A Big and Flexible External Drive

By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2003-02-12

A Big and Flexible External Drive


Making Backups Easy

Product: Maxtor 5000DV
Web Site: www.maxtor.com
Pro: Huge capacity, quiet, performs well
Con: Pricey; no "off" switch
Summary:       An excellent secondary backup device for small networks or a small office environment with both USB 2.0 and FireWire connectivity supported.
Price: $399, check prices

Backing up your system seems to get harder every year. Years ago, you had the choice of backing up to floppy or to tape drive. But even a small hard drive took dozens of floppies, and low-cost, PC tape drives were less than reliable. Then, Iomegas Zip drives came on the scene, but just as they became common, hard drive space began to explode. As tape drives became more reliable with continuously increasing capacities, even they couldnt keep pace with the burgeoning size of capacious IDE drives -- at least, not desktop tape units. Then, CD-RW dropped in price, but 650-700MB just doesnt seem to cut it anymore either.

As hard drives climbed towards 80GB, DVD recorders appeared on the scene, but media was initially expensive. And even the 4.7GB capacity of a DVD disc seems anemic next to the latest 200GB monster drives. So what do you use to back up a big drive?

Another big hard drive, of course.

Its cost prohibitive for most users to plop in a second large drive into their systems. But an external drive that can support a small workgroup, or a group of neighbors, might be an ideal solution. We wrote about this idea recently in our story on building your own USB external drive a few weeks ago. At that time, we discovered that the Belkin enclosure we used wouldnt support 48-bit LBA (logical block addressing) in its IDE-to-USB bridge chip, which limited the enclosure to drives smaller than 137GB. (Since then, Belkin is looking at updating the bridge chip, but hasnt given any specifics as to when a new version would be announced).

Stepping into the gap are several companies with off-the-shelf external drives, including Maxtor. Here, we take a look at the Maxtor 5000DV, which sports a 200GB, 7200RPM drive in an enclosure that supports both USB 2.0 and IEEE1394 (FireWire). This 5000DV uses the same Maxtor DiamondMax 9 we reviewed back in early December – which can be had now for well under $300 (check prices). The drive mechanism includes a full 8MB of cache as well. At roughly $370, the external drives not cheap, but has some premium features that may make it attractive for small office environments.

Maxtor includes Dantz Softwares Retrospect backup utility, which mitigates the cost somewhat. This is the "light" version, which only works with the Maxtor drive, but is easy to use.

Maxtor adds a button on the front of the drive that makes it easy to backup your system. After installing the included driver, simply pressing that button launches Retrospect and automatically runs a backup script. Its a slick solution to the perennial issue of overcoming your own personal inertia in order to back up your data. Both Retrospect and the custom Maxtor driver support most flavors of Windows and Macintosh operating systems

Note that Retrospect defaults to a "file copy" mode that simply replicates the chosen directory structure, with no data compression. Alternatively, you can configure the software to back the data up into one big file, with data compression enabled. That will allow you to store substantially more than 200GB of data on the DV5000.

We put the drive through an extensive set of testing. You can evaluate our testbed on the next page, evaluate our test results starting with Winbench 99, or simply jump to our conclusions for our final word on the 5000 DV.

Testbed and Benchmark Setup

We used the same 2.8GHz Pentium 4 system weve been using for all our recent storage reviews for testing the 5000DV:

Component Intel D845PEBT2 System (DDR333) Check Prices
CPU 2.8GHz Pentium 4 (533MHz FSB) check prices
Motherboard and Chipset Intel D845PEBT2, Intel 845PE chipset check prices
Memory 512MB Kingston HyperX PC3500 DDR, run at DDR333 speeds, CAS2-2-2, "aggressive" timings. check prices
Graphics Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 (30.82 driver) check prices
DVD-ROM Toshiba SD-1502 check prices
Audio Sound Blaster Audigy Gamer check prices
Ethernet Intel Integrated
Operating System Windows XP Professional, Service Pack 1 installed check prices

Since the 5000DV is primarily positioned as secondary storage, we didnt test using any of the Winstone benchmarks, as you probably wouldnt use the drive for storing and running applications.

Heres how we tested:

  • Winbench 99 version 2.0 disk tests. Although getting pretty old, they seemed pretty consistent.
  • PCMark 2002 disk tests. We used the results from the individual tests that generate the PCMark disk scores.
  • A backup of 6.3GB of file data from an internal IDE drive to the 5000DV, using Retrospect. This particular test was conducted only on the 5000DV, but we compared the results when using FireWire versus USB 2.0.

We compare the Maxtor drive to the external drive unit we built with the Belkin enclosure, using the Seagate Barracuda V ATA drive. We also compare it to the same Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 200GB ATA133 hard drive attached to an ATA interface. We generated benchmark scores for both USB 2.0 and FireWire, since the 5000DV can connect to either type of interface.

Winbench 99 Version 2

.0 Results"> Weve had some concerns about the age of Winbench 99, but in our testing here, the results seem pretty consistent. In our experience, the DiamondMax Plus 9 sports one of the highest raw transfer rates of any ATA hard drive, while the 7200 rpm Barracuda ATA V has one of the lowest. So it stands to reason that the Maxtor external drive should perform better than our homebrew external drive.

Interestingly, the 5000DV posts a higher transfer rate at the beginning of the drive using the FireWire interface than USB 2.0. As we reach the end of the drive, the results are pretty similar for all three Maxtor variants -- indicating that slower transfer rates available at the end of the drive dont saturate any of the three interfaces and software stack.

Were not quite sure why Winbench would report a substantially slower access time for the external drive, though it could be simply latency issues with the FireWire or USB to ATAPI bridging controllers. The differences in CPU utilization are also interesting. In the Maxtor drive, the 1394 connection seems slightly more efficient than the USB controller. At first blush, the Barracuda ATA V inside the Belkin enclosure might seem more efficient -- except that it doesnt move as much data to begin with.

PCMark 2002 Disk Tests

We looked at the results of both the read and write tests, plus the file copy test.

Cached writes are roughly the same between the two different interfaces on the Maxtor 5000DV, but the uncached file writes post slightly better scores using the FireWire interface.

Note that both read tests perform better when the 5000DV is connected via FireWire. The file copy test is a wash, though. Retrospect Backup Test We backed up 6.3GB of data using Dantz Retrospect.

Once again, the FireWire interface performs better. For somewhat similar test results with FireWire versus USB 2.0 drives, check out PC Magazines recent article.

Analysis and Conclusion

In summary, the 5000DV is a sweet device for backing up data from big hard drives. At somewhat under $400, its not cheap, but could serve a small office or departmental server well. Of course you wouldnt want to use a single device based on an ATA hard drive as your sole backup in a mission-critical environment.

The 5000DV can also be a great drive for storing vast amounts of any type of data. You can keep your home movies or MP3 music files on it, so you can carry around your music library. You wouldnt want to use it as drive for running applications, though, due to the high CPU utilization. Since neither FireWire or USB 2.0 uses DMA transfers, the host CPU gets involved in managing data transfers. The drive is also quiet. If theres a fan, we couldnt hear it above the general PC noise. Note that the drive always on -- theres no power switch -- but since this is a secondary storage device, its mostly just spinning, not moving heads around.

Overall, we were pretty impressed with the overall polish of the 5000DV.

We cant draw general conclusions about the differences of its performance between FireWire and USB 2.0 here, though. The Maxtor 5000DV uses two different microcontrollers to bridge ATA to the two different interfaces. FireWire-to-ATAPI bridge chores are handled by an Oxford OXFW911 bridge chip. A Cypress CY7C68013-56PVC is used as the core for the USB2-to-ATAPI bridge. There are substantial differences between the two controllers.

The Oxford chip uses an ARM7, 32-bit processor core, while the Cypress controller uses an older, 8051 type CPU core. The difference in computational power alone could account for differences in transfer rates. Interestingly, Oxford has recently released the OXFW922, which supports 1394b (aka "FireWire 2") at 800mb/sec and USB 2.0. It will be interesting to check out drives that use the single, combo chip.

Or it could simply be that the FireWire protocol is more effective for streaming data transfers, as it was originally designed with such usage in mind. Until we have relatively equivalent controllers, its hard to make any definitive statements.

Esoteric issues of embedded controllers aside, the Maxtor 5000DV provides a robust solution for backup of small office PCs and networks. Its polished, easy to use, quiet and capacious. What more could you ask from a backup device?

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