Hard drives, hard drives, hard drives - It's January 2003 Roundup Time!

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Manufacturers: Maxtor Seagate Western Digital IBM (drives merged with Hitachi) QPS EZQuest Iomega SmartDisk
Requires: Pentium computer or faster, Windows 95 through XP, 32MB RAM
MSRP: Street Prices - $90-$300

We've been testing eight large capacity (60GB and larger) hard drives, internal and external, for about 6 months. The internal drives are manufactured by Seagate, Western Digital, IBM and Maxtor; the external drives are all FireWire-based (IEEE1394), manufactured by EZQuest, QPS Inc., Iomega and SmartDisk. The drives have all been purchased for use in our research offices with the exception of the EZQuest Cobra + which was sent to CompuNotes for review.

Why did we do this? Well, innate masochism actually. Seriously though, in all the furor over new, gigantic hard drive capacities, nobody has reported any long term usage impressions. We thought we'd break that mold and let you know how these big babies fare under heavy duty use over a period of many months. For the record, we do use even larger capacity drives in our research offices - up to 180GB - but we don't feel that any of the genuine monsters are appropriate for anything other than data storage on servers.

We did not use any special testing procedures or formal test plans. Each drive was attached to either a high-use graphics or video workstation, or a high-use word processing or design workstation. Our definition of high use is a minimum of 2GB of file loading and saving per 7 hour work day, with no upper or lower limit on the physical number of files needed to reach the 2GB minimum. Trust us - 2GB of data per day means a lot of work for a hard drive moving the information back and forth from RAM. The average data load these drives actually handle is closer to 5GB per day.

If you're looking for the perfect holiday gift for yourself (or someone else), have a look at the report and our comments and decide on something that won't let you (or someone else) down.


1 - Seagate Barracuda 80GB ATA IV model ST380021A , 7200 rpm, 2MB buffer. Undoubtedly the quietest drive we've ever had the pleasure of using, this thing is also fast (although caching is limited by the small-ish buffer). On the other hand, we reformatted this drive through four different operating system installations (Windows 2000, XP, Mandrake Linux and current Windows XP Professional again), brutalized it under each operating system, and it stills charges along like it was brand new. The drive has handled extremely heavy graphic and video editing loads for about 8 months without so much as a whimper. It's still ridiculously quiet and we purchased 6 more just like it (the most recent being the ATA V version which is just as good if not better). The drive is a reliable, fast workhorse. Average street price is $120. 3 year warranty.

2 - Western Digital Caviar 80GB model WD800JB, 7200 rpm, 8MB buffer. It runs comparatively cool and only a bit louder than the Seagate. It's also more expensive than the Seagate. The original we purchased conked out after two weeks and Western Digital replaced it in three days under warranty. The replacement was identical and has been operating without problems in a combination word processing and photo retouching computer which is often running and in heavy use for 12 hours per day. This drive is the fastest of the bunch. Like the Seagate, we have several more of these drives in other workstations and servers - it's another real workhorse. Average street price is $150. 3 year warranty.

3 - IBM Deskstar GXP 80GB model IC35L080AVVA07, 7200 rpm, 2MB buffer. The Deskstars have had a bit of bad rap (particularly the 75GXP). We never owned one of the 75GXPs and we don't want one, thank you. Too many complaints. This 80GB version however, is as reliable as anything we've ever tested. It's reasonably quiet, stable and fast (second overall to the Western Digital). Despite the comparatively small buffer, read and write caching are darn near as good as the Seagate and Western Digital models. It seems to be the most expensive drive of this bunch. Average street price is $160. 3 year warranty.

4 - Maxtor DiamondMax D540X 60GB model 4x060H3, 5400 rpm, 2MB buffer. Noisy and slow. What can we say except to note that the original Maxtor we purchased failed after 3 weeks. It was replaced by Maxtor free of charge under warranty. The replacement is still noisy and slow - too many gigabytes, the spindle speed is wrong for this size drive and the buffer is too small. The replacement failed after 3 months and its replacement is now making ominous noises. It's really not a drive meant for heavy duty use. Do not store DVDs movies on this drive - viewing will be choppy. It was being used as primary drive in a graphics workstation, but it was a bit too slow. The second replacement is being used as a storage drive in the same workstation. It seems better suited for home use than the heavy duty pounding absorbed by the other drives. This drive is the least expensive of the bunch and has the shortest warranty. Average street price is $95. 1 year warranty.


1 - EZQuest model Cobra + 120GB, 7200 rpm, 2MB buffer. When we first reviewed this chunky baby in March 2002, we gave it a serious thumbs-up. Our opinion hasn't changed. The drive has done yeoman service in our long-term testing and is almost as quiet as the day we unpacked it (almost as quiet as the grave-silent SmartDisk below). At $259 (street) it's fast and well worth the money. Our only complaint is that it's a wee bit large for convenient portability. On the other hand, moving it around the office for temporary overflow data storage of captured video is really no problem at all. As usual with FireWire drives, all you have to do is plug & play - no drivers, no configuration needed. The drive absorbs the occasional bump and bang moving from desk to desk without complaint. 1 year warranty.

2 - QPS M3 80GB model QPM3HD72F80G, 7200 rpm, 2MB buffer. Comparatively quiet, only slightly louder than the EZQuest. But QPS drives are getting hard to find since the company started experiencing Chapter 11 financial problems in August 2002. We've reviewed other QPS products for CompuNotes and haven't found a serious problem yet. Any QPS product purchase should be accompanied by a clear understanding of how the warranty will be fulfilled if the company closes its doors. This drive is more expensive per gigabyte ($259 street) than the EZQuest Cobra + but is also a rock solid performer. We've started to notice a bit of noisy during drive seek operations, but it's not noticeable under typical office conditions and it hasn't gotten any worse. This drive is about the same physical size as the EZQuest. It's been used for a variety of data offloading and file transfer tasks including delivering hundreds of large AVI and MPG video files to outside analysts for review. 1 year warranty.

3 - Iomega 80GB FireWire Desktop Hard Drive, 7200 rpm, 2MB buffer. It's too noisy. We really didn't feel comfortable using the drive in a quiet environment. Note that another identical Iomega drive being used by a musician we know is very quiet. Performance has been almost identical to the QPS, which is almost as fast as the EZQuest. The $270 (street) price is competitive (although the EZQuest is still the best deal). While Iomega is better known for ZIP and Jaz drives, its desktop hard drive offerings are really quite solid. We use this drive daily for offloading WAV audio files for review and analysis at another location. The drive is working well, travels well and absorbs its share of bumps and bangs during daily transit. 1 year warranty.

4 - SmartDisk 40GB FireLite model FLFW40, 4,200 rpm, 2MB buffer. At $259 (street) it's the most expensive of the bunch per gigabyte and by no means the fastest. You're paying for small size and portability, not performance. On the other hand, it weighs only 6 ounces (that's less than my Sony Clie PEG-S360 PDA). The drive is also very small: 5"x3.25"x.5". What else? It runs cool and quiet - barely audible in fact - the quietest of the bunch. If speed is not a primary requirement, this drive is a good choice. Around the office the FireLite is used to store PowerPoint, word processor and spreadsheet documents for daily transfer to outside meeting sites. It has never failed, it's been dropped 8 or 10 times and it still seems to work just as reliably as the day we bought it. 1 year warranty.

Which One Made Us Cry? Internal - the Maxtor. We weren't happy with the performance or the reliability. External - the Iomega. It is too noisy for comfort.

Which One Made Us Yell For More? Internal - the Seagates are too quiet to describe. They're fast, rock-solid stable and the price is right. External - the EZQuest Cobra +. Quiet, fast and reliable, competitively priced - the lowest cost per external gigabyte. What more can you ask?

Which One Made Us Buy More? Internal - Seagate. With quiet operation and great speed, the lower price point is too attractive to pass up. External - the EZQuest Cobra + was sent to us for review, but we would have purchased it anyway.

What's The Editor's Favorite? Internal - the Seagate of course. It's silent, fast and completely competent. Whether you buy it for yourself or someone else, you won't be sorry. External - the EZQuest Cobra +. Although it's a teensy bit bulky, it's also more than a teensy bit heavy duty, fast and quiet. We like this one a lot. We also like the SmartDisk FireLite because it's so portable and runs very cool.

Whatever you buy, check prices locally. We've quoted a few street prices - all of these drives are discounted almost everywhere. All the models reviewed are available in popular computer stores and online. You'll also find some newer versions of these models which have larger capacity and slight overall performance improvements.


Got a heavy gaming habit? The faster drives with larger buffers will do nicely. Got a heavy data storage habit? The slightly slower, less expensive drives will do nicely. Got a server drive bay to fill? The top of the line internal drives with large buffers are recommended. Photo and video editing? Fast drives with small or large buffers will fit the bill. For typical home, SOHO and small office use, any of these drives except the Maxtor and the SmartDrive are a good choice. For light duty use at home at a very low price, choose the Maxtor. For moderate speed and really convenient portability, choose the SmartDrive.

As always, watch what you buy, keep your sales receipt and the original packaging and be careful when you install any drive. Prices are low, there are sales all over the place and the cost per gigabyte seems to drop every few months. Enjoy.

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