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Maxtor's Atlas 15K hard drive

Spindle speed matters

ModelAtlas 15K
Price (73GB)US$639

LAST MONTH, I took a look at the performance of 10K-RPM SCSI and Serial ATA drives from Maxtor, Seagate, and Western Digital. Overall, I was quite impressed with what higher spindle speeds had to offer over 7,200 RPM drives, but somehow I wasn't quite satisfied. As great as 10K-RPM drives are, they're not the fastest disks on the block. Being the testosterone-charged male that I am, I just had to check out something faster: 15K-RPM drives.

Boasting 50% higher spindle speeds than their 10K-RPM counterparts, 15K-RPM drives immediately set expectations high. Today, I'll be looking at Maxtor's Atlas 15K to see if it measures up. And just to keep things interesting, I'll be testing the drive against a stack of SCSI gear, Western Digital's 10K-RPM Raptor, and a feisty two-drive IDE RAID 0 array. It should be quite a catfight.

Is the Atlas 15K a SCSI enthusiast's dream? Does it deliver on the expectations its high spindle speeds create? Read on to find out.

The drive
Maxtor's Ultra320-compatible Atlas 15K sits atop the company's SCSI hard drive lineup and is really targeted at enterprise environments. 15K-RPM drives aren't really meant for gamers or most enthusiasts, especially given SCSI's notoriously high cost per gigabyte.

At first glance, the drive's street price should induce a fair bit of sticker shock. $639 is a heck of a lot to pay for only 73GB of storage. However, Maxtor marketing materials actually play up the Atlas 15K's value, claiming that the drive offers performance that's well worth its price point. We'll investigate those claims in a moment, but first let's check out the drive itself.

So what does a 15K-RPM hard drive look like?

A lot like a 10K-RPM hard drive, which apart from the port layout tends to look much like a Serial ATA drive, which tends to look like a "parallel" ATA drive. Nothing to see here; move along.

Overall, the four-platter, 73GB Atlas 15K we have in the labs today looks unassuming. The drive is also available in 18 and 36GB capacities, which use one and two platters, respectively. Regardless of capacity, all of Maxtor's Atlas 15K drives come with 8MB of cache.

Maxtor claims that the Atlas 15K has read and write seek times of 3.4 and 3.8 milliseconds, respectively¬ómore than a millisecond quicker than the Atlas 10K IV. However, the Atlas 15K's maximum sustained transfer rate of 75MB/s is only 3MB/s better than the Atlas 10K IV. We'll see what kind of impact that has on performance in a moment.

Warranty-wise, the Atlas 15K serves up a SCSI standard of 5 years of coverage. Based on the drive's 0.7% annualized failure rate, its mean time between failures is over 1.2 million hours or about 143 years. In theory, the drive could outlast its owner, or at least its own useful life.