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Is The New, Thin, Light, Cool IBM Travelstar 40GNX Really Faster Than Other 2.5 inch Drives?

In Which Portable FireWire Case Does It Work Best?


I don't know about you but I've been waiting with "baited breath" for either the Toshiba Toshiba 4019GAX drive (5400rpm, 16MB buffer, 9.5mm thin) or the IBM Travelstar 40GNX (5400rpm, 8MB buffer, 9.5mm thin). This week, Trans International informed me that they had the 40GNX in stock. And here's the results....

 I put SIX different 2.5 inch drives in the Wiebetech Micro GB Portable FireWire drive. The first graph shows an average of four tests: 10MB sustained read and write, 1MB random read and write.



Next, I took the fastest drive (the 40GNX) and put it in FOUR different portable FireWire cases: Wiebetech Micro GB, Trans International Clear 911, and FWDepot Cutie, and FirewireDirect Spark EP. 


All the tests above were run under OS 9 so I could take advantage of the driver tuning provided by Intech's Hard Disk Speedtools 3.5. But I wanted to know how well the 40GNX performed when running under OS X. The graph below shows the performance of the drive inside the Cutie:




1. The new Travelstar 40GNX rocks! It's 18% faster than the nearest competitor. It's 49% faster than the 30GN. At only 9.5mm thick, it will fit in the thin cases like the FWDepot Cutie, the FirewireDirect Spark EP, and the Smart Disk FireLite. It will also fit in any model of PowerBook and iBook. And looking at the specs, it should generate less heat and use less power than previous 5400rpm drives like the 60GH and 48GH.

2. In previous reports, some portable FireWire significantly outperformed others, even though they had the same essential chip set and firmware. But my tests were faulty since they each had a different brand/model of drive. This time, I put the same drive in three different portable case kits. The performance difference was no longer significant. That tells me that the drive choice is critical, if speed is your thing.

3. I did most of my testing in OS 9 because the third party FireWire drivers (like Intech's Hard Disk SpeedTools) optimize performance by tuning the transfer block size, etc. But I was curious if I would lose speed when switching to OS X. I didn't see any speed loss this time like I did with the 3.5 inch FireWire drives.



Well, the IBM Travelstar 40GNX is a no brainer. Better go visit Trans International's web site before they run out. I'm getting one for my TiBook!

As for which portable FireWire case you choose, it's a matter of what features you prize, because performance is not a factor when each uses the same drive.

What I like about the Cutie is that fact that it is the lightest, thinnest, smallest of any 2.5 inch case. And you can get it in combo form with both FireWire and USB 2.0 ports.

I like the rugged machined aluminum case of the Wiebetech Micro GB. It also comes with FireWire and USB 2.0 ports. It takes both thicknesses of drives: 9.5mm and 12.5mm.

The clear plastic case used by Trans International for their portable drives is cool because you can see all the components. It can handle both 9.5mm and 12.5mm drives. It's also one of the easiest to assemble and disassemble. That's important for me since I'm always trying different drives and/or upgrading. The same FireWire case kit is used by other companies such as the Other World Computing (Mercury On-The-Go).

The FirewireDirect Spark EP is the "second smallest" portable FireWire drive (see specs in table below). It's unique in that it uses a small Li-Ion battery to provide power to the drive when the bus power is not transmitted through FireWire. For example, when you use CardBus FireWire with your Lombard or Wallstreet, there is no bus power transmitted to the portable drive. So you need an A/C adapter. With the Spark EP, you don't.



In earlier testing, I found the 480 megabit theoretical speed of USB 2.0 (versus 400 megabit for FireWire) to be only theoretical. In the real world, it is about half as fast as FireWire. And, if you don't have a USB 2.0 controller and run OS X, it becomes a very, very slow USB 1.1 device. Ditto if you have any slow USB devices on the chain.

There are rumors that Apple will start including USB 2.0 in the next revision of the Power Mac. Hopefully their implementation of the interface will utilize more of the theoretical bandwidth. (I used an Orange Micro USB 2.0 PCI card in my testing that produced disappointing performance.)



The test "mule" was an Apple Titanium G4 PowerBook (800MHz)

When running OS 9.2.2, the disk cache set to 512K (to diminish effect of system caching), AppleTalk OFF, Virtual Memory OFF, and Extensions set to minimal (BASE).

Intech's Hard Disk Speedtools 3.5 includes QuickBench and QuickBench X, a great benchmark for testing drives in both random and sequential mode. In the charts above, I averaged four key tests: 10MB sustained read and write, 1MB random read and write.

 SPECIFICATION OF FIREWIRE CASES (smallest specs in bold)

Spark EP
Clear 911

Weight with 40GNX drive

9.25 oz
(262 grams)
7.25 oz
(207 grams)
6.75 oz
(189 grams)
9.25 oz
(262 grams)


.86 inch
(22 mm)

.75 inch
(19 mm)

.63 inch*
(16 mm)
1.1 inch
(27 mm)


5.6 inches
(143 mm)

5.5 inches
40 mm)

5.0 inches
(127 mm)
5.5 inches
(140 mm)


3.0 inches
(75 mm)

3.2 inches
(81 mm)

3.0 inches
(75 mm)
3.5 inches
(89 mm)


  • IBM Travelstar 40GNX 40GB 5400rpm 9.5mm 8MB buffer
  • Toshiba 40GB MK4018GAP 40GB 4200rpm 9.5mm
  • IBM Travelstar 60GH 60GB 5400rpm 12.5mm
  • IBM Travelstar 48GH 48GB 5400rpm 12.5mm
  • IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 4200rpm 9.5mm
  • IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4200rpm 9.5mm

© 2002 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
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