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Storage Review SCSI Drive Roundup - Summer 1998

  August 17, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1998 ATA Drive Roundup
See also our Drive Cooler Roundup

As swift as today's ATA drives are, the top SCSI drives are faster yet. Though they lag in areal density, SCSI drives bring faster spindle speeds and low seek times to the table. Offering up to 15 devices per channel, SCSI's expandability dusts that of the ATA interface. When it comes to the utmost in performance, expandability, and/or reliability, these are the drives you should be considering.

The Storage Review has broken down current SCSI offerings into three distinct catagories. The first group consists of the 10,000rpm drives. When bar-none performance is of utmost importance, this is the category you should be looking at. Seagate no longer stands alone in offering 10k drives. IBM has joined the fray with Fujitsu also making some noise.

10k rpm drives, however, are the loudest and hottest beasts around. Further, they still represent a relatively new market segment, and may not be as mature as the 7200rpm mainstays. "Enterprise Class" 7200rpm SCSI drives still offer exceptional performance while using a tried, proven spindle speed. Though they don't cost much less than 10k drives, they may be your best bet if proven reliability, operating temperature, or noise is an important factor.

Finally, there's a class of "entry-level" SCSI drives, a group of offerings that are priced significantly lower than the 10k rpm and enterprise-class 7200prm units. These are drives that users still on the ATA vs SCSI fence should consider. Although they still cost significantly more than equivalent capacity ATA drives, they may provide a better alternative for those who stand to benefit from the expandability that SCSI offers.

Most SCSI drives are built to higher tolerances than ATA units. Thus, you'll see higher MTBF ratings with SCSI drives, and more importantly, a longer warranty. Excepting only the Seagate Medalist Pro, every SCSI drive listed here is backed by a full five years. Though I've seen many ATA drives run for a long time, I'd always put my money on the SCSI drive lasting longer.

Generally speaking, our policy is to review the largest member of a given drive family that still maintains 1" form factor. You can expect the same performance from other drives within the same family. For example, several readers have written in asking when the Cheetah 4LP or the Cheetah 18 will be reviewed. Both of these are considered to be part of the same "family" as the Cheetah 9LP. You can expect identical performance from these drives.

10,000rpm SCSI Drives - Storage Review Editor's Choice
Seagate Cheetah 9LP

For a brief period of time, the Seagate Cheetah family lost the title of the "world's fastest drive" when the IBM Ultrastar 9ZX managed to hit the streets before Seagate's own Cheetah 9LP. Both drives are shipping now; as the figures clearly indicate, the Cheetah once again dominates. Though it may be slightly more expensive than the 9ZX, the Cheetah maintains a low 1" profile rather than the IBM's more bulky 1.6" height, thus allowing easier cooling and integration into systems. The IBM may be a hair less noisy, but at this level, speed is the name of the game, isn't it?

10,000 RPM SCSI Drives *
Drive Noise Temp BDW-95 BDW-NT HEW-95 HEW-NT TM-95 TM-NT Price
Ultrastar 9ZX
Loud Hot 2072 2390 5610 5336 8.11 10.21 $780
Cheetah 9LP
Hot 2126 2522 5768 5520 10.41 12.52 $800

Compare the Seagate Cheetah 9LP

7200rpm SCS Drives, Enterprise-Class - Storage Review Editor's Choice
IBM Ultrastar 9LP

Here the situation is different: IBM's offering triumphs over Seagate's. In addition to posting higher WinBench 98 scores than the Barracuda 9LP, the Ultrastar 9LP is aesthetically much less obtrusive. The Barracuda can be as loud as the Cheetah family, and almost as hot. The Ultrastar, on the other hand, was relatively quiet and cool. However, the Seagate, unlike the IBM, is readily available in an Ultra2 version. Also worth mentioning is Fujitsu's MAB3091SP. Although it was outpaced by both the IBM and Seagate, it's simply one of the quietest drives available, ATA or SCSI. That's saying a lot for a 7200rpm SCSI drive!

7200 RPM SCSI Drives, Enterprise-Class*
Drive Noise Temp BDW-95 BDW-NT HEW-95 HEW-NT TM-95 TM-NT Price
Very Quiet Moderate 1544 1870 4318 4194 5.72 7.36 $570
Ultrastar 9LP
Moderate Warm 1708 1956 4816 4548 7.18 8.94 $660
Atlas III
Moderate Warm 1380 1698 3700 3828 6.51 8.49 $680
Barracuda 9LP
Hot 1614 1868 4698 4338 7.23 9.14 $650
Western Digital
Moderate Moderate 1562 1776 4338 3978 6.66 8.94 $655

Compare the IBM Ultrastar 9LP

7200rpm SCSI Drives, Entry-Level - Storage Review Editor's Choice
Quantum Viking II

The one thing that's clear here is that you should not chose the Seagate Medalist Pro. If it were priced as low as its ATA brother, it would be a compelling option; as it stands though, it's almost as expensive as entry-level offerings from other companies while providing substandard performance and a measly three year warranty. The Quantum Viking II managed to edge out the IBM Ultrastar 9ES in most performance tests to claim the title of "fastest budget drive." Further, unlike the 9ES, the Viking II is available to end-users in an Ultra2 version, a plus for future uses. The IBM drive, nevertheless, remains an attractive option due to its quieter operation.

7200 RPM SCSI Drives, Entry-Level*
Drive Noise Temp BDW-95 BDW-NT HEW-95 HEW-NT TM-95 TM-NT Price
Ultrastar 9ES
Quiet Moderate 1640 1886 4482 4500 5.40 7.58 $590
Viking II
Moderate Moderate 1608 1914 4562 4616 6.78 8.47 $560
Medalist Pro
Moderate Warm 1448 1720 4278 3880 6.06 8.31 $530

Compare the Quantum Viking II

Unlike our Summer '98 ATA Drive Roundup, our SCSI roundup ends up in a nice, neat politically correct division . Each of the three major manufacturers managed to lay stake to one category. It should be noted, however, that IBM's drives did place second in the two categories where they didn't come out on top. A situation which, interesting enough, mirrors that of the ATA Roundup. Big Blue is undoubtedly a pioneer in the hard disk world, whether one examines ATA or SCSI offerings. Good job, IBM!
Notable ommisions
The following drives have either not yet entered distribution channels or were not obtainable by the Storage Review in time for this roundup. It is, however, a top priority to evaluate these units and to add them to the SR database.

Fujitsu MAC30xx
   1.8 GB/platter
   512k buffer

Hitachi DK329G-91
   1,8 GB/platter
   512k buffer

Hitachi DK3E1T
    (Don't hold your breath)

The "No Thanks" Award

Quantum Corporation's
Atlas III

In our original 4.5 GB Ultra Wide SCSI Drive Roundup, the Quantum Atlas II lagged behind the competition, partially due to the it's lower areal density - while most other drives delivered their 4.5 gigs of space on 4 platters, the Atlas II used 5. When we received the Atlas III, we hoped for a better showing, especially since the drive was back on track in the platter department, matching the competition's 1.8 gigs per platter. As we can see, however, the Atlas III also proved to be slow when compared to its contemporaries. Part of the Atlas' poor showing may be due to the fact that the drive is aimed at high-end server applications or other markets where the drive's features may help it excel under heavy loads. Perhaps the Atlas III's decent showings under ThreadMark indicate a penchant towards performance under duress. Even so, it seems that the overhead imposed to allow good heavy-load performance handicaps the drive when it comes to more typical, non-server usage. As I've stated many times in the past, ZD must be given some credit: WinBench 98 has proved to be remarkably representative of real-world disk performance. When used as my everyday drive for everyday tasks (we're definitely not talking server-style loads here), the Atlas III felt sluggish. It's simply not the best choice for everyday or even moderate workstastion usage. Most users would be better served by the IBM Ultrastar 9ES or even Quantum's own (and less expensive) Viking II drive.

Overclocking SCSI Drives
After seeing the Storage Review's beta overclocking survey, many readers have written in pointing out that success or lack thereof in overclocking SCSI-based systems has nothing to do with the drives and everything to do with the SCSI host adapter. This is absolutely correct. The overclocking survey currently in place simply takes all entries in the SR comparator database and dumps them into survey eligibility. We are currently developing a comprehensive survey that will expand the variables to include the motherboard and the host adapter. Overclocking SCSI systems is a bit of a puzzle to me anyway: One of the selling points of SCSI drives is increased reliability. It seems that overclocking the SCSI subsystem, no matter how successful and stable the attempt appears to be, only increases the chances for soft errors and thus undermines stability and reliability.

* Table Abbreviations and Units Of Measure
Noise Subjective perception of noise
Temp Subjective perception of operating temperature
BDW-95 Business Disk WinMark 98 under Windows 95, OSR 2.1 - measured in KB/sec
BDW-NT Business Disk WinMark 98 under Windows NT 4.0 - measured in KB/sec
HEW-95 High-End Disk WinMark 98 under Windows 95, OSR 2.1 - measured in KB/sec
HEW-NT High-End Disk WinMark 98 under Windows NT 4.0 - measured in KB/sec
TM-95 ThreadMark 2.0 Transfer Rate under Windows 95, OSR 2.1 - measured in MB/sec
TM-NT ThreadMark 2.0 Transfer Rate under Windows NT 4.0 - measured in MB/sec
Price Estimated street price current as of August 17st, 1998
* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.


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