By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2002-12-03 Print this article Print

These drives offer huge capacities. Even the lower capacity Seagate drive offers up 120GB -- a capacity that would have seemed unbelievable only three years ago. However, big drives have become less of a luxury and more of a necessity in a world thats increasingly digital media centric. More and more users are storing digital photographs, ripping their CD collections, and editing the family videos downloaded from their mini-DV camcorders. Even games routinely eat up 1.5 gigabytes or more -- Unreal Tournament 2003 consumes 3 gigabytes of disk space. Media we use will eat up even more space in the future. Consider the new crop of 5 megapixel digital cameras. When you set the typical 5mp camera to "fine" compression, a 2560x1920 pixel image occupies in excess of five megabytes -- and thats a single photograph. Imagine how much space all those vacation shots will take. Its also clear that these newer drives outpace the performance of last years best drives. It seems obvious that higher platter densities will result in better performance -- after all, more data is passing underneath the drive read heads each rotation of the disk -- but its good to see that verified in the benchmarks.
Different drive companies clearly optimize their firmware and hardware for different access patterns. The Maxtor DiamondMax 9 seems to excel at transferring large blocks of data, suggesting that it might be a great drive for digital video editing or capture. Alternatively, the Seagate Barracuda ATA V might do well in a database environment, where small chunks of data are being read from and written to the disk. The Deskstar 180GXP and Western Digital WD1200JB seem to offer a balance between the two extremes.
Whats of more concern to the average buyer of desktop drives is the warranty issue. All of these drives have 8MB of cache, but both Maxtor and Seagate only offer one-year warranties. IBM and Western Digital also offer meager one year warranties, but on their drives with 2MB of cache. The drives with 8MB buffers are considered to be a premium product, and so ship with three year warranties. Given that IBM had some reliability issues with their Deskstar 75GXP line, its something of a relief that IBM will honor a three year warranty on the high end of the line. All these drives are also offered in models with smaller capacities. Seagate only offers products with one or two platters, while the other companies offer drives with one, two or three platters. Note that not all of these drives are necessarily of the same type or have similar features. For example, IBM only offers the 8MB buffer on drives with two or three platters -- the single platter version only has a 2MB buffer and only one years warranty. Western Digital has 8MB buffers from 40GB on up -- but not all are the same generation. For example, the 120GB drive has three 40GB platters, while the 180GB and 200GB drives have 60GB or more per platter. The higher areal density can actually improve performance. The bottom line: check the actual spec of the drive you buy before plunking down your hard-earned cash. The Seagate Barracuda ATA V is something of a paradox. Its slow on the standard benchmarks, but seems to excel at applications that read and write small chunks of data. Thats a key consideration for some application types. The Seagate drive also has a good idle sound spec, and the Seashield is a handy feature if youre upgrading the drive yourself, as it covers up all the sensitive electronics. The Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 seems to be optimized for large data transfers. This would make it a very good drive for digital video capture, audio work or any application that reads and writes large streams of data. This would also make it a good drive for gamers, who are often waiting for large levels to load.

Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.

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