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Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 40 54098U8

  December 14, 1999 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Maxtor Corp.

Things have been relatively quiet on the ATA front. In September we reviewed three 7200rpm drives, state of the art models from Maxtor, Western Digital, and IBM. These three joined Quantum and Seagate in delivering drives that combined 7200rpm spindle speeds with at least 6.8 gigs per platter. Since then, however, things have quieted down a bit. Maxtor and WD delivered 5400rpm drives that feature 10 gigs per platter. Maxtor and Quantum have delivered budget-class 5400rpm drives targeted at cost-conscious OEMs. The more exciting 7200rpm category, however, remained dormant. We've been waiting for a break from testing 5400rpm (and 10,000rpm, for that matter ) value drives.

At long last, however, a 7200rpm drive featuring 10.2 gigs per platter arrived for testing. Far from a value unit, this drive aims to capture the crown as the fastest ATA drive around. Interestingly, at the time of this writing, none of the other big-six companies has yet joined this lone pioneer in announcing a similar-class drive. Thus arises a rare opportunity: the chance to judge the drive on its own merits rather than constantly disclaiming that "so-and-so manufacturer has a similar drive just around the corner." It should surprise few that this new drive comes from Maxtor.

The DiamondMax Plus 40 combines 7200rpm spindle speeds with over 10 gigs per platter to deliver a flagship-capacity of 41 gigs, making it the largest ATA drive around. Recent similarities in names and capacities between 5400rpm and 7200rpm lines have led to some confusion within our readerships. Note that the 7200rpm DiamondMax Plus 40 is a different beast than the 5400rpm DiamondMax 40. The specified seek time of the Plus 40 is 9.0 milliseconds- typical for an ATA drive, not quite as svelte as units from Quantum or Seagate. Unlike said drives from the competition, however, this Maxtor unit comes equipped with 2 megs of buffer.

Like the DiamondMax 40, the Plus 40 comes equipped with Maxtor's Dual Wave processor, an enhancement that the company claims increases performance through large reductions in command overhead. The drive also features ShockBlock and MaxSafe, two technologies that purport to increase drive reliability through the reduction damage through shock and background surface scans. The drive comes with a 3-year warranty.

As we've done with all other ATA-66 drives, the Plus 40 was tested using Promise's Ultra66 controller. The ATA-66 unit 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, Maxtor provides a utility to force the drive into ATA-33 operation. No loss of performance would occur should this be necessary.

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Let's highlight a notable low-level distinction. The DiamondMax Plus 40 is the first ATA drive to exceed 30 MB/sec in sequential transfer rates. Thus, for applications where STR is clearly dominant, such as video editing, the Plus 40 offers impressive speed combined with prodigious capacity.

Now, let's move on to some high-level figures. For the first time since the release of Seagate's original 7200rpm Medalist Pro, an ATA drive seizes the number one spot in all six major performance categories. Quite simply, this drive smokes!

The Plus 40 is best compared to its predecessor, the DiamondMax Plus 6800. Though our pick of its class, the Plus 6800's claim as the fastest ATA drive around was subjected to quite a bit of scrutiny in our Discussion Forum. The 40, however, has rectified the 6800's weaknesses and then some. WinBench 99 scores under Windows 9x place the 40 ahead by 8% in the Business Disk WinMark and by a hefty 23% in the High-End WinMark. WinBench tests under NT, an area where the 6800 was already king, also show improvement. The 40 again bests the 6800 in the Business WinMark by 8%, with the High-End tests showing an 18% gain. Finally, ThreadMark results in both Windows 9x and Windows NT indicate performance gains of about 30%.

Subjective heat and noise results for the Plus 40 are nothing less than enviable. The drive, both at idle and when seeking seems every bit as quiet as the DiamondMax 40, a drive we found to be commendably unobtrusive. The heat generated by the Plus 40 shows that 7200rpm drives have truly come of age as a mainstream product: barely warm to the touch after extended use, the drive's need for active cooling is nil.

If we seem a bit high on the DiamondMax Plus 40, well, we are! The drive combines unprecedented ATA performance, massive capacity, impressively low levels of heat and noise, and an affordable price. Combine this with the fact that none of the competition has even announced a similar product and you have a sure-fire winner for users looking to purchase anything above the cheapest of entry-level drives.

The Safe Buy Award

Simply put, this designation means we'd purchase this product without regret. Sure, there may be a slightly better, slightly faster, and/or slightly less-expensive model from a competitor, but you can't go wrong with this particular unit. This award is applicable, of course, to all units at the top of their class, but also applies to units that, though not quite best-of-class, provide a strong showing nonetheless.With this review, we're going to debut the "Safe Buy" award. The fact is that many products from various manufacturers manage to raise the bar or at very least match the performance expected from the product's class at any given point in time. Though its not intended to be an exclusive award (that distinction remains with the Editor's Choice award; the DiamondMax Plus 40 is the leading candidate for our next one), we nonetheless feel that the Plus 40 is truly at the very least a "Safe Buy." Congratulations, Maxtor!

Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 40 54098U8
Estimated Price: $349
Also Available: 53073U6 (30.7 GB); 52049U4 (20.5 GB); 51536U3 (15.3 GB); 51024U2 (10.2 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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