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Quantum Fireball KA Plus

Posted: August 10, 1999
Written by: Ryan "Xero" Martinez


One of the most commonly overlooked bottle necks in computers is the hard drive. Many people spend their hard-earned money on their speedy dual Celeron setup, and are left wondering why Windows, applications, and games load so slow... but could that old hard drive really make that much of a difference? You bet. But getting a speedy hard drive these days can cost you a bundle. What if you could get the speed you wanted at a price that won't kill you? Well, the Quantum Fireball KA Plus promises that.

This hard drive comes in 6.4 GB, 9.1 GB, 13.6 GB, 18.2 GB sizes. We used the 9.1 GB capacity drive for this review. Its various features include Ultra ATA/66 support, 7,200 RPM rotational speed, a 512KB on-board cache, and an average seek time of 8.5ms. As you can see, these specs aren't lacking at all. There are some faster drives available... but what makes this drive noteworthy is the price/performance ratio: I bought this hard drive for a mere $140 USD, not including shipping. It can commonly be found for such a low price as well, by searching through a web site such as Pricewatch. Promising some heavy specs at a great price, it's time to see if it's worth it.


Using some various benchmarking software, I was able to confirm the advertised seek time (8.5 ms). Surprisingly, most tests showed that with the drive's 7200 RPM, its average seek time was actually 8.0 ms. Strange... and nice to see it performaing as well as or better than the manufacturer advertises. So, I decided to do some real-world tests to see how much of a difference that the drive could really make.

I'll be using my slow, old 8.0 Gig Bigfoot TX hard drive as a reference for program start times, etc. It's a 5400 RPM, 12ns, Ultra ATA/33 drive. The test bed:
  • K6-2 500MHz
  • VIA MVP3-Based Mobo, ATA/33 Support
  • 128 MB PC100 SDRAM
  • Windows 98
A 256MB fixed swap file was set for both hard drives. Both drives were tested on a cable select setting. Windows was freshly installed, then Adobe Photoshop 5.0, Norton System Works 2.0 were installed. The drives were freshly defraggged then tested. It should also be noted that both the KA Plus and the older TX drive are limited to ATA/33. The KA Plus would abuse the older drive further had ATA/66 been utilized.

I ran five simple and rudimentary speed tests to see how much of a difference the drive could make in day-to-day disk-thrashing activities. All tests were measured with a stop watch and rounded off to the nearest second.

Test 1: Boot time. Measured from the second the BIOS screen disappears and hard disk activity starts, until hard disk activity stops at the end of Windows 98 loading.
Test 2: Adobe Photoshop 5.0 load time. Measured from when I clicked the shortcut, to the time the program fully finished loading.
Test 3: Image file load time. Loaded a 81,211KB BMP file into Adobe Photoshop. Measured from time clicked Open to completion of file load.
Test 4: LAN transfer time. 96,475KB ZIP file transferred over a 10-BaseT LAN connection. Timed from start of copy until Copy status dialog box disappeared.
Test 5: File recopy time. Same 96,475KB ZIP file was recopied into another folder on the same drive. Measured from start of copy until Copy status dialog box disappeared.

Old 5400 RPM Drive Times:
Boot time - 1:19 minutes
APS 5.0 load time - 20 seconds
81,211KB BMP load time - 1:34 minutes
96,475KB LAN transfer time - 5:04 minutes
File recopy time - 1:01 minutes

Quantum Fireball KA Plus Times:
Boot time - 32 seconds
APS load time - 7 seconds
81,211KB BMP load time - 1:09 minutes
96,475KB LAN transfer time - 1:59 minutes
File recopy time - 38 seconds

As you can see above, the higher speed drive saves you more than just a little time. Anything hard disk related speeds up significantly. You'll notice this in almost everything you do... level load times for games, when you're waiting for it to reboot after you've installed something, loading those big programs, copying files. What's more is the KA Plus has ATA/66 capability, which wasn't even been utilized in these tests. Had ATA/66 been enabled, the time difference would have been even greater.


I'd have to say I really like this drive. It is fast, and there's no doubt about it. It makes a huge impact in the times it takes to get things done. You'll waste much less time waiting for that new game to install, or for that file to copy, or for that level to load.

But what makes me like this drive so much is definitly the price. Only $140 for a drive with these specs? It's a great price/performance bargain. If you thought ATA/66 would be too expensive, keep in mind that you can get this hard drive and the Abit BE6 motherboard for under $300 USD (total). That's a pretty good bargain considering the performance this hard drive puts out.

My only complaint? The size of the hard drive. At only 9.1 GB, it's a little skimpy considering that a lot of hard drives that ship with computers these days are in the 10-12 GB range. With more and more people booting multiple operating systems, 9.1 GB may or may not be enough for your needs. You could go for some of the larger versions, but the price ramps up quickly with the size, destroying the benefit of great price to performance ratio. To be honest however, I had yet to completely fill my old 8.0 GB hard drive up, despite having a dual OS boot setup. So, 9.1 GB may or may not be enough for you.


It's fast and cheap, and is an excellent performer. If you're considering ATA/66 as an option, but shy at the cost, this drive could quite easily be your ticket. Even if you don't have ATA/66, the drive is still far faster than most of the 5400 RPM drives that are standard on the market these days. If you're still clunking along at 5400 RPM, this drive is a great upgrade.

Good [+]
  • Speedy
  • Cheap
  • ATA/66 support
Bad [-]
  • Small capacity
Overall Rating: 9.0

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