Maxtor's MaXLine III 250GB: Bringing 16MB Buffers and NCQ to Hard Drivesby Anand Lal Shimpi on June 25, 2004 12:03 AM EST
- Posted in
The TestYou'll notice that the hard drive test bed has been modified a bit to use a motherboard based on the Intel 925X chipset with ICH6. Luckily, the performance difference between this setup and our last test bed is negligible; thus, the numbers are entirely comparable. To make sure, we also ran some old tests on the new test bed and the numbers came out with less than 1% variation in performance; definitely nothing major at all.
We also tested other hard drives with and without IAA 4.0 installed to make sure that we were only getting the benefits of NCQ and no other optimizations by installing the drivers. The performance of all other drives, without NCQ support, was identical regardless of whether or not we had IAA 4.0 installed.
Our hard drive test bed is designed to shift the bottlenecks, as much as possible, onto the hard drive, but while still within reason. To accomplish that purpose, our test bed is configured as follows:
Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz
Intel D925XCV Motherboard
1GB DDR2-533 SDRAM
ATI Radeon X800 Pro PCI Express
Creative Labs Audigy
Ultra ATA/100 or Serial ATA 150 cables were used where appropriate
The important drivers used are as follows:
Intel Chipset INF 184.108.40.2062
Intel Application Accelerator 4.0
ATI Catalyst 4.6 Beta (with PCI Express support)
Windows XP Service Pack 1 (no further updates were installed)
What's important to point out is that although we could have outfitted our test bed with 256MB of memory, we wanted to avoid over-exaggerating the performance impact of the hard drive. After all, if your system is swapping to disk a lot, you should be considering a memory upgrade before or in tandem with a hard drive upgrade.
The tests that we run are as follows:
Business Winstone IPEAK - a playback test of all of the IO operations that occur within Business Winstone 2004.
Content Creation IPEAK - a playback test of all of the IO operations that occur within Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004.
Business Winstone 2004 - the official Business Winstone 2004 test suite.
Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 - the official Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 test suite.
SYSMark 2004 - the official SYSMark 2004 test suite.
Far Cry Level Load Test - a timed test of loading a level in Far Cry.
Unreal Tournament 2004 Level Load Test - a timed test of loading a level in Unreal Tournament 2004.
More details about each individual test will appear in the section of the review dedicated to that particular test.
For this particular review, we also used the Multitasking Test of Business Winstone 2004 to see if there was any performance improvement due to NCQ.
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broberts - Friday, June 25, 2004 - linkWhile the the article stresses that the tests attempt to duplicate real world conditions I noticed that, at least for the one benchmark, the o/s is on a separate drive. IMO most "real world" systems contain one drive, or at least one logical drive (RAID). Having the o/s and swap file on the same drive would, I suspect (and even with 1GB of RAM which is a little over the top), tend to highlight the difference between NCQ and TCQ performance.
NCQ should only make a real difference when disk head movement is the bottleneck. A test such as loading a big program isn't going to really test anything unless the program is fragmented or some o/s activity (like swapping) concurrently takes place on the drive.
I also wonder how much of the advantages of NCQ are negated by the bigger cache? 16MB in a desktop environment is significant. It may well account for the closeness of the numbers reported.
Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 25, 2004 - linkThanks for the responses guys, we're committed to making our storage coverage top notch on par with the articles in our other sections so it's going to take lots of constructive criticism to make sure we're providing that; keep it coming.
You've already noticed that there were no sound/heat tests in the article. We got great response from the MP3s I posted of the drives in our first HDD roundup under the new suite, but we're still lacking a good quantitative way of comparing the sound levels of these hard drives. In the worst case scenario I could always just use a trusty SPL meter, but I want to do something a little more useful. Give me another week or so and I'll see if I can't at least have a prototype of what I'm trying to do.
In terms of our excitement about NCQ, the conclusion never stated that NCQ increased performance tremendously across the board. But also remember that we only had three heavy-multitasking benchmarks, and the performance boost we saw in one of them (a very common scenario, who doesn't copy a file and browse the net or check email?) was nothing short of outstanding. NCQ is sort of like Hyper Threading in the sense that it doesn't improve performance by 20% across the board, but in a few very real world scenarios, the performance boost is nothing short of impressive. And as workloads become more parallelized in nature, we'll continue to see bigger benefits from NCQ. For current sequential desktop applications, NCQ doesn't do anything at all; but remember that AMD and Intel are both going down the multicore CPU route for a reason - desktop usage patterns are changing. We're very excited about NCQ as a technology because it anticipates that changing environment and definitely improves performance in it.
Will you see a performance boost from NCQ today? If you're a heavy multitasker at all, then yes. Otherwise, no. Just ask yourself, how many times have you copied a file while doing other things in the background. A 10% performance gain in that one test is much more than any other real world hard drive performance improvement we've seen in recent history.
Operandi - Friday, June 25, 2004 - linkI thought it was a pretty good article. I don't know where your people are coming from saying sounds like Maxtor PR paper. It may not be as fast as the raptor but then again it's a 250-300 gig drive not 74, fair trade if you ask me.
As far as noise goes it should be identical to Diamond Max series. There is no reason for it to be any louder, aside from the 16 meg buffer and NCQ the drive is most likely identical mechanically.
GhandiInstinct - Friday, June 25, 2004 - linkSo, I am also curious, how loud is it? How much will it cost?
MaxLine or Raptor?
Seems to me, as a gamer, Raptor won in all the gaming related benchmarks.
Pariah - Friday, June 25, 2004 - linkI agree with #11. I got the same impression aftering reading the conclusion which didn't seem to take any of the rest of the article into account. The conclusion seemed to be based in wishful thinking of what he had wanted to see, rather than being based on the numbers his article actually produced, which were not nearly as positive.
The Raptor does not support NCQ. It supports the old ATA TCQ which is inferior in its implementation. However, looking at the lackluster performance of NCQ, it's not hard to believe the even worse #'s that StorageReview just posted on the Raptor's TCQ performance in workstation benchmarks.
Also, the 7200.7's do not support NCQ either. Seagate announced a new version of the 7200.7 that will, but has not reached the market yet.
Jeff7181 - Friday, June 25, 2004 - linkWhat would make it any louder than Maxtor's other 7200 RPM drives? I doubt they'd go back to using ball bearings and noisy servo's just to give us NCQ.
T8000 - Friday, June 25, 2004 - linkIt would indeed be interesting to see how other drives that support NCQ, like the Seagate and the Raptor 74 GB would benefit from it.
Altough, I am not sure if the Raptor has NCQ or TCQ, but that could make it even more interesting, as NCQ and TCQ could be compared.
QuaiBoy - Friday, June 25, 2004 - linkThis article reads like Maxtor promotional copy, giving the Maxtor high praise in tests where it fails to even outpace it's 7200RPM competition. Also, like #9 said, how loud is it? Vibration? Heat? Interesting omissions to the article... bet it sounds like a jet turbine given my past experiences with Maxtor.
bwall04 - Friday, June 25, 2004 - linkI'm not sure why this was overlooked but the 74GB Raptor supports NCQ. I think it would paint a clearer picture of the performance of NCQ and situations where it is beneficial if the review could be edited to add in these results.
Kudos to Maxtor for stepping up with something to compete with my Raptors, and with 3x the storage!!
jcromano - Friday, June 25, 2004 - linkHow loud is it?