hard drive history

1999: maturity

Quantum Fireball EX 6.7

Photo: Red Hill.

Quantum Fireball EX

Quantum accelerated its development cycle towards the end of the decade; new Quantum drives were coming out more and more often.

Quantum's longstanding and quite annoying habit of pre-announcing new drives many months before the company was in a position to actually deliver working product to warehouses had always been something of an embarrassment; it became an absurdity when Quantum happily announced the Fireball EX before shipping the previous model in any volume worth mentioning!

(IBM, by the way, was no better. IBM were generally regarded as the world champions of early pre-announcement, but with IBM's longer development cycle this was less apparent, and perhaps less odious.)

All that aside, with an outstanding 187Mbit/sec maximum transfer rate, excellent seek time, and a big 512k cache, the 5400 RPM Fireball EX was not far off Seagate Medalist 7200 territory, so it was a substantial and welcome improvement over the previous Fireball EL and well worth the wait for actual drives instead of press releases.

In the flesh, the EX had a refreshingly solid feel to it, much improved over the flimsy Fireball TM and SE drives of prior years, and it was visibly faster than many older generation drives.

But although we liked the EX, we sold just a handful, preferring to stay with our existing drives: Seagate Medalist 13640s and Western Digital Caviars.

As always, the odd sizing was a drawback. It is usually unwise to standardise on a particular drive when there is no suitable substitute from another maker in case of shortages. (As witness our troubles with the unique Seagate Medalist 7200 at the end of the previous year.) Had we started selling systems with the 5.1GB Fireball EX, for example, and then been unable to get stock, we would have had no choice but to substitute 6.4GB drives at our own expense. In an industry with margins as slim as this one has, you just can't afford to do too much of that sort of thing. The lesson for drive makers is simple: most shops don't like odd sizes.

Data rate187 Mbit/secSpin rate5400 RPM
Seek time9.5msBuffer512k
Platter capacity3.23GBInterfaceATA-66
EX 3.23.23GB2 MR heads
EX 5.15.13GB3 MR heads
EX 6.76.75GB4 MR heads*
EX 10.410.46GB6 MR heads
EX 12.712.72GB8 MR heads