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Maxtor's DiamondMax 11 hard drive

All the way to 11?

ModelDiamondMax 11
Price (street)

SEAGATE RECENTLY ACQUIRED MAXTOR in a stock deal worth close to $2 billion, but instead of assimilating the company and its products, Seagate looks prepared to let the Maxtor name live on. With Maxtor increasingly focused on external storage devices, there isn't as much overlap between the two companies' product lines as there once was. However, there's still plenty of potential for clashing on the desktop hard drive front, where Maxtor's DiamondMax 11 sits opposite Seagate's latest Barracudas.

The DiamondMax 11 has everything you'd expect from a current-generation desktop Serial ATA drive, including a fluid dynamic bearing motor to lower noise levels, 500GB of capacity, a 16MB cache, and support for 300MB/s transfer rates and Native Command Queuing (NCQ). Maxtor's NCQ implementation has proven to be particularly potent in the past, as well; the DiamondMax 10 is approaching two years old, but it's had no problem keeping up with the multitasking performance of even Western Digital's most recent Raptors.

Can the DiamondMax 11 extend Maxtor's streak of surprising multitasking dominance? How does the drive compare with the latest competition, including its new step-siblings from Seagate? Newegg hooked us up with a 500GB DiamondMax 11 so we could find out, and we've run it through our grueling series of hard drive tests¬ówith surprising results.

The drive
Hard drive manufacturers have become increasingly sparing with the hard drive performance specifications they publish, and Maxtor is no different. Fortunately, we have plenty of performance tests that should easily highlight the DiamondMax 11's strengths and weaknesses.

  DiamondMax 11
Maximum external transfer rate300MB/s
Average seek time
Average rotational latency4.17ms
Spindle speed7,200RPM
Available capacities400, 500GB
Cache size16MB
Platter size125GB
Idle acoustics3.1-3.2 bels
Seek acoustics3.5-3.6 bels
Idle power consumption8.1W
Seek power consumption13.6W
Native Command QueuingYes
Annualized Return Rate
Component design lifeFive years
Warranty lengthThree years

On the surface, the DiamondMax looks like a pretty complete offering. Essential features like a 16MB cache, 300MB/s Serial ATA interface, and Native Command Queuing (NCQ) support are all there, although the drive is only available in relatively large 400 and 500GB capacities. Maxtor's DiamondMax 17 line occupies the space below 400GB, with drives sized at 80, 160, 250, and 320GB.

Interestingly, the DiamondMax 17 actually features higher capacity platters than the 11, whose capacity per platter is limited to 125GB. The DiamondMax 17 boasts 160GB per platter, and Seagate's latest perpendicular-powered Barracudas have pushed platter capacity to 188GB.

Platter capacity determines how many disks it takes to hit a drive's target capacity, and fewer is generally better. Adding disks increases the odds that a catastrophic head crash will cripple a drive. Additional disks also add weight, which takes more power to spin, usually creating more noise in the process.

Perhaps more importantly, platter capacity can have an impact on drive performance. Higher capacity platters allow the drive head to access more data over shorter physical distances, so they tend to offer higher sequential transfer rates. That puts the DiamondMax 11 in a bit of a hole to start, although it's worth noting that Western Digital's latest Caviar SE16 and RE2 have done quite well for themselves with only 125GB per platter.

Rather than pegging the DiamondMax 11's reliability to a Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) spec, Maxtor uses an Annualized Return Rate (ARR). Hard drive manufacturers seem to prefer measures like ARR to MTBF, although it would be more meaningful if Maxtor published the drive's AFR, or Annualized Failure Rate. A failure rate would communicate more about the drive's reliability than how many failures were actually returned.

If your DiamondMax 11 happens to fail in its first three years, the drive will be covered under warranty. The three-year warranty is a couple of years short of the drive's five-year design life, but that's consistent with what most hard drive manufacturers offer for their desktop products. You generally have to step up to an enterprise-class product to get five years of warranty coverage on a Serial ATA drive, although we should note that Seagate offers a five-year warranty with all of its internal hard drive products.

For those who are curious, the DiamondMax 11 uses a Samsung K4D261638F-LC50 memory chip for its cache and an Agere "Seaglet" storage controller. Interestingly, "Seaglet" is just two letters shy of Seagate. Let the conspiracy theories begin.