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Seagate's Cheetah 15K.3 hard drive

Fastest drive in the animal kingdom?
— 12:43 AM on October 3, 2003

ModelCheetah 15K.3 15K
Price (73GB)US$489

THOUGH SERIAL ATA looks like the next big thing for desktop storage, even today's fastest SATA drives can't touch the performance of high-end SCSI gear for workstations and servers. Western Digital's Raptor put up a valiant fight in our recent 10K RPM hard drive comparison, but under heavy loads, it was no match for comparable SCSI drives. Of course, 10K RPM drives are only the tip of the iceberg for high performance SCSI storage. In July, we saw Maxtor's Atlas 15K SCSI drive ratchet spindle speeds up to 15,000 RPM, setting a new performance standard in the process.

Today, I've snagged Seagate's 15,000 RPM SCSI drive, the Cheetah 15K.3, to see if it can dethrone Maxtor's Atlas 15K from the top of the SCSI hard drive performance pile. Seagate claims the Cheetah 15K.3 is the lowest cost per-I/O drive, ever, but does that lofty claim stand on our benchmarking battleground? Read on to find out.

The drive
Spinning at a dizzying 15,000RPM, Seagate's Cheetah 15K.3 is the fastest drive the company offers. The Cheetah 15K.3 is also the company's most expensive drive, but Seagate is quick to point out that the drive offers significant value in high-load environments where a single Cheetah 15K.3 could replace multiple lesser drives.

As is the case with most hard drives, the Cheetah 15K.3 isn't much to look at. Still, there are those who get off on pictures of really, really fast hard drives, so here's a quick spread:

Yeah, so the Cheetah 15K.3 doesn't look all that exciting. But really, when was the last time you saw a server or high-end workstation with a case window?

With four platters, the 73.4GB Cheetah 15K.3 we're looking at today is Seagate's largest 15K RPM hard drive. The Cheetah 15K.3 is also offered in 18 and 36GB capacities with fewer platters, but none of the drives offers a particularly attractive cost-per-MB ratio for those looking primarily for massive storage capacities. All Cheetah 15K.3 drives, regardless of size, come with 8MB of cache.

The 73.4GB Cheetah 15K.3 has claimed read and write seek times of 3.6 and 4.0 milliseconds, which is a little slower than the 3.4 and 3.8 millisecond read and write seek times of Maxtor's 73.4GB Atlas 15K. However, the Cheetah 15K.3 does have the advantage when we look at theoretical maximum sustained transfer rates. Seagate claims transfer rates as high as 86MB/sec for the Cheetah 15K.3, but Maxtor's Atlas 15K tops out at only 75MB/sec.

As far as reliability is concerned, the Cheetah 15K.3's rated Mean Time Between Failures is 1,200,000 hours, which works out to a staggering 143 years. Seagate will only cover the drive under warranty for the first five years, but that's pretty standard for SCSI gear.