Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 162 / MARCH 1994 / PAGE 8

IDE speed-up. (Windows Workshop)(hard drive accelerator software) (Software Review) (Evaluation) (Column)
by Clifton Karnes

Drive Rocket can show you a chart of how much of a speed increase you can expect if you install the product.

At COMDEX, the promise of more hard disk speed came from two companies with hard drive accelerator products. On-track Systems was showing Drive Rocket (39, 800- 752-1333), and Micro House was talking about Maximum Over-drive (to be bundled with other Micro House products, 303-443-3383).

Both of these programs do basically the same thing. If you have a compatible IDE drive, they change the amount of data the drive reads and writes at one time from 1 sector (which is the default) to 2, 4, 8, 16, or 32 sectors. Increases in speed can be dramatic, according to both companies.

I tested both programs on the two machines I use: my home system, which is a 66-MHz 486DX2 with local-bus graphics and hard disk, and my work system, which is a 50-MHz 486DX2 with ISA graphics and hard disk. Both are pretty fast computers, but I'm always looking for more speed, so my mouth watered when I heard about these products. As soon as I got home from COMDEX, I fired up Drive Rocket and Maximum Overdrive.

Drive Rocket has a well-designed installation program that lets you perform a series of benchmarks to gauge which blocking factor you use (the number of disk sectors you read at a time) and to help you get an idea of how much of a speed increase you can expect. On my machine at home, the installation program told me to use a blocking factor of 8 and to expect a speed increase of as much as 101 percent. Wow!

I installed Drive Rocket and decided to test it under Windows 3.1 by running a suite of Windows programs. Since most of the disk activity in Windows is loading applications and documents, I ran Word for Windows 6.0, loaded three large documents, and closed the program; I ran Excel 4.0, loaded three medium-sized spreadsheets, and closed the program; and I ran Access 1.1, loaded three medium-sized databases, and closed the program.

I automated this test by creating a Recorder macro that did all the timing, running, loading, and closing. For timing, I used the Timer feature in Ascend to act as an automated stopwatch. I rebooted my computer before each test so the machine would be in an identical state each time, and I optimized my hard drive before running the tests.

First, I ran the suite without Drive Rocket, and it took one minute and 12 seconds to complete. Then I rebooted with Drive Rocket set to its recommended blocking factor of 8. With Drive Rocket, the suite took one minute and 9 seconds. Hmmm. Hardly the speed increase I was hoping for. I decided to try some other blocking factors to see if they would make a difference. As it turned out, 8 produced the fastest results.

I ran a few other less formal benchmarks and got the same results. For example, I timed my machine compiling a C++ program and got timings that were nearly the same both with and without Drive Rocket. Overall, with Drive Rocket, my home system was about 3-4 percent faster. (Drive Rocket uses 3K of RAM, it can be loaded high.)

Next, I installed Maximum Overdrive, its installation program is much simpler than Drive Rocket's; you won't find all the test benchmarks, for example. But I did have one problem with it. It found the reference to Drive Rocket in my CONFIG.SYS. not realizing I had remarked the line out. It asked me if it could remove the entry and modify my CONFIG.SYS. I said OK, and the program erased my CONFIG.SYS file. Pretty rude! Luckily, I had made a copy of AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS before I installed Maximum Overdrive, so I had a backup to return to.

In the benchmarks, Maximum Overdrive, which uses only about 2K, increased performance by exactly the same margin as Drive Rocket (as you'd expect)--only 3-4 percent.

My home system, which I used for these first tests, has a local-bus hard disk, which is a 32-bit interface. Because of this, it doesn't use Windows FastDisk, the 32-bit device driver. My system at work does use FastDisk, and when installing Drive Rocket, I found out that both it and Maximum Overdrive are incompatible with FastDisk. Both programs claim they outperform FastDisk, however. So I disabled FastDisk and ran my benchmarks. With Drive Rocket (and no FastDisk) the suite took one minute and 26 seconds to complete. With no Drive Rocket (but with FastDisk), the suite took one minute and 24 seconds. I also ran the same compiler benchmark I'd used on my home system and got times of one minute and 43 seconds with Drive Rocket and one minute and 35 seconds without it. For me, at least, Windows 32-bit FastDisk is faster than Drive Rocket.

Based on my experiences, I decided to save the memory and shelve Drive Rocket and Maximum Overdrive on both my home and work systems.