hard drive history

1998: a year of transition

Seagate Medalist Pro 7200

Photo: Red Hill.

1998 Drive of the Year

Seagate Medalist Pro 7200

The Medalist Pro 7200 was the world's first 7200 RPM IDE drive, and for quite a time the only one. It offered a data transfer rate of almost 200Mbit/sec — roughly double that of most drives sold in 1997, and faster than all but a very few of the most expensive SCSI drives. Yet the Medalist Pro 7200 was only a little more expensive than other IDE drives and and significantly faster than any competitor.

On the test bench, substituting a Pro 7200 a 5400 RPM drive increased overall system benchmark performance by about twice as much as upgrading the CPU by one grade (e.g., from a 200 to a 233), but the effective performance increase was much greater (as the tasks most affected by hard drive performance are more noticeable to the user). In other words, you could really see the difference. We loved these drives.

As the years have gone by, many hard drive enthausiasts have come to look scornfully at the Medalist 7200, and complain that it was too hot, too loud, not very reliable, and not particularly fast in any case. Comments like these simply indicate ignorance, or certainly the lack of a proper sense of perspective: in 1998 when the ST-36530 came out, and throughout its too-short market life, it was far and away the best IDE drive available anywhere. We sold significant numbers of this drive and had very little trouble with it — the tales we used to sometimes hear of Medalist Pro unreliability were in reality just confessions of technical incompetence: unskilled and inappropriate mounting than anything else. (Every early model 7200 RPM drive generated a fair amount of heat and needed proper ventillation.) As for the performance, the Medalist 7200 was streets in front of any non-SCSI drive, and deserves to be remembered as a ground-breaking pioneer.

Alas, Seagate dropped the model completely without warning at the worst possible time: half-way through the Christmas rush of 1998, when it was easily our best-selling drive, and our primary competitive advantage. There was no real alternative: IBM's 7200 was slower, Maxtor's we didn't really trust after our troubles with the 5GB 85120, both were in less useful sizes, and neither was particularly good value for money. We lost a lot of sales because of that and we were seriously pissed off with Seagate. All they needed to have done was let us know a few weeks in advance to give us a chance to re-jig our model range.

(The particular drive illustrated, by the way, is one of the rare ST36530s that gave us trouble, though not until it had comfortably outlived its three year warranty. We first sold it in October 1998, traded it back and resold it a couple of times over the next few years, and eventually saw it fail gracefully without loss of data — by which time it was in its third system and its fourth year of service.)

Data rate194Mbit/secSpin rate7200 RPM
Seek time9.5msBuffer512k
Platter capacity2.35GBInterfaceATA-33
ST34520A4.56GB4 MR heads
ST36530A6.51GB6 MR heads****
ST39140A9.15GB8 MR heads*