hard drive history

1999: maturity

Quantum Fireball CR

Photo: Red Hill.

Quantum Fireball CR

The Fireball CR replaced the older Fireball EX. The main difference was Ultra ATA-66 interface support. Although the platter capacity was up again, performance was almost identical to the older drives.

→ Illustration: an unexceptional 4.3GB drive, as typical of the entry level in 1999 as any other? Look at the second picture, a close-up of the underside of this Fireball CR, and think again!

However, unlike the EX series, the Fireball CRs came in a more orthodox set of sizes. On the whole, this was an advantage as the odd-ball sizes of the old EX made them difficult to fit into a model range. PC manufacturers generally prefer to have at least one close alternative model available to cover supply shortages asnd provide downwards pricing pressure.

As a matter of detail, here at Red Hill the only unusual size drives we sold in any numbers worth talking about were the 3.6GB IBM Deskstar 4 and this 5.1GB Western Digital. Both had stop-start sales careers, selling like crazy when they were the same price as the next orthodox size down (because no-one can resist a bargain) but hardly moving at all when they were priced any higher (because if you are going to pay a little extra for a bigger drive, why not go for the next full size up?)

rusty Fireball CR

Illustration: the underside of the same drive pictured above. An extraordinary drive this one! This came out of a poor-quality mass-market machine belonging to a mining company. It came to us in late 2001. Our brief: do whatever we judged best, spend whatever it took, just so long as we returned them a reliable machine complete with the existing software installation and the specialised data-logging card it had installed in it.

In over twenty years of working with computers, we have never seen a working machine in such condition: as you can see from the picture, the acid atmosphere in the mine is viciously corrosive. The back of the computer chassis was almost entirely rusted away. There was no hope of removing the screws, so to get the drive out we had to use a hack saw to cut away the mounting frame.

Astonishingly enough, the Fireball still worked perfectly, and we were able to transfer the data to a new drive without the slightest difficulty. Indeed, the CR was still working when I wrote this entry sometime in 2002, doing duty as a boot drive in our benchmarking system.

Performance1.17Reliabilityno data
Data rate190 Mbit/secSpin rate5400 RPM
Seek time9.5msBuffer512k
Platter capacity4.3GBInterfaceATA-66
CR 4.34.3GB2 MR heads
CR 6.46.4GB3 MR heads*
CR 8.48.4GB4 MR heads
CR 12.712.7GB6 MR heads