External hard Disk Drives from Maxtor and Western Digital: the Duel of Interfaces and Technologies

Large data packs transfer and transportation is becoming more and more necessary nowadays. Today we are going to compare the functions and performance of two external solutions from Maxtor and Western Digital, which support both high-speed interfaces: USB 2.0 and FireWire. Find out which of them would suit better for your particular needs.

by Andrey Kuznetcov
02/09/2004 | 11:09 PM

The progressive users have been long waiting for this and finally their patience has been rewarded: the two high-speed interfaces, USB 2.0 and IEEE1394, got widely spread in the industry. So, the hard disk drive manufacturers got a plenty of opportunities to develop external storage solutions. These devices have always been greatly demanded, however, they couldn’t spread that widely because of the limitations imposed by the bandwidths of the existing interfaces. I am not talking about SCSI here, because these storage solutions and controllers are pretty pricy. Moreover, this interface is not a very common thing for a user PC. It took about a year for this kind of revolution to happen and to make USB 2.0 interface (and sometimes also FireWire) a traditional feature of every contemporary mainboard.

 

Today’s hard disk drives appear much faster and more efficient even when they are designed as external solutions. However, despite high theoretical bandwidth of USB 2.0 and FireWire interfaces, which is 60MB/sec and 50MB/sec respectively, the actual numbers are somewhat lower and the HDDs performance still gets somewhat limited. Nevertheless, despite all these limitations, the HDDs performance got notably higher when they shifted from the popular USB 1.1 to USB 2.0 and FireWire. This fact as well as the growing user interest to devices with larger storage capacity was one of the reasons for external drives to come out, which would allow transporting large amounts of data from one PC to another. Another aspect stimulating the shift to new interfaces was the opportunity to work efficiently in the applications using very actively the external storage subsystem. We shouldn’t also forget about such a great feature of USB 2.0 and FireWire as “hot swap”, which is very important for fast and efficient work.

The cut-throat competition forced HDD manufacturers to start offering the users their own models of USB 2.0 or FireWire devices, because they didn’t want to share the revenues with other companies offering external solutions based on the drives from the leading HD makers. There are a few very interesting solutions among the existing external drives from both: technical and esthetical points of view. We have already introduced a few of them to you, so please check our Storage section for more details.

Today we are going to compare the functions and performance of two external solutions from Maxtor and Western Digital, which support both high-speed interfaces. The Western Digital solution tested with the USB 2.0 controller from VIA performed somewhat slower than we had expected it to, so that we started doubting if we had to blame the hard disk drive for that. This is one of the reasons we undertook a second test session, when the USB 2.0 drives worked via the controller integrated into the ICH5 South Bridge.

Testing Participants

Although we have already told you a bit about these hard disk drives in our previous reviews, we would like to point out a few most important things once again.

Western Digital Company released the whole family of very original external storage devices supporting both: USB 2.0 and FireWire interfaces, featuring very high storage capacity and outstanding looks. One of them, known as Combo Special Edition, will be our today’s testing participant.

 

Well, the first impression is the strongest, so let’s start with the exterior. WD2500B007 hard drive put inside the transparent plastic case looks very unusual, when the special neon lighting turns on during work, so that the entire case shines in the dark with mysterious neon colors. The impressive storage capacity of 250GB, an 8MB buffer and 7,200rpm spindle rotation speed will satisfy the most demanding users. According to the last parameter, the latency of this drive is not very high: 4.2ms. The average time equals 8.9ms. This solution is intended for work in the environment temperature varying from 0 to 40oC.

The retail version of this drive is supplied in a beautiful box. Besides the drive the box also contains a power adapter and two 1.8m cables: one for USB 2.0 and one for FireWire interfaces.

Maxtor Company is another hard disk drive manufacturer releasing its own external models:

 

 

The external hard disk drive family from Maxtor called OneTouch will be represented by 5000DV (Personal Storage 6000 Family) with the 160GB storage capacity. On the left side of the drive’s front panel there is a round button. By pressing it once you can immediately create a backup copy of the files on your computer. To enable this function you will need to install special software supplied together with the drive. This particular function gave the name to the entire family. DiamondMax Plus 9 HDD used in this external model supports ATA/133 interface. It features an 8MB buffer and 7,200rpm spindle rotation speed. The claimed average access time equals 9.3ms. The drive can function normally when the environment temperature lies between 5 and 40oC.

The HDD is supplied with a USB cable, a FireWire cable, a power supply unit with the cables, a special stand for the drive to be fixed in vertical position, a CD-disk with the necessary software (Dantz Retrospect Express utility allows creating a backup copy of the files by pressing the OneTouch button once), the user’s manual and a quick installation guide.

Testbed and Methods

To test the actual performance of this external hard disk drive solution we used the following benchmarks:

Our testbed was configured as follows:

We tested the performance of our HDD with the help of USB 2.0 (ICH5) interface available on the mainboard, and FireWire interface provided by PCI adapters based on VIA VT6307 chip and working with the operation system drivers. For WinBench tests, the drives were formatted in FAT32 and NTFS as a single partition with a default cluster size. In some cases described below we used 32GB logical partitions also formatted in FAT32 and NTFS with a default cluster. For Maxtor drive we wrote the data all over the work surface first to ensure correct results of ongoing tests.

Performance in Intel IOMeter DataBase Pattern

Let’s start with DataBase pattern. With the help of this pattern we will find out how fast the HDDs will process requests with different queue depth and writes share.

In order to illustrate the behavior of our testing participants (their work via USB 2.0 and FireWire interfaces) we made three graphs for various queue depths.

Let’s start with USB 2.0:

The first graph illustrates the HDDs performance under linear workload (queue=1). You can see that WD2500B007 is an indisputable leader here. No matter how big the share of write requests is, it is still faster than Maxtor 5000DV.

The second graph shows how fast the drives work with queue=16. As we see, nothing has changed. WD2500B007 is still far ahead of the opponent.

The third graph shows the HDDs performance when the requests queue reached 256. Again, no principal differences from the two previous cases. WD2500B007 is considerably faster than Maxtor 5000DV.

Now let’s take a look at the situation when both drives work via FireWire interface.

The first graph shows the HDDs performance in case of the minimal queue. I have to say that the situation remained unchanged, even though we are testing with a different interface now. Just like in case of USB 2.0, WD2500B007 works much faster than Maxtor 5000DV.

The second graph shows the situation for queue=16 requests. Here both models work faster than in the previous case. Moreover, the requests are processed at a maximum speed when there are no writes, then it drops a little, and then it grows up again. Anyway, this doesn’t change the overall situation and WD2500B007 remains ahead.

Finally the third graph shows how fast the drives are when the queue equals 256. Here both models run faster. I could even point out that the curves got shaped slightly differently. Namely, Maxtor 5000DV lagged behind a tiny bit during reads processing and suffered the maximum performance drop in case of 100% writes. WD2500B007 is still ahead and is the most efficient during lazy writes processing.

Performance in Intel IOMeter Sequential Read and Write Patterns

During the performance tests in these patterns we check how well the HDD can cope with ordered requests with linearly growing address. The requests queue depth starts at 4 requests and then once per minute the size of the requested data block increases. The highest results in the tables below are highlighted with the blue color.

At first we will consider the performance of our testing participants with the USB 2.0 interface.

The graph for Sequential Reading shows that WD2500B007 outperforms its rival when processing small data blocks and yields to Maxtor 5000DV when the data blocks grow bigger. As a result, the performance difference in maximum read speeds of the tested drives exceeds 5MB.

The sequential write graph looks completely different. WD2500B007 HDD is faster than its competitor on almost all data blocks. The advantage is most evident on all data blocks up to 32KB: the only exception is 1KB data block.

Now let’s take a look at the drives performance when they worked via FireWire interface.

The read speed graphs show that WD2500B007 outpaces Maxtor 5000DV in small data blocks and demonstrates higher performance than with USB 2.0 interface up to 128KB data blocks. However, then its performance drops. Unlike its rival, Maxtor 5000DVis more consistent, its graph is free from any sharp jumps. The read speed of the largest data blocks is about 10MB/sec higher than the performance of WD2500B007.

The write speed results on the graph above indicate that WD2500B007 is always a little faster than its opponent.

Performance in Intel IOMeter WorkStation Pattern

With the help of this pattern the benchmark imitates the workload typical of a regular workstation, which is limited at 32 requests queue. The results were taken for the drives formatted as a single partition, and as a 32GB partition.

This graph demonstrates the performance of our hard disk drives when they work via USB 2.0 interface. WD2500B007 is an indisputable leader here. It is especially evident for queue=1 and then the advantage gets somewhat smaller as the queue depth increases.

As soon as we shift to FireWire interface, the performance of our drives grows up significantly when the queue reaches 16 requests. The reason is probably the same: IEEE1394 controller knows to arrange the request queue the right way to ensure optimal performance. WD2500B007 looks bets of all here.

The diagram with the overall performance indexes shows very clearly that in case of USB 2.0 interface, the performance difference between the two solutions makes more than 1.5 times. This is exactly the advantage of WD solution over the one from Maxtor.

Integral performance coefficients for the drives connected via the FireWire interface indicate a performance growth by Maxtor 5000DV compared with the USB 2.0 case, which makes the relative gap between the rivals not so significant any more.

When we use 32GB logical drives for our tests we can notice a natural performance increase by both HDD models. When the drives work via the USB 2.0 interface the requests processing speed remains almost constant independent of the queue depth. As usual, WD2500B007 HDD looks more attractive than the competitor from Maxtor.

The drives working with FireWire interface show higher performance than in case of USB 2.0, starting with queue=16 requests.

The diagram with the overall performance indexes demonstrates that when the drives work via the USB 2.0 interface, WD2500B007 appears more efficient as a solution for a workstation disk subsystem.

Integral performance indexes for FireWire interface show that the performance gap between the rivals has become smaller, though WD2500B007 is still ahead of Maxtor 5000DV.

Performance in WinBench 99

With the help of a well-known WinBench99 test package we tested the performance of our hard disk drives when they were formatted as a single partition and as a 32GB logical partition. We ran the tests for both: FAT2 and NTFS file systems.

In the tables below the best results are highlighted with blue. I would like to draw your attention to the access time demonstrated by our drives. Maxtor 5000DV appeared to have a much higher access time value: about 5-6ms higher (on a single partition), which is about 40% lag behind the WD2500B007. This could have been caused by the fact that the HDD used in Maxtor’s external solution was set to work in a quiet mode, which definitely told on its performance in a number of cases. They probably did it because they really wanted to improve the acoustic characteristics of the external drive, or because they wanted to make sure that the HDD will not get overheated inside the case with not very efficient air circulation.

Let’s start our comparison from the USB 2.0 interface.

The graph above indicates that in FAT32 file system Maxtor 5000DV wins the race. It outperforms WD2500B007 in High-End Disk WinMark (which matters more for nominating the winner) and Business Disk WinMark tests.

In NTFS file system the performance of our drives slows down a bit, compared with what we have just seen in the previous case. The leadership stays with Maxtor 5000DV.

The hard disk drives tested only on the first 32GB of their storage capacity formatted for FAT32 results into a slight increase in the HDDs performance. We could call Maxtor 5000DV the winner, as it demonstrated the best results in High-End Disk Winmark and yielded a bit to the opponent in Business Disk Winmark.

The shift to NTFS file system leads to slower performance of both drives, though Maxtor 5000DV remains the leader here.

Now let’s check the performance of our testing participants when they work via FireWire interface.

In FAT32 file system the laurels belong to WD2500B007. Maxtor 5000DV falls quite far behind the leader. This result could have been caused by the model of the involved FireWire controller.

In NTFS file system the overall performance of both testing participants is lower than in FAT32. WD2500B007 is again far ahead of the rival.

The HDDs tested in 32GB logical partition formatted in FAT32 demonstrate indisputable leadership of the WD2500B007 over Maxtor 5000DV solution. Although the gap between the two is not that enormous, the leadership of the WD solution is indisputable.

The use of NTFS file system results into a significant performance drop by both testing participants, though Maxtor’s performance dropped almost twice.

Performance in FC-Test

We tested the performance of our hard disk drives according to a standard FC-Test algorithm with the help of five patterns differing by the quantity and size of files included into them. We tested in FAT32 and NTFS file systems.

First of all let’s consider the performance of our drives when they worked via USB 2.0 interface.

FAT32 file system demonstrates certain parity during file creation. We see that Maxtor 5000DV is a little faster than the opponent in Windows and Programs patterns and yields to its rival in all other patterns.

File reading shows that Maxtor 5000DV is a little bit faster than WD2500B007 in all patterns. You can notice that this slight advantage gets a little stronger in the patterns working with larger files.

File copying inside a single partition shows that Maxtor 5000DV HDD is faster than the rival from WD. And the gap between the leader and the opponent grows bigger when we get to patterns working with larger files.

When we copy the files from one partition to another, WD2500B007 outperforms Maxtor 5000DV. It was probably cause by the bigger access time of the former leader.

The shift to NTFS file system reveals the advantage of Maxtor 5000DV drive over the solution from Western Digital in Windows and Programs patterns, which contain a lot of smaller files. And in the remaining three patterns the competitors perform more or less equally.

Data reading is done faster by Maxtor 5000DV: it wins in all patterns here. Its advantage is most evident when it reads larger files.

Maxtor drive copes faster with file copying within a single partition, as it manages to leave WD2500B007 a little behind.

However, during file copying from one partition to another the victory goes to WD2500B007. It defeats the opponent in all patterns. It is probably again higher access time value of Maxtor 5000DV drive that tells here.

Now let’s compare the performance of our external storage solutions when they work via the FireWire interface.

As usual let’s start with FAT32 file system. The diagram for file creation speeds shows that WD2500B007 HDD is an indisputable leader here. It is significantly faster than Maxtor 5000DV in all patterns. Note that Maxtor 5000DV retains its performance on the same level in all patterns, while the winner works faster with large files.

Data reading indicates that WD solution is a little ahead of the rival, which is more evident when we shift to patterns working with large files.

File copy within a single partition names Maxtor 5000DV the leader. It is notably ahead of the competitor and the gap gets even larger as the share of big files in the pattern increases.

The diagram above illustrates the HDDs performance during file copying from one logical partition to another. The situation is pretty “stable”, though Maxtor drive appears a little bit more attractive, as it wins in three patterns out of five.

When we sit down to testing in NTFS file system, nothing changes, actually. The performance of our testing participants does get a bit lower overall, but that is it. I would only like to point out that Maxtor 5000DV lags a little more behind WD2500B007 especially in Windows and Programs patterns.

File reading names Maxtor 5000DV the winner, as it managed to slightly outpace the rival in every single pattern. As soon as the file size grows bigger, the advantage of the leader increases.

The diagram above shows that during files copying within a single partition, Maxtor 5000DV is evidently defeated by the WD2500B007 solution in Windows and Programs patterns. All other files sets demonstrate certain parity.

During files copying from one partition to another we see that Maxtor drive yields to the rival in the four patterns out of five. Just like in the previous case we see that the lag is the biggest in those patterns, which work with a lot of smaller files.

Conclusion

It’s high time we summed up the results of this test session. I would like to point out right away that we tested two hard disk drives of different storage capacity that is why you should keep in mind this fact when drawing your own conclusions. Anyway, now I would like to make a few comments on the benchmark results.

The most interesting thing about this test session is the fact that we can’t actually call any of the testing participants the leader. What made us think so?

In fact, as you may have noticed the drives behaved somewhat diversely throughout the entire test session. I am not talking about Intel IOMeter benchmarks here, as they were given mostly for your information and do not matter a lot for the verdict about the actual performance.

In the classical WinBench99 test package run with the drives working via USB 2.0 interface. The victory belongs to Maxtor 5000DV drive. This is true for both file systems. However, when we shift to FireWire interface, its performance drops down a lot and it falls significantly behind the WD2500B007 solution.

FC-Test program demonstrated pretty diverse results. With USB 2.0 interface involved, Maxtor 5000DV HDD appeared more attractive yielding to the rival only during files copy from one partition to another. It is true for both file systems. When the drives work via FireWire interface Maxtor drive gives in and the laurels pass over to the solution from Western Digital.

In conclusion I would like to quickly sum up the results of both drives. If you are using any of the tested drives as an additional storage solution for your home PC, then Maxtor 5000DV drive connected via USB 2.0 may turn out a really good alternative to WD2500B007 working via FireWire interface, because in this case the drive from Maxtor doesn’t yield in performance to WD drive and sometimes even outpaces the latter. Of course, the price of the solution and its storage capacity should also be taken into account when you are making the buying decision. These parameters are very different by these two solutions, so its totally up to you to decide what matters more in your particular case. However, you should get a much richer choice in the nearest future, because Maxtor is going to announce a 300GB model pretty soon.