Last year the storage market lived through a great lot of exciting events. We could watch some products become a success and some - a total disappointment, we saw great projects being planned and the last hopes being ruined. All in all, life went on and on, level and at the same time unexpected and full of surprises, as usual.
We would like to start our story about the storage manufacturers and their achievements in 2001 with the one, which played first violin in the last year's orchestra.
Seagate had a brilliant year, which you can clearly see from its financial reports. Significant reduction of the produced hard disk drives range and the use of the latest data density achievements in them resulted into tangible revenues growth.
In the SCSI HDD market Seagate appeared an indisputable leader in both: the number of HDDs produced and the sales volumes. The most new models in this sector belong to the Cheetah family (this family includes solutions with 10,000rpm and 15,000rpm spindle rotation speed). Last year Seagate launched three new models with 10,000rpm spindle rotation speed: Cheetah 36XL, Cheetah 73LP, Cheetah 36ES, and one model with 15,000rpm spindle rotation speed: Cheetah X15 36LP.
The SCSI HDD family with 7,200rpm rotation speed acquired only two new members: Barracuda 180 and Barracuda 36ES, which may imply that Seagate is no longer that greatly interested in this market segment.
In the IDE market Seagate is also doing quite well. U5 and U6 HDDs became extremely popular in the OEM market, and Barracuda ATA IV is still one of the most demanded products in retail. By the way, this HDD is worth paying particular attention to. A terrific combination of brilliant performance and complete absence of noise during operation implemented in this storage solution created a real furor among the users. So, the entire hardware society appeared split into two groups: those who have already tried to hear if Barracuda ATA IV produces any noise at work, and those who dream of having the opportunity to experience it. It was for the first time that noiseless operation determined the buyer's choice. Of course, it means that performance only is no longer taken into consideration giving way to consumer-friendly features, such as noiseless operation, low heat dissipation, reliability, etc.
Taking into account how attractive these features are for the end-user, Seagate decided to add a bit of silence to the SCSI market as well. For this purpose they launched a new Cheetah 36ES2 HDD with 7,200rpm spindle rotation speed. We still have to check how good this solution is, but we don't doubt that this year will be also very fruitful for Seagate and we will have many chances of meeting the products of this company.
Although this company is not very well-known in the Russian hardware market, it managed to get mentioned in our new section very often especially after it had purchased Quantum. Some uncertainty about the company plans caused by the merging of two product brands, Maxtor and Quantum, gave people something to talk about. Maxtor's major task last year was not to win the new customers' hearts, but to attract attention of Quantum's former customers. This year will show us if they succeeded or not, but the fact that Maxtor HDDs are selling everywhere in Russia means that the company managed to retain Quantum's distributor network.
The situation with the product range has also become more or less clear (special thanks to Grzegorz Kwolek, Maxtor sales manager in Eastern Europe for detailed coverage of this issue). Moreover, the new generation hard disk drives from Maxtor, such as D540X-4K and D740X-6L, started selling already. These HDDs made a very favourable impression on us with both: high performance and reasonable price. The main attraction of D540X-4G and D740X-6L is the support of ATA/133 protocol. The last realization of the parallel ATA interface was developed by a large number of companies under Maxtor's control, so no wonder that Maxtor was the first one to implement it in its HDDs.
Actually, there are only two relative differences between ATA/100 and ATA/133 standards. Firstly, it is the Big Drive technology (48bit addressing of the physical sectors) and secondly, it is Fast Drive technology (increasing the data transfer rate between the HDD buffer and the controller).
We believe that you will hardly argue about the usefulness of the Big Drive technology, since almost all the IDE drives manufacturers have already reached the limitation of the maximum HDD storage capacity imposed by ATA standard and equal to 137GB (here we are talking about incorrect gigabytes, which contain 1000MB each, and 1MB contains 1000KB).
However, the increase in the data transfer rate between the HDD buffer and controller turned out to have very little influence on the overall hard drive performance. Anyway, this question remains open…
Together with Quantum's developments in the field of IDE storage solutions, Maxtor also inherited Quantum's SCSI drives. The real masterpiece of this inheritance is Atlas 10K III, a HDD with 10,000rpm spindle rotation speed and very attractive features. Ultra320 SCSI interface support, high data density, low noise level during operation and low heat dissipation ensure high demand and interest in this solution. Moreover, very attractive prices also contribute to its high popularity :)
Western Digital also appeared one of the main "news generators" last year. The storage capacity of its solutions has tripled. If in the beginning of the year the top HDD model, WD Caviar 7200 (WD400BB) boasted only 40GB storage capacity, then at present, the company can offer hard disk drives with the storage capacity of 100GB and 120GB. Of course, the main sales volume is built by solutions with much smaller storage capacity, though WD seems to have some problems with these particular models. Its competitors, Seagate and Maxtor, managed to move to 40GB platters pretty quickly, while WD developed some transitional solutions with the platter size lying in between 20GB and 40GB. For example, WD600BB and WD800BB used 27GB platters, and smaller models, such as WD200BB/300BB/400BB, were built with the same 20GB platters as their predecessors. These HDDs didn't bring much of the revenue, so that WD couldn't boast any impressive results by the end of the year…
However, if we take a look at the latest WD HDDs, we will be impressed with their extremely up-to-date equipment and progressive features implemented (except ATA/133 support, unfortunately). The company also has quite many OEM contracts currently (according to the largest one, they should supply HDDs for Microsoft X-Box console), which give it every reason to feel very optimistic about the future.
We should particularly dwell on WD's initiative concerning the significant increase in the cache buffer size of IDE HDDs, which they started putting into life with the launching of their WD1000BB SE (Special Edition) model. Later this hard drive was renamed to WD1000JB for the sake of the marking unification.
The discord between the growing data density and the constant HDD cache buffer size aroused some kind of exasperating feeling, especially bearing in mind the current cost of SDRAM chips. WD, which doesn't have SCSI business of its own broke this circulus vitiosus having launched an IDE hard disk drive with an 8MB cache-buffer.
The first benchmarks (thanks to StorageReview) showed that increasing the cache-buffer does make certain sense. So, WD is definitely going the right way.
The gourmet lovers WD prepared the next WD Caviar 7200 model of the type: WD1200JB, which differs from WD1000JB by the real 40GB platters!
We wouldn't call the last year a success for Fujitsu. Despite the company's indisputable victories in the market of 2.5" HDDs for mobile PCs and excellent SCSI products, they failed to maintain the profitability of their IDE division. In this respect, Fujitsu made up their mind to close this business, though this decision was really hard to make. Instead, they decided to focus on the mobile and SCSI hard disk drives, i.e. on the market sectors bringing higher revenues.
As for the success of Fujitsu 2.5" hard drives, we can hardly make any comments here. However, as it comes to SCSI solutions, we have to admit that the latest HDDs proved really fast. Fujitsu MAN HDD with 10,000rpm spindle rotation speed performed really great in IOMeter and won the title of the fastest 10K SCSI HDD. The first Fujitsu hard disk drive with 15,000rpm spindle rotation speed, aka MAM, proved to be a worthy competitor to the recognized leader of the SCSI field - Seagate Cheetah X15 36LP.
Well, having lost its IDE business, Fujitsu got even more desire to get through and win, so its rivals really have every cause for concern now. It is not for nothing that people say: there is no other animal more dangerous than a wounded bear…
One more company we would like to say a few words about is IBM. The beginning of the year was pretty OK for them, but in summer already they realized that DTLA HDDs with 5,400rpm rotation speed couldn't compete with the rivalry products. Very soon they discovered that IBM discontinued this hard drive family as well as the slower models of DTLA 7,200rpm family giving way to new solution with 7,200rpm spindle rotation speed - IBM 60GXP. Despite the fact that these HDDs use 20GB platters, they are still regarded as really fast solutions and enjoy wide popularity.
However, IBM is about to start selling its new 120GXP HDD any minute. This model uses 40GB platters, and the storage capacity of the top model will make 120GB. No doubt that this HDD will be flying, as it always happens like that with IBM :)
However, the situation in the SCSI market leaves much to be desired. the morally outdated 36LZX family sells somehow only due to IBM's reputation and the distributors' enthusiasm. The promised long ago 73LZX family hasn't started selling yet, so that we even start doubting its existence. :( The same thing is true for IBM SCSI solution with 15,000rpm spindle rotation speed: 36Z15. But, remember the saying by Ovidius: "Dum spiro, spero"!
During last year the IDE HDD storage capacity doubled, the maximum hard disk drive capacity also doubled. At present all the HDD manufacturers (those which managed to survive) became very familiar with 40GB platters and have some technologies at their disposal, which will let them surprise us this year more than once.
As for the new interfaces, things are not so simple here. Maxtor started implementing ATA/133. But the other manufacturers do not hurry to support this initiative. However, their managers sound really upset about the marketing departments, which simply missed the right moment. No doubt that the arrival of SerialATA is a bit delayed, while the market requires new solutions with higher storage capacity. With the support of the new ATA protocol no one would be able to develop a HDD bigger than 137GB, and it is already too late to develop some analogy to Maxtor's Big Drive technology. ATA/133 protocol has been already accepted by the market, and all the chipset developers have already prepared their solutions for it or are planning to release the chips supporting ATA/133 in the nearest future. in other words, the process has already started.
We believe that the "anti-ATA/133" mood will very soon change to something more reasonable sounding like "we are always doing what the customers want". This motivation in its turn will be then transformed into something like "The products of our Company use only the latest achievements and technologies, which allows us to combine perfect performance with reasonable price". :)
The SCSI market also seems to be waking up: the overall transition to Ultra320 interface is coming, and some "SerialSCSI" echo can be already heard.
Almost all the manufacturers increased the data density, and 18GB platter became a standard for 10,000rpm HDDs. Faster hard drives, (15,000rpm) are now manufactured not only by Seagate, but also by Fujitsu and IBM, which means that the demand in this market sector is growing inevitably. At the same time, none of the manufacturers, except Seagate, announces any new 7,200rpm HDDs, giving this market segment to IDE-solutions. Seagate, on the contrary, launched a very interesting 7,200rpm SCSI hard disk drive having provided it with a very important quality: noiselessness.
In the IDE-RAID controllers market the situation seems to be going just crazy: we witness the announcements of the whole bunch of controller cards and mainboards supporting ATA/133. The word "8-channel" doesn't sound so scary any more… All in all, we are shocked. In other words, we have always known that this is a promising market, but we never suspected that it is so promising…
Summing up all the events of the past year we have to admit that this market was sometimes developing so rapidly that we couldn't keep pace with it. We didn't manage to take a closer look at many interesting pieces, which is really upsetting. This year we will do our best to work faster :) Hopefully, you will help us :)
Last but not Least
And now we would like to offer you some real "solids" of all the hard disk drive testings we carried out last year. The three charts below sum up the results obtained in WinBench99 1.2 with ATA/100 interface for IDE HDDs and Ultra160 interface for SCSI HDDs (the tables will also include the results, which we have never mentioned in our storage reviews).
There are three tables altogether: Win98, Win2000 FAT32 and Win2000 NTFS. Each of them has two columns (Business Disk WinMark and High-End Disk WinMark), where all the results are sorted. So, the closer is the HDD to the top of the list, the better :)
Although you may doubt about the accuracy of our benchmarks, these tables still show very well that the results in WinBench99 form a system depending on the HDD model and its storage capacity. However, do we really need to tell all this stuff? Go and see everything with your own eyes!