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Seagate Cheetah 18LP ST318203LW

  May 26, 1999 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Dirt Cheap Drives

Since the release of the first-ever 10,000 rpm drive, the Cheetah 4LP ST34501W, Seagate has successfully seized and continually defended the title of the "world's fastest drive." Pairing a reduced rotational latency with very aggressive seek times and data transfer rates, the Cheetah pushed performance to heights beyond the reach of the swiftest 7200rpm units. As time passed, however, improved seek times and transfer rates on 7200rpm drives allowed them to narrow the distance to the Cheetah 4LP. 10k rpm technology did not stand still either, of course. IBM joined the fray with its Ultrastar 9ZX. Seagate was quick to respond, however with its Cheetah 9LP. Though it was close, the 9LP managed to edge out the 9ZX to defend its title as the fastest disk around. Now, Seagate's third generation Cheetah has finally arrived, yet it is faced with more competition than ever. Worthy SCSI contenders are shipping from Fujitsu, IBM, and Quantum. We've already taken a look at IBM's Ultrastar 18ZX. Reviews of 10k rpm drives from Fujitsu and Quantum will arrive very shortly. Right now, however, it's time to establish a baseline with the performance of the "defending champion," the Cheetah 18LP.

The claim-to-fame of every Cheetah drive has been, of course, it's 10k rpm spindle speed and the resulting improvements in access time and transfer rate. Seek time of the drive remains relatively unchanged from its predecessor, a nevertheless swift 5.2 milliseconds. The big improvement, as one may expect, is an increase in areal density: knocking capacity/platter up to 3.0 GB from the Cheetah 9LP's 1.8 GB allows for a larger drive (18.2 gigs in a low-profile unit) and faster transfer rates. Buffer size remains constant at one megabyte. The drive is backed by a five-year warranty.

Noise and heat are always two big concerns when it comes to considering 10k rpm drives. The Cheetah 18LP is equipped with what Seagate calls "Just In Time" technology, a rather nebulously described technology. The basic results are (of course) less noise from actuator seeks and lower overall power consumption, something that should translate into less generated heat.

For the past six months, has been in a "transition" of sorts, slowly converting from ZD's WinBench 98 to the newer WinBench 99. During this period, we've run both WB98 and WB99 on drives to establish a "reference" between the two WinBench versions. As the SR database now includes 17 drives that have been benchmarked with both versions of WinBench, it is appropriate to complete the change and continue exclusively with the newer and more accurate WinBench 99 results. All drives from the Cheetah 18LP onwards will be tested with WB99 and ThreadMark only.

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The current reigning 10k rpm champion is the IBM Ultrastar 18ZX. Though the IBM drive features a hefty 4 megabyte buffer, the Cheetah 18LP features higher areal density and a resulting higher transfer rate. Even in the absence of concrete figures, I'd put my money on the higher transfer rate.

As it turns out, the Cheetah 18LP does indeed oust the Ultrastar 18ZX to earn the title of the "fastest drive ever tested at" In the Business Disk WinMark test run in Windows 95, the Cheetah outperforms the Ultrastar by a margin of 6%. High-End Disk WinMark tests show the Seagate triumphing over the IBM by a more substantial 11%. Tests under Windows NT 4.0 show the margins narrowing to 5% and 8% on the Business and High-End tests respectively.

Under ThreadMark 2.0, the Cheetah 18LP torches the Ultrastar 18ZX. The Windows 95 tests peg the Cheetah higher by a margin of 27%. The difference increases under Windows NT, with the Cheetah placing an impressive 38% higher than the IBM drive.

Subjectively, the Seagate drive operated slightly quieter than its predecessor. Though the 10k rpm whine was just as present, seek times were slightly subdued. They were still quite noticeable, nonetheless. Despite the "Just In Time" technology, the disk does run hot to the touch outside a drive cooler. Do yourself a favor and invest in a cooler if you insist on this 10k beast.

As expected, the Cheetah 18LP delivers unprecedented performance. The drive sets new marks in all six of our major benchmark categories (excluding the non-shipping "concept drive," the Hitachi Pegasus), a feat that has not been accomplished since, well, the Cheetah 9LP . As has been par for the course, this Cheetah generates quite a bit of noise and heat. If you're looking for a quiet drive, this isn't the one for you. For those of you looking for the fastest drive around, this Cheetah is the fastest SR has tested up to this point. Contenders from Fujitsu and Quantum imminently loom, but as of right now, the Cheetah holds the belt.

Seagate Cheetah 18LP ST318203LW
Estimated Price: $899
Also Available: ST39103LW (9.1 GB version); ST136403LW (36.4 GB version)
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* Note: Threadmark 2.0 and WinBench98 test results are the average of five trials.
WinBench99 test results are the average of three trials.


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