BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS


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Is a 5400rpm ATA-133 drive a lot slower than a 7200rpm ATA-100 drive?

Originally posted 10/10/02 by rob-ART morgan,
Bare Feats webmaster and mad scientist (


I was intrigued by the 5400rpm Maxtor DiamondMax D540X-4G not only for its large capacity (160GB) but the fact that is runs at 5400rpm yet has an ATA-133 interface. Kinky. I decided to compare its performance to an IBM Deskstar 120GXP 120GB 7200rpm ATA-100 drive. Both drives have a 2MB buffer.

I used the Sonnet Tempo ATA-133 PCI card as well as in a fast "911" FireWire case kit as the two venues. I also tested the Maxtor drive in Maxtor's own FireWire case called "3000 XT." We're having some fun now!



Duplicating the 457MB "pak0.pk3" file from Quake3 is my favorite test since it forces the drive to read and write to itself at the same time.


By setting Photoshop's memory size to 41MB and having it rotate a 45MB document, I force it to write to the scratch disk... which is defined as the drive being tested.


I have a 5 second uncompressed movie (177MB). In this test, I force QuickTime Player to playback all frames.




I have a custom version of Intech's QuickBench X that does sustained reads and writes of large 100MB blocks.





As expected, when connected to an ATA-133 host adapter, the Maxtor 5400rpm D540X-4G 160GB drive wasn't nearly as fast as the IBM Deskstar 120GXP. It's not a slow drive by any means. But certainly not on the level of the newest, fastest 7200rpm Ultra ATA drives.

Someone pointed out that I should have compared the 5400rpm D540X to another Maxtor drive like the D740X 7200rpm 80GB or, better yet, the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 160GB 7200rpm drive. I actually did test the D740X against the D540X. It was only 8% faster overall as opposed to the IBM 120GXP which was 26% faster overall. So it could be said that not ALL 7200rpm drives are signficantly faster than all 5400 drives.

With the D540X and 120GXP in the same Granite Digital FireWire case kit, the 5400rpm, again, wasn't as fast as the 7200rpm drive, but the difference was much less pronounced. That's mainly due to the fact that the current crop of FireWire case kits hit the wall at 35MB/s, which is identical to the maximum rate achieved by the Maxtor 160G with a faster ATA-133 interface.

As you can see in the graphs above, Maxtor's 3000XT "pre-packaged" FireWire drive unit wasn't as fast as the Granite Digital case kit running the same drive. So if you plan to use the Maxtor 160G in a FireWire case kit, you might consider buying the bare drive and putting it in the fastest case kit you can find.

As for using your new drive on an ATA-133 or ATA-100 or ATA-66 interface, unless you need the large capacity of the Maxtor 160, you'll get a lot more speed out of the IBM 120GXP.

I haven't tested it yet, but you might find the best of both worlds with the 200GB, 7200rpm, 8MB buffer Western Digital WD2000JB Special Edition. Or the 160GB DiamondMax Plus 9 7200rpm 8MB buffer drive. Those two new drives promise space and speed. Stay tuned for more test results.



There was a problem in the early days of the 160GB Maxtor. Seems some FireWire boxes could only "see" 137GB of the drive's capacity. Firmware changes have been made in recent months that make it possible use the full capacity. A similar problem existed with IDE interface unless you used a host controller with the "smarts" to handle drives over 137GB.

Conventional wisdom says that a 5400rpm drive runs cooler, quieter, and therefore lasts longer than a 7200rpm drive. I don't do long term testing, acoustical testing, or temperature testing, so I can't verify the validity of that statement. But it's something to consider in choosing a drive where reliability is as important as speed.



The bare 5400rpm Maxtor DiamondMax D540X-4G drive is sold at reasonable prices at OtherWorldComputing and GoogleGear. The IBM Deskstar 120GXP (7200rpm, 2MB buffer) is going for as little as $165 at GoogleGear.

The Western Digital 200GB WD2000JB (7200rpm, 8MB buffer) is going for $365 at NewEgg or $370 at GoogleGear with $1.50 Air Shipping. I haven't found any bargain sources for the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9.

The Sonnet Tempo ATA-133 card can be ordered from SmallDog or OWC. It comes with cables but my favorite cables are the Teflon IDEVue ones from Granite Digital available various lengths from 6 to 36 inches.

Another ATA-133 PCI controller to consider is the Acard Hardware RAID ATA-133 card. Used with a pair of 120gxp's, you can achieve speeds of over 100MB/s. (It's also sold under the Sonnet, SIIG, and Miglia labels.) Check Sonnet's site for updates on drivers and firmware.

If you want it pre-packaged in Maxtor's FireWire case, you can order the 3000XT from

The Granite Digital FireVue case can be ordered direct from It's the "Hummer HumVee" of FireWire case kits with dual cooling fans and internal power supply. I also like their Hot-Swap FireVue case kit with removable trays and triple cooling fans.

If you want something more streamlined but just as quick, look at: WiebeTech DesktopDB and OWC Mercury Elite Pro. Beware of off brand case kits with spotty firmware update support.

The fastest FireWire PCI card is available direct from (part# BTFWUSBPCI). They have a new model (U2FW-PCI01) with the same controller chip that includes USB 2.0 ports. The second fastest FireWire card is available from WiebeTech.

My favorite FireWire cables are the thin, white, flexible ones available in two lengths from the Apple Online Store. (See cables section -- free ground shipping currently)



FireWire RAID using three of the newest RAID boxes.

Which drive works best in an ATA RAID: WD1200JB or IBM 120GXP?

Listing of archived storage tests from Bare Feats



The test "mule" was my trusty Apple G4/1000 MP "SDR" Power Mac with 1.5 1GB of PC133 CL2 SDRAM and 120GB IBM 120GXP boot drive running OS X (10.2.1).

REAL WORLD TESTS included...

1. Rotating a 45MB document in Photoshop 7 with application size set to 41MB... thereby creating a low memory condition and forcing Photoshop to write to the scratch disk.

2. Duplicating a 457MB document on the test drive(s).

3. Playing back every frame of a 5 second 177MB uncompressed movie using Quicktime Player


QuickBench X (custom version) was used to measure Sustained Read/Write with 100MB blocks.




LINKS to SPEED tests on other sites

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