hard drive history

21st century: big, cheap, bland

Western Digital JB

Photo: Red Hill.

Western Digital JB series

Western Digital's 1000BB and 1200BB models of late 2001 were very high achievers, to be considered in the same breath as the other two best-rated IDE drives on the market: the IBM Deskstar 60GXP and the Maxtor 740DX. Opinions varied as to which should be awarded the performance crown: the WD with its great all-round panache, or the Maxtor with its best-in-class seek performance. (The Quantum heritage lived on somewhere inside Maxtor, it seems.)

The JB drives, however, were a different matter. They were almost identical to the BB series drives that they were based on, differing only in the massive 8MB on-board cache and some firmware optimisations. Western Digital released them as a special limited edition, which is marketing speak for "we don't expect to sell too many of these, but we will slap a high price sticker on them and see how many takers we get". In this industry, special editions are indeed time-limited: they will only make them as long as there are buyers left!

But no matter, the performance is the thing, and the performance of the JB drives was certainly impressive. In a word, our WD1000JB was the fastest IDE drive we have ever laid our hands on. It is not, however, a realistic substitute for the very high RPM, very fast seeking SCSI drives that have always been the ultimate in hard drive performance. Compared to a two year old Cheetah X15 it had a noticeable hesitation and was clearly in a lesser league. But the mere fact that one thought to compare the JB with an X15 at all shows just how fine an effort the Western Digital drive was. It was less than half the price of an exotic SCSI drive, quieter because of spinning at half the RPM, and it had more than five times as much capacity.

Oddly enough, it was this last advantage that held the JB back so far as sales went: hard drive buyers, by and large, just didn't need 100 or 120 GB of storage space. There wa the odd exceptional user who did, but in 2002 there was barely any retail demand for drives over 60GB, and 80GB drives did not take off until late in the year, when the price difference between an 80 and a 40 had shrunk to less than $100. The JB, in short, was only suited to the buyer who cared enough about performance to spend more than twice as much as usual on a hard drive, but not enough to spend twice as much again on an Atlas 10K III or a Cheetah X15. We would rather have seen a 10,000 RPM spindle in an IDE drive — this step was long overdue — but in the meantime, the JB was the next best thing.

Performance1.54 (1.51)Reliabilityno data
Data rate602 Mbit/sec (525)Spin rate7200 RPM
Seek time8.9msBuffer8MB
Platter capacity40GB (33)InterfaceATA-100
WD1000JB100GB6 GMR head*
WD1200JB120GB6 GMR heads