Disk dilemma

Making Windows 2000 operate at a pace most folks can tolerate can be tricky. But with some input from TechRepublic members, Ed Bott found a surefire way to speed things up. See what he discovered and then take a crack at the latest Challenge.

Windows 2000 doesn't have to be slow. In fact, if you throw enough hardware at it, Microsoft's flagship business operating system can be downright zippy. The most important upgrade, of course, is RAM—make sure your workstations have at least 128MB apiece, and no self-respecting server should have less than 256MB. Then what? The second biggest bottleneck is the one that carries data from the hard disk to RAM, and a well-thought-out storage upgrade can work wonders with Windows.

That's the focus of this week's Microsoft Challenge. I'm about to upgrade a couple of client machines on my Windows 2000 network, but I'm confused by the plethora of storage options. SCSI is too expensive for these everyday machines, but UDMA-66 or even UDMA-100 drives and controllers look like an attractive option. I asked TechRepublic members to share their experiences with this relatively recent class of peripherals. Will they work flawlessly with Windows 2000, or will I have driver and installation headaches? Can I expect a noticeable performance improvement?

TechRepublic member compumedicm offered this common-sense upgrade advice: "Evaluate the usage of systems before deciding on hardware. Demanding applications such as CAD automatically mean more, bigger, faster everything. Word processing can get away with substantially less, and the user wouldn't notice the difference in any way that qualifies as legitimate. Loading Word in three seconds versus five seconds doesn't qualify as an urgent matter."

TechRepublic member Jeff Cichocki offered the best overview: "I've done a lot of research on the topic—speed for a cheap price always gets me going. Is UDMA-66 faster than UDMA-33? Definitely! You will love the boost in speed." Jeff (and others) offered these hands-on tips for a successful disk upgrade:
  • Get a drive that is 7200 RPM, with at least 2MB of cache. It doesn't make much sense to increase the drive's burst speed if you're going to force it to sit and wait for the disk heads to spin around.
  • If the computer you're upgrading doesn't include a UDMA-66 controller on the motherboard, get an add-on controller from Promise Technology. That's the overwhelming consensus among TechRepublic members. Evan Gilden, for example, testified that "Promise controllers work almost flawlessly with Windows 2000, and they are close to being an industry standard. No problems so far after upgrading 400 computers to Win2K with Promise 66 and 100 cards."
  • Don't skimp on cables. Use an 80-strand ribbon cable for high-speed drives to improve overall performance and reduce errors.
  • Don't be stampeded to UDMA-100 controllers yet. TechRepublic member agschuller offered this caution: "Go with the UDMA-66, which has been around longer and has been debugged. UDMA-100 compatibility will be an issue. Would you put your client's precious data on a technology only months old? I wouldn't, not if I wanted to maintain a working relationship with them. If you're going to experiment, do it with your machine first, not the client's." Don't forget that UDMA-100 drives are backward-compatible with UDMA-66 controllers.

Based on this excellent feedback, I went ahead and chose Promise Ultra66 controllers and Maxtor UDMA-100 drives. I had no problem installing Windows 2000, and the latest Promise drivers produced a noticeable improvement in performance. In fact, my experience mirrored that of pguilmette: "I switched to a Maxtor 10GB 7200 RPM UDMA-66 hard drive and a Promise controller. It was very simple to install on NT 4.0 and the results were astronomical. I did not need a faster computer, just a fast controller and hard drive. Word 2000 now comes up in a blink."

Thanks (and 2,000 TechPoints) to everyone who participated in this week's Challenge. If you want more information about UDMA technology, read this white paper from Western Digital.

Here's Ed's new Challenge
Are you inundated with spam? How do you keep it from cluttering your Inbox? I'm interested in hearing success stories from TechRepublic members who've tamed the spam monster. How did you do it? Filters? A new e-mail client? Third-party utilities? Share your spam-busting secrets and earn 2,000 TechPoints. I'll print the best responses in my next Microsoft Challenge column. But don't delay—this Challenge closes at the end of the day on Thursday, Oct. 12.

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