In a competitive hard drive market, in which the latest technologies often cater to users seeking larger and larger capacities, Maxtor is taking a different tack: durability. This week the company launched the 531DX, a drive with relatively modest capacity but expected above-average reliability.
The 531DX holds only 15GB of data, but engineers designed it to be unusually sturdy, according to Maxtor. The drive has a single platter, a single read/write head, and a head-latching mechanism that keeps the fragile head firmly locked out of harm's way when you power down the drive.
The new drive is available now, and carries a street price of about £60. Maxtor is also producing a 10GB version, but plans to target that model primarily at PC manufacturers who'll build it directly into systems.
The drive has an UltraDMA/100 (also called ATA/100) interface that features burst data-transfer speeds of up to 100MB per second, although only relatively recent PCs have UltraDMA/100 support built in. The drive is also compatible with the earlier UltraDMA/66 and UltraDMA/33 interfaces, albeit with reduced performance.
Maxtor didn't design the 531DX for use in applications - such as video editing - that demand the highest performance, but the company did include a 2MB data buffer. Like other low-cost desktop models, the drive spins at 5400 rpm, and its average access speed of 15 milliseconds is low compared with most drives today.
If your needs run mainly to less demanding apps, such as Web or print design, however, the 531DX should do a good job for you. Contributing to the drive's small size and high durability is the reduced number of moving parts, Maxtor representatives say. Standard 3.5-inch drives are 25.4mm high (about 1 inch); the 531DX is 17mm (less than 0.7 inches). It uses standard mounting holes for installation in any 3.5-inch drive bay, and the reduced height offers more space for air circulation around the drive, which further increases drive reliability, according to Maxtor.
Most current large-capacity drives use multiple platters, holding as much as 30GB (15GB on each side), as well as a read/write head on each side of every platter. That results in a larger number of parts and more fragility than in the 531DX's simpler design.
The Maxtor 531DX is at the front edge of current technology with its 30GB platter, but it uses only one side and a single head. The simplified design results in 70 per cent fewer parts, which Maxtor representatives say makes the drive more reliable over its life, and reduces the risk of assembly error and contamination during manufacturing.
In most conventional drives, the read/write heads "park" when you power down the drive, resting in "landing zones" on the inner parts of the platters where no data is stored. Still, the heads are prone to damage if you jar the drive. And manufacturers must prepare the landing surface to avoid a condition called "stiction," in which the heads stick to the platter surface, causing damage.
But the 531DX uses a technology called ramp loading that locks the head in a plastic latch above the drive surface when you power it down. Ramp loading is available in some high-end drives, but the 531DX is the first consumer-priced drive to use it.
As a result, when you turn the drive on and off regularly, it should last much longer and wear less, according to Maxtor. The company rates the drive for at least 50,000 on/off cycles with a component design life of at least five years.