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Western Digital Enterprise WDE18310

  August 29, 1999 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Western Digital Corp.
Promise Ultra66 provided by Promise Technology.

The dawn of the 10,000rpm hard drive was the announcement of the Seagate Cheetah 4LP in October 1996. Though the drive didn't actually ship in mass quantities for nearly half a year afterwards, it rapidly established the Cheetah family as the fastest around. Late 1997/Early 1998, IBM joined the fray when it delivered the Ultrastar 9ZX. Seagate's next-generation Cheetah 9LP, however, managed to wrestle the crown back, delivering a drive with higher areal density, allowing for transfer rates and form factors that the 9ZX couldn't match.

We're now in the era of third-generation 10k rpm disks. With the release of the Ultrastar 18LZX, Big Blue has finally caught up with Seagate when it comes to gigs per platter in the 10k arena. So which drive rules the roost? The incumbent Cheetah line or IBM's improved 10k rpm offerings? Surprisingly, it's neither. A newcomer to the 10k rpm battle, Quantum, unexpectedly seized the title with the debut of the mighty Atlas 10k. No shipping 10k rpm drive, whether it be from Seagate, IBM, or Fujitsu, has been able to match the speed delivered by the Atlas.

Soon, Western Digital will step into the ring. Like Quantum, the company is a fledgling player in the 10k stakes. Earlier this year, WD managed to surprise many with the excellent time-to-market and decent performance of it's 3.0 gig/platter drive, the Enterprise WDE18300. Though eventually supplanted by Quantum's Atlas IV, the 7200rpm Enterprise compared quite favorably to the latest offerings from seasoned players such as Seagate and IBM. It became quite clear that WD did indeed know how to deliver solid SCSI offerings to the marketplace. It is thus with some anticipation that the industry awaits the delivery of the WDE18310.

In a way, the Enterprise WDE18310 is a "third-and-a-half" generation disk. While current 10k offerings from other manufacturers feature 3 gigs per platter (or even 3.6 gigs/platter in the case of Fujitsu's model), the Enterprise takes it to another level, packing an almost ATA-like 4.6 gigs per platter. When it comes to 10k rpm disks, though, things get a bit fuzzy. Most manufacturers reduce physical platter radius to shave off precious milliseconds on their top-end units. Western Digital has eschewed this approach, arguing that a drive utilizing traditionally sized platters with a smaller platter count than the competition would yield a drive that's cooler, quieter, and more reliable. Thus, though probably not quite the data density of a fourth-generation drive such as a hypothetical Cheetah 36LP, an 18 GB 10k rpm drive with only 4 platters is still unprecedented. Despite it's larger platters. the Enterprise features a speedy 5.2 millisecond access time. A two megabyte buffer wraps up the package. The drive is backed by a five-year warranty.

The Enterprise WDE18310 evaluated in this review is a pre-release unit. Western Digital, however, believes that the sample's performance is indicative of the final product.

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WinBench 99's Business Disk WinMark run under Windows 95 reveal the Enterprise trailing the Atlas 10k by about 10%. In the High-End Disk WinMark, WD manages to close the gap to about 5%. NT tests, on the otherhand, yield remarkably similar performance between the two competitors. Here, in both Business and High-End tests, the drives scored within 0.5% of each other.

Adaptec's ThreadMark 2.0 places the Enterprise about 6% behind the Atlas. NT tests, once again, yield virtually indentical results, with the WD leading the Quantum by less than 1%.

Heat? Though it features a lower platter count than the Atlas 10k, the sample reviewed here runs warmer than Quantum's flagship. Outside a drive cooler, the Enterprise runs hot, barely touchable after extended use. Thus, like most 10k rpm drives, active cooling is in order. The Enterprise turns in remarkably little high-pitch idle-noise. When seeking, the drive emits the same level of noise as the Atlas 10k- i.e., like a typical 7200rpm drive.

In the end, the Atlas 10k's formidable performance is too much for the Enterprise to beat. Under Windows NT, it comes darn close though, for all intents and purposes delivering equivalent (read: blazingly fast) performance. The Atlas 10k, however, remains a better-balanced drive by also delivering unmatched performance in Windows 9x. What shouldn't get lost in the shuffle, however, is that the Enterprise does place a strong second to the Atlas 10k. The drive consistently outperforms veteran products such as the latest Cheetah and Ultrastar, at times by significant margins. The SCSI drive world is being turned on its head, with newcomer's in the 10k market outperforming established players. These are interesting times .

Western Digital Enterprise WDE18310
Estimated Price: TBA
Also Available: TBA (an educated guess, however, would be a 9.1 gig version)
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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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