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No loose screws
As with any hard drive, installing the Maxtor involves opening your PC's case, setting jumpers, and attaching some cables, so if you're a technophobe, make sure your computer-savvy cousin is around. Maxtor ships the retail version of the $300 D540X with an 80-wire EIDE cable, mounting brackets and screws, and the company's Max Blast Plus II software on both CD and floppy. The software includes diagnostics, a utility for copying the contents of your old hard drive to the D540X, and drivers for older systems that can't handle larger drives on their own. Documentation is limited to a setup sheet, but that's really all you need with a hard drive.
The D540X's ATA-133 interface helped it deliver surprisingly agile performance in CNET Labs' tests, despite the drive's slower 5,400rpm spin rate and WinBench-rated 14.5ms seek time. Using a PCI ATA-133 controller card ($50) provided by Maxtor, the drive's maximum burst-transfer rate in HD Tach 2.70 tests was a blazing 100MB per second, with a maximum read speed of 37.6MB per second and a maximum write speed of 22.9MB per second. But the D540X turned in slower (albeit still plenty peppy) scores on disk transfer-rate tests. The controller's role was pivotal; in anecdotal testing, the D540X's performance dropped considerably when using an ATA-100 interface. So if you want better performance, plan on investing in the ATA-133 controller.
A real smoothie
The Maxtor D540X's slower spin rate does have its advantages: the drive generates very little heat, runs quietly, and produces little vibration. It's rated to withstand a rather low 30G shock while operating and an average 300G shock when it's not spinning.
Maxtor backs the D540X with a reassuring three-year warranty. Toll-free telephone support is available long hours--Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. MT--but not on weekends, which could be annoying for home users. Maxtor's easily navigable online support includes jumper diagrams, drive specs, manuals, and software downloads.
More for your money
The Maxtor D540X offers 33 percent more space for about the same price as the 120GB competition. If capacity is your primary concern, go for it. But if you want state-of-the-art performance, look to a 7,200rpm drive, such as the Western Digital WD1200JB or the IBM Deskstar 120GXP.
|eTesting Labs' WinBench 99 2.0 test|
Measured in kilobytes per second; longer bars indicate better performance
|HD Tach 2.70 tests|
Measured in megabytes per second; longer bars indicate better performance
CNET Labs' tests evaluate the range of performance you may expect from a hard drive. The eTesting Labs' transfer rates are measured at the beginning of the disk (or its outside, where data moves past the read head at a higher rate) and at the end of the disk (or its inside, where data moves past the read head at a slower rate). HD Tach performs similar tests, returning a drive's maximum sustained write and read speeds. In addition, it measures read-burst speed, which
evaluates the performace of the drive's read-ahead memory and the drive controller.
The Maxtor's fast ATA-133 connection gave it an edge over the competition when it came to quick transfers in HD Tach's test for read-burst speed. However, during sustained data transfers, the Maxtor's 5,400rpm spin rate put it behind that of the IBM and Western Digital drives, both of which spin at 7,200rpm.