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Quantum Fireball lct QM326000LCT-A

  November 16, 1999 Author: Eugene Ra  
See also our Summer 1999 ATA Drive Roundup.
Evaluation unit provided by Quantum Corp.

As we alluded to in our review of Maxtor's DiamondMax VL20, several hard disk manufacturers are scrambling to provide low-cost units in an effort to gain a larger share of the burgeoning value PC market. Though Maxtor got a unit into our hands first, it's actually Quantum that was second only to Seagate in announcing plans to target this entry-level market with a 3.5" drive. More than three months following its initial announcement, we've finally managed to get our hands on an evaluation unit of the Fireball lct.

Though Quantum is obviously positioning this drive to compete with value lines from Maxtor, Seagate, and Fujitsu, it's interesting to note that in many ways, the lct could be construed as the successor to the 6.8 GB/platter Fireball CX. As of the time of this writing, the company has yet to announce a 8-10 GB platter Fireball to succeed the CX. Indeed, it's the lct line that's going to be graced with 10.2 gig platters in the coming weeks.

The Fireball CX sports 6.8 gigs per platter; the Fireball lct packs 8.7 gigs per disk. The CX claimed an average read seek time of 9.5 milliseconds. The lct comes out a bit better, armed with a claimed spec of 8.9ms. Incidentally, this makes the lct the first 5400rpm drive to claim a seek time below 9ms. As has been standard since the EL-series, a 512k buffer rounds out the drive.

Quantum takes great pains to point out that though it positions the Fireball lct as a low-cost, entry-level solution, no expense has been spared in ensuring data integrity and reliability. The company points out the debut of its second-generation Shock Protection System (SPS II) occurs with this value unit. SPS II builds upon the original SPS (which minimizes head lifts and thus resultant slaps that occur as the head returns to the platter after the drive absorbs a high level of shock) by delaying data writes when a jolt is felt by the drive during operation. This prevents data from becoming scattered and unusable. Does this truly improve reliability? Again, time will eventually tell. Despite it's value-class status, the lct is backed by an industry-standard three-year warranty.

As we've done with all other ATA-66 drives, the Fireball lct was tested using Promise's Ultra66 controller. This ATA-66 Fireball does not work properly with our old-bios (kept old to control variables) LX-based motherboard. Though this shouldn't be an issue with most motherboards these days, Quantum provides a utility to force the drive into ATA-33 operation. No loss of performance would occur should this be necessary. Need proof? Check out the URL cited at the bottom of the Fireball lct's Press Kit.

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The Fireball lct's low-level scores provide an interesting contrast to those turned in by the Maxtor DiamondMax VL20. As one would expect from it's advertised seek time, the lct brings the fastest access time we've yet seen from a 5400rpm drive. It slides by the VL20's access time scores by margins of more than a millisecond. Sounds insignificant, doesn't it? Perhaps, but that same margin of difference is what one experiences in rotational latency reduction when jumping from 7200rpm to 10,000rpm operation. As one would expect, the VL20's higher linear data density allow it to transfer data at rates up to 5 MB/sec faster than the lct. How do these differences translate into high-level performance, though?

The Fireball comes out on top in Win9x WinBench 99 scores. It bests the DiamondMax by a 3% margin in the Business Disk WinMark and a 12% margin in the High-End WinMark. The lct loses some ground to the VL20 in NT, however, where it trails the Maxtor drive by 4% in Business tests and 2% in the High-End.

ThreadMark tests place the lct 9% behind the VL20 in Win9x and a whopping 25% behind in NT. As we've cautioned several times in the past, however, ThreadMark results are not as reliable a guide to real-world performance as WinBench is.

The lct operates quietly, perhaps just a bit louder than the DiamondMax VL20. Perhaps this can be attributed to the larger (yet faster) actuator found in the lct. It spreads its data over three platters as opposed to Maxtor's two disks. Heat, as one may expect, isn't an issue.

Overall, the Fireball lct holds its own quite well when compared to the DiamondMax VL20. A decent showing when one consideres that the lct is really a competitor to the yet-to-be-reviewed-yet-older DiamondMax VL17. The 10.2 gig/platter lct10 is more proper competition. We hope to get our hands on both the VL17 and the lct10 shortly. Again, however, we should point out that value drives such as these are more likely to be used in especially cost-conscious situations (the 4.3 gig lct, for example, is projected to have a street price of less than $100), not in power-using rigs. Even if you prefer the quiet and cool operation of a 5400rpm drive, non-value offerings from Maxtor and Western Digital would fit the bill better.

Quantum Fireball lct QM326000LCT-A
Estimated Price: $269
Also Available: : 17.3GB, 13.0GB, 8.4GB, and 4.3GB versions
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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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