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Quantum QM320400CX-A

  August 1, 1999 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1999 ATA Drive Roundup.
Evaluation unit provided by Quantum Corp.
Promise Ultra66 provided by Promise Technology.

In the past, Quantum's ATA drives have always hit general availability a bit later than same-generation drives from competitors. These Fireballs made up for it, however, with near top-of-the-pack performance almost every time. Things seemed to change with the 7200rpm Fireball Plus KA, however, which was released right alongside the competing Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 5120 and the IBM Deskstar 22GXP.

This time around, Quantum's next-generation 5400rpm drive is one of the first out the gate, shipping right along with the Maxtor DiamondMax 6800. Though Quantum has shown in can design four-platter drives, the Fireball EL and Fireball Plus KA being examples, the company argues that when it comes to capacity in 5400rpm drives, four platter drives are overkill. Back in the days of the Fireball ST/SE, four platters were necessary to offer spacious capacities for those demanding a lot of space. Since then, however, application bloat (though ever present) seems to have tempered a bit: even though we're seeing 27 gig ATA drives these days, the vast majority of potential users have no need for so much space. Quantum also figures that power users who'd prefer gargantuan disk sizes would go for 7200rpm units such as it's upcoming 27 gigabyte Fireball Plus KX. Thus, the flagship Fireball CX model reviewed here features only three platters for a paltry 20.4 gigs of capacity .

The CX also features a rather standard and bland 9.5 millisecond seek time. Interestingly, Quantum is sticking to its guns when it comes to buffer size; the company is maintaining all ATA lines at 512k. Even the upcoming Fireball Plus KX and the CX's successor, the Fireball LCT, remain 512k drives. Some may recall that the old Fireball SE (2.1 gigs/platter, circa late 1997 for you newbies ) was the last holdout in moving up from a 128k buffer when competitors were reaching 256k and even 512k sizes. Even so, the drive was among the top of the pack when it came to performance, being bested by only the IBM Deskstar 5. Combine this with the evidence in a recent article of ours and it's clear that cache size is not all it's cracked up to be. The Fireball CX features a three-year warranty.

As an ATA-66 drive, the Fireball CX may pose problems to some current motherboards running an Award BIOS. If you don't have a dedicated ATA-66 drive, we recommend disabling ATA-66 operation with this utility. No loss of performance will occur running this drive in ATA-33.

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When comparing the Fireball CX to the Maxtor DiamondMax 6800, an interesting trend emerges. Rather than a split in performance between operating systems, as is usually the case when a Maxtor drive is involved in the comparison, these two units see-saw along a Business/High-End axis. In both Windows 9x and Windows NT, the Quantum disk trails the Maxtor by a margin of 12% in the Business Disk WinMark 99. The High-End Disk Winmark, however, reverses the situation. Here, again under both operating systems, the Fireball CX outperforms the DiamondMax 6800 by 10%.

ThreadMark results decidely rate the CX as the faster drive. While the CX trails the 6800 in Windows NT by an insignificant 2%, it pulls far head under 9x, besting the Maxtor by nearly 18%.

As usual for a 5400rpm drive, heat is a non-issue. And as is the case for most 5400rpm disks, the Quantum is quiet, operating at a level that could be described as one-notch above "whisper quiet." Just loud enough to tell you the drive is searching for your data.

When it comes to 6.8 GB/platter drives, the Maxtor DiamondMax 6800 is the choice for general business/office applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, and the like. For higher-end applications, the Quantum Fireball CX pulls ahead. If you really need more than 25 gigs in your 5400rpm drive, than the DiamondMax 6800 is your only choice. Otherwise, the Western Digital Caviar AC420400 (and similar-performing IBM Deskstar 25GP) remains the best-balanced 5400rpm drive.

Quantum QM320400CX-A
Estimated Price: $329
Also Available: QM31300CX-A (13.0 GB); QM310200CX-A (10.2 GB); QM306400CX-A (6.4 GB)
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* Note: Threadmark 2.0 test results are the average of five trials.
WinBench99 test results are the average of three trials.


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