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Western Digital Caviar AC310100

  August 31, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1998 ATA Drive Roundup

Since the Storage Review began reviewing and benchmarking hard drives nearly six months ago, Western Digital's Caviar series has notably lagged behind the competition in both capacity and performance. I don't claim to know the exact reason why- it's simply the observation of a trend. Thus, it was with some anticipation that I approached the latest addition to the Caviar line: The AC310100.

Western Digital CaviarWestern Digital's latest offering looks quite promising on paper. Packing 3.4 gigabytes per platter, this latest Caviar matches the current 5400rpm offerings from both IBM and Maxtor. Seek time is rated at 9.5 milliseconds. And, finally, Western Digital has also crossed the threshold in buffer size, equipping their latest drive with the roomier ATA standard of 512k. The drive features a 3 year warranty.

The AC310100 features WD's new "Data Lifeguard," which, according the company, will increase reliability and protection of user data. Data Lifeguard "automatically identifies and repairs sectors before possible data loss." WD claims that since the drive performs such monitoring and repairs while the drive is idle that no performance loss occurs. Indeed, it's even posited as a performance booster, since increasing reliable reads reduces the necessity for on-the-fly error correction. This all occurs within the drive's firmware, requiring no user input or operating system-level drivers.

Installation into the Storage Review test bed went without a hitch. Let's take a look at some numbers.

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The 10.1 gig Caviar posted some modest improvements over the 8.4 gig version, which means that the drive still isn't a stellar performer. The top performing 5400rpm drive in Windows 95/WinBench 98, the IBM Deskstar 16GP, outraces WD's latest by more than 14%. Similarly, a top Windows NT performer, the Maxtor DiamondMax 3400, posted scores 20% higher than the Caviar.

ThreadMark-wise, the WD drive managed some respectable scores, especially under Windows NT, where it outperformed the IBM 16GP. Remember, though, that IBM's entry-level drives aren't exactly screamers when it comes to ThreadMark performance.

Seek noise was rather noticeable with this latest Caviar. Though it's not exactly a Barracuda or Cheetah, the WD was louder than both IBM and Maxtor's ATA offering. The 10 gig Caviar also continued the tradition of cool operation; as usual, you should have no problems integrating this WD ATA drive into any system.

Once again, I have to admit that I'm disappointed with Western Digital's latest drive. Though the drive provides a small increase over its predecessor, the AC38400, the AC310100 still lags behind same-generation drives from IBM and Maxtor. It seems like Western Digital is in a "holding pattern" of sorts, simply trying to keep up with the competition in capacity with little regard to performance. In some circles, Western Digital still enjoys a reputation as the manufacturer of the fastest ATA drives. It would be nice if the company could once again become an innovator and not a follower.

Western Digital Caviar AC310100
Estimated Price: $340
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* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.


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