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10K-RPM hard drive comparison

Spindle speed matters

OVER THE LAST several months, we've expanded our storage coverage significantly here at TR. First, we tackled IDE RAID with four drives, four RAID controllers, and five different array configurations. Next, we took an in-depth look at the performance of the latest and greatest "parallel" and Serial ATA hard drives from three different manufacturers. For an encore, we've decided to examine the performance of a slightly sexier element of high-end storage: 10K-RPM drives.

Our timing couldn't be better. Not only are a number of SCSI hard drives available with 10K spindle speeds, there's also a new Serial ATA drive available that spins at 10K RPM, too. Today I'll be looking at the performance of a threesome of 10K hard drives: Maxtor's Atlas 10K IV and Seagate's Cheetah 10K.6 SCSI drives, plus Western Digital's new Raptor WD360GD Serial ATA drive. Because it just wouldn't be fair to showcase those three drives on their own, I've pitted them against an IDE RAID 0 array and Serial ATA drives from Maxtor and Seagate.

What kind of performance can 10K-RPM SCSI and Serial ATA hard drives offer? Let's find out.

Three different takes on 10K
The 10K-RPM SCSI drives we're looking at today are quite similar in a number of ways, but Western Digital's Serial ATA Raptor WD360GD is a different animal altogether. Let's take a quick look at some key specifications before get into the benchmarks.

 InterfaceSeek timesMax sustained transfer rate (MB/second)Price (street)
Read Write
Atlas 10K IV 147GBUltra320 SCSI4.44.972$873
Cheetah 10K.6 147GB4.75.378$735
Raptor WDC360GD 37GBSerial ATA 1505.2NANA$141

Maxtor and Seagate's 10K-RPM SCSI drives both use an Ultra320 SCSI interface, which offers 320MB/second of bandwidth. Serial ATA 150, by comparison, offers only 150MB/second of bandwidth to Western Digital's Raptor WD360GD. Of course, that's just peak available bandwidth; expect drive performance to be much lower.

But there's more to drive interfaces than simply peak available bandwidth. The internal workings of the two interfaces we'll be looking at today can also have an impact on performance. The Ultra320 SCSI interface, in particular, is quite advanced; it can handle multiple concurrent commands per connection and use advanced packetization to make the most of its 320MB/second interface.

When it comes to seek times, Maxtor's Atlas 10K IV offers the most impressive read/write specifications. Curiously, Western Digital only lists the read seek time of its Raptor WD360GD; a write seek time isn't listed anywhere, nor is an average of the drive's read and write seek times.

Maxtor's Atlas 10K IV may have a faster seek time spec than Seagate's Cheetah 10K.6, but the Cheetah 10K.6 claims to have a higher maximum sustained transfer rate. Again, Western Digital is tight-lipped about the specs of its Raptor WD360GD. We'll be exploring transfer rates in depth later on in the benchmarks to see what happens in the real world.

Drive pricing rounds out the easy-to-compare specs of the 10K-RPM drives we'll be looking at today, and it's a doozy. Keeping in mind that the SCSI disks we're looking at are 147GB drives while Western Digital's WD360GD is only a 37GB disk, the Raptor's price is hard to ignore. At only $141 on Pricewatch, one could buy five Raptor WD360GDs for the same price as a single Cheetah 10K.6. Then again, a single 37GB Cheetah 10K.6 is as low as $169 at online vendors.

With a price tag higher than six Raptor WD360GD drives, Maxtor's Atlas 10K IV is the most expensive disk we've got on the test bench today. We'll soon see whether the drive is worth the extra scratch over Seagate's Cheetah 10K.6 and Western Digital's seemingly bargain-priced WD360GD.

The three 10K-RPM drives pose for a photo-op before the scratching, biting, and hair-pulling begins