation. Sure enough, when used outside the cooler for a long time, the drive ran quite warm. Though not quite on the same level as the infamous 9.1 gig Seagate Medalist Pro, the drive ran just as hot if not hotter than the 7200rpm offerings from IBM and Maxtor. A drive cooler is definitely recommended. On the plus side, the drive is one of the quietest weíve used, approaching the silence offered by the IBM Deskstar 5/8 series.

This drive is an interesting piece of work. Though it doesnít offer performance comparable to the top 7200rpm ATA drives currently available, itís one of the fastest 5400rpm drives you can buy. Further, some of the smaller capacity Fireball ELís are aggressively priced through many mail-order channels. The drive also sports quiet operation. Unfortunately, the unit we tested ran quite hot; adding a drive cooler to the equation negates much of the price/noise advantage at the EL offers. It seems IBM and Maxtor have this unit cornered at both extremes. On the low-end, the Deskstar 8 and DiamondMax 2880 offer comparable performance with less heat. And at the high-end, the Deskstar 14GXP and DiamondMax Plus simply outpace the EL, albeit at a slightly higher cost. No cigar here, sorry . Hopefully the next-generation EX will offer better performance and/or cooler operation. If so, it would definitely garner a recommendation.

Quantum Fireball EL QM310200EL-A
Estimated Price: $350
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* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.


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