Three NEW FireWire Drives Read 80% Faster.
First posted 8/18/2000.
Article and "iTooth" cartoon by Rob-Art Morgan
The concept of FireWire drives is exciting but when the early drives were tested, the results were very disappointing. This new crop of drives has jumped forward in sustained READ speed, thanks to improvements in the bridge boards. In the charts below, I compare them to an "older" 22GB FireWire drive and to an Ultra ATA/66 drive.



The READ speed has almost doubled, but the WRITE speed is slightly slower than the "first generation" FireWire drive (VST 22G).

Although the new 75GXP drive from IBM is used in all three of the newer FireWire drives tested, the transfer rates don't come very close to those that of the same drive when mounted on the internal Ultra ATA/66 bus.

Some readers say, "I thought FireWire could go 800 megabits/sec." (Or 100 megabytes per second). That theoretical speed does not translate to FireWire drives. As indicated in earlier articles, the FireWire drives are simply external Ultra ATA drives with a bridge board that allows them to plug into the FireWire port. There's no such thing as a native FireWire drive. More improvements to the bridge board and firmware are needed before we see speeds rivaling even Ultra ATA, much less Ultra SCSI or theoretical FireWire limits.

The big advantage to FireWire drives is "hot-swap-ability." And they are much faster than USB drives which peg at 1 megabyte per second and older SCSI & IDE drive interfaces that max out at 5MB/sec.

Ever wish you could mount Ultra ATA drives externally? FireWire enclosures are the answer to your wish. These enclosures are a bargain at under $200 if you already own a fast Ultra ATA drive. Just open the case, secure the drive with screws, plug in the data and power cables, close the case, rock and roll. You can potentially save hundreds of dollars by "rolling your own."


Where to Buy 

Other World Computing has great prices on various FireWire cards and FireWire drives. A big "mahalo" to them for the use of the Mercury FireWire drives for testing.

If you want just a FireWire enclosure, contact the folks at McPowerUSA about their $199 Fire Dragon case. Of the three enclosures I've tried, it was the easiest kit to use. It comes with 3 FireWire ports thereby making it a mini hub. They provide drivers from Radialogic. (I found them to be slightly slower than the VST drivers but at least they provide drivers. Some enclosures don't include drivers!)

Other World Computing offers a similar FireWire enclosure for $165.

A big "mahalo" to VST for letting me test newer 45GB Full Height FireWire drive, as well as the first generation 22GB Full Height FireWire drive (both using driver Version 2.2.2). You can order those products direct from them or your favorite online store.




Test Notes

Test machine was a G4/400 Sawtooth.

All the FireWire drives were connected to the built-in FireWire port on the Sawtooth. The one Ultra ATA/66 drive was installed using the internal Ultra ATA/66 interface that comes standard on the Sawtooth. The Ultra ATA/66 drive used was the same model used in the three new fast FireWire drives: the IBM 75GXP.

The SUSTAINED READ OR WRITE test results were obtained by using Express-Pro Tools 2.3.2 benchmark test with 8MB maximum file size and system disk cache disabled. Sustained Rate is displayed in the charts. Peak rates can be impressive but do not reflect typical drive performance.

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© 2000 Rob Art Morgan, publisher of BARE FEATS
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