CD-RW drives

Published: October 26th, 2000

PC World.com (US)

All-in-one drives that read from and write to CD media and can read DVD-ROMs and play DVD movies are certainly appealing, especially if you’re running short of drive bays or IDE connectors. But first-generation combination CD-RW/DVD-ROM drives were expensive and slow. Ricoh’s new MediaMaster MP9120A, however, couples record-setting 12X/10X/32X CD-Recordable/CD-Rewritable speed with 8X DVD-ROM performance in one device.

Debuting at number two this month, this US$349 CD-RW drive costs little more than what you’d pay for a 12X/10X/32X CD-RW drive and a separate high-quality 8X DVD-ROM drive, and it takes up only one drive bay. Plus, the drive features Ricoh’s new JustLink technology. As does Sanyo Electric’s Burn-Proof technology (found in our repeat Best Buy, the Plextor PlexWriter 12/10/32A), JustLink promises to solve the problem of CD-R discs being ruined by buffer underruns. With the protection offered by such technology, you should be able to get away with doing other things while burning a disc–such as checking your e-mail–without worrying that the disc will be destroyed by an interruption in data flow before it has been completely written.

The other two new Top 5 contenders this month, TDK’s $299 veloCD 12/10/32 and Sony’s $299 Spressa Professional CRW160E, promise 12X/10X/32X performance. However, both failed to deliver in least one area.

The TDK wrote to CD-R as advertised at 12X, but it wrote to and read CD-RW at speeds more in line with an 8X/8X drive. The prime suspect was the drive’s bundled Ahead InCD packet-writing software. When we switched to Prassi’s abCD, the drive turned in times commensurate with other 10X CD-RW drives. According to TDK, the issue is not hardware related; Ahead is looking into the software performance discrepancy.

The Sony drive’s problem was more serious. Sony lists a 400-MHz Pentium II CPU as a minimum system requirement, and it’s not kidding. Our 400-MHz Celeron test bed was unable to write CD-R on the fly until we enabled the CD Extreme mastering software’s “cache all files” option. For on-the-fly jobs, the Sony’s 8X time of 7 minutes, 13 seconds was actually faster than its 12X time of 8 minutes and 9 seconds. The drive burned at 12X, however the 3 minutes, 46 seconds the software took to assemble and cache all the files sandbagged it. When we installed the drive in a 650-MHz Athlon system, the on-the-fly 12X time dropped to a more than respectable 5 minutes and 1 second.

The PlexWriter 12/10/32A holds fast to the number one spot, while its slower but less expensive sibling, the PlexWriter 8/4/32A, stays on the chart at number four. Other drives offer much better speed these days but typically at higher prices than the reasonable $185 the PlexWriter 8/4/32A sells for. An exception, in CD-RW speed at least, is the $179 Pacific Digital 8824ei, an 8X/8X/24X drive that’s a bargain for those who are willing to compromise on CD-ROM read speed. As a result of its low price point–and some adjustments that we made to our chart calculations this month to reflect the market–this model takes the number three spot.

Call Back in the Morning

Sony drives dropped in the rankings this month due to the company’s new, less generous technical support policies. The company’s former round-the-clock support has been replaced by 12-hour-a-day, Monday-through-Saturday service. The new policy is still better than many, but without the extra credit earned by the endless support hours, the CRW140E/CH2 slipped to the number five spot.

Even Faster Drives on the Horizon

Earlier this month, Yamaha announced the first CD-RW drive to break the 12X CD-R barrier. The CRW2100 series of 16X/10X/40X drives will be available in three interfaces: IDE, SCSI, and IEEE 1394. Utilizing an 8MB buffer and Yamaha’s new Waste-Proof buffer underrun compensation technology, the drives promise excellent performance. The CRW2100 series will use a combination of the more conventional Constant Linear Velocity writing technique with Constant Angular Velocity to write to CD-Rs at up to 16X. With CLV, the speed of the drive varies to keep the disc moving at a constant speed relative to the head. In other words, to write at a constant 12X speed the drive spins faster when the head is writing the inner tracks than it does when it is writing the outer tracks. When the drive switches over to CAV, the disc starts spinning at a constant rate, and the head can write data even more quickly on the perimeter of the disc than it could on the inner tracks. We’ll see if this Yamaha unit lives up to its billing once we receive a shipping unit.

How We Test

We test CD-RW drives on a Micron Millennia Celeron-400 system with a Western Digital Caviar 13GB hard drive and 64MB of RAM. We install an IDE CD-RW drive as the master on the secondary channel. If a vendor doesn’t provide its own SCSI card, we install an Adaptec 2906 SCSI adapter for use in our tests. Each CD-RW kit is installed according to the vendor’s instructions in the quick-start section of the manual.

To return the test PC to its original condition before each test, we restore an image created with PowerQuest’s Drive Image software. We then install the CD-RW drive to be evaluated, noting any difficulties, and then load the bundled software for CD-R and CD-RW writing.

We gauge CD-ROM read performance by using Testa Labs’ CD Tach 98 2.0 software and by installing Microsoft’s Office 2000 suite in its default configuration. To determine CD-R write performance, we burn 430MB of data to CD-R both from an image file and on the fly. We test CD-R read performance by reading the 430MB back to the hard drive.

We test digital audio extraction speed by extracting a 250MB audio track from an audio CD (Beethoven’s Eroica Variations Opus 35) to the hard drive. We also write the track back to a fresh CD-R, and listen to determine whether noise or other sonic artifacts have been introduced.

To test CD-RW packet-writing performance, we copy a folder containing 100MB of files to a CD-RW disc twice. First we copy the folder to the newly formatted blank disc, and then we overwrite the folder by copying it a second time to the disc without deleting the original copy.

Plextor PlexWriter 12/10/32A

WHAT’S HOT: The 12/10/32A’s 10X CD-RW write speed let it write our 100MB test folder in a mere 1 minute, 32 seconds. The drive also extracted our 250MB audio file in 1 minute, 52 seconds –more than a minute and a half faster than its nearest competitors. The drive uses Sanyo Electric’s Burn-Proof technology, which helps reduce buffer underruns and ruined discs.

WHAT’S NOT: This drive doesn’t ship with the CD Res-Q disaster-recovery software that Plextor ships with its SCSI drives (though the software is available separately for $35).

WHAT ELSE: The otherwise adequate software bundle includes Adaptec’s Easy CD Creator 4.02 and DirectCD 3.01 for mastering and packet-writing, plus Plextor’s exclusive AudioFS drivers, which let you copy audio tracks using the standard Windows interface. The 12/10/32A’s documentation is thorough and concise. Plextor offers a one-year warranty and tech support for 11 hours on weekdays.

BEST USE: If you burn a lot of CD-R discs, frequently back up files to CD-RW, or extract music from audio CDs, this is your drive.

Buying Information

Plextor PlexWriter 12/10/32A

$ 260 IDE, internal, 12X/10X/32X, 2MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, multimedia software; one-year warranty, toll-free support for 11 hours on weekdays.

Plextor can be reached at 800/886-3935 or http://www.plextor.com/english

Ricoh MediaMaster MP9120A

WHAT’S HOT: Get the popcorn ready: The MediaMaster MP9120A allows you to watch movies on the same drive that you can use to write to CD-R and CD-RW, without sacrificing an ounce of performance. In our tests, the drive wrote 100MB to CD-RW in a mere 1 minute, 27 seconds–the fastest time we’ve seen yet. And the MP9120A wrote our 430MB test image to CD-R in just 4 minutes, 46 seconds, second only to its 12X/10X/32X cousin, the MP7120A (which we reviewed in September). Ricoh says its JustLink technology allows the drive to suspend and resume writing in the event of a buffer underrun, without ruining your disc. Our initial experience with JustLink indicates that it works as promised; we’ll put the technology through further tests and report the results next month. The software bundle includes Prassi’s PrimoCD for CD mastering tasks and Prassi’s abCD for packet writing. The drive provided outstanding DVD quality and smooth playback on our Celeron-400 test PC using the included WinDVD movie software. The MP9120A also garnered an exceptional 5.2X DVD Tach rating–just over the average 5.0X DVD Tach rating achieved by the five 8X DVD-ROM drives we tested in our July roundup, “Spin City.”

WHAT’S NOT: A street price of $349 makes the MP9120A the most expensive drive on the chart. However, that’s little more than what you’d pay for both an average 12X/10X/32X drive and a good-quality 8X DVD-ROM these days. Unfortunately, you must run the main installation program three times: once to install the mastering software, a second time to install the packet-writing software, and a third time to install the DVD movie playback software. Ricoh’s otherwise-lucid documentation fails to mention that DMA should be turned on, and Prassi’s PrimoCD HTML help file lacks an index.

WHAT ELSE: The MP9120A carries an industry-standard one-year warranty, and the company provides toll-free support for 15 hours on weekdays and 9 hours on Saturdays.

BEST USE: If you want a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, this is your best choice.

Buying Information

Ricoh MediaMaster MP9120A

$ 349

IDE, internal, 12X/10X/32X and 8X DVD-ROM, 2MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, DVD movie playback software; one-year warranty, toll-free support for 15 hours on weekdays and 9 hours on Saturdays.

Ricoh can be reached at 877/742-6479 or at http://www.ricohdms.com

Pacific Digital 8824ei

WHAT’S HOT: Pacific Digital’s 8824ei, a solidly constructed drive that offers 8X write and rewrite speeds, comes with NTI’s CD-Maker 2000 mastering software and FileCD packet-writing software–all for a paltry $179. Based on Yamaha’s CRW8824EZ drive mechanism, the 8824ei wrote our 100MB test folder to CD-RW in a mere 1 minute, 56 seconds. It installed Microsoft Office 2000 in only 5 minutes, 50 seconds–a faster time than that turned in by the number one drive, the PlexWriter 12/10/32A. Pacific Digital also bundles Sonic Foundry’s top-notch Acid Express and Sound Forge XP music software.

WHAT’S NOT: You must work within the included FileCD interface to packet-write to CD-RW–an approach that’s less convenient than the transparent Windows Explorer drag-and-drop procedure offered by Adaptec’s DirectCD and Prassi’s abCD.

WHAT ELSE: Pacific Digital offers toll-free support for 10 hours on weekdays and 5 hours on Saturdays to supplement the unit’s one-year warranty. A trial version of NTI’s BackupNow is included in the package.

BEST USE: This drive is a great value for those who write often to CD-RW.

Buying Information

Pacific Digital 8824ei

$ 179

IDE, internal, 8X/8X/24X, 4MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, backup utility; one-year warranty, toll-free support for 10 hours on weekdays and 5 hours on Saturdays.

Pacific Digital can be reached at 888/333-6732 or at http://www.1pdc.com

Plextor PlexWriter 8/4/32A

WHAT’S HOT: For the budget-minded, the $185 PlexWriter 8/4/32A offers a good balance of price, design, and features. This solidly constructed drive also offers performance fast enough to satisfy most buyers. Plus, it’s one of the faster drives we’ve seen in this speed class at extracting digital audio.

WHAT’S NOT: This drive ships without the CD Res-Q disaster-recovery software that Plextor includes with its SCSI drives (but the software is available separately for $35).

WHAT ELSE: The company bundles Adaptec’s Easy CD Creator 3.5 and DirectCD 2.5; an enhanced media player; and AudioFS drivers that allow drag-and-drop extraction of CD audio tracks. Plextor’s documentation is thorough and concise. The 8/4/32A carries a one-year warranty, and Plextor maintains toll-free tech support lines for 11 hours on weekdays.

BEST USE: This model should hit the sweet spot for people who want quick 8X CD-R recording at a low price.

Buying Information

Plextor PlexWriter 8/4/32A

$ 185

IDE, internal, 8X/4X/32X, 4MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, multimedia software; one-year warranty, toll-free support for 11 hours on weekdays.

Plextor can be reached at 800/886-3935 or at http://www.plextor.com/english

Sony Spressa Professional CRX140E/CH2

WHAT’S HOT: The 8X/4X/32X Spressa Professional CRX140E/CH2 can still lay claim to the fastest 8X CD-R and 4X CD-RW write times we’ve seen–though you can get faster drives for the money. Some of the credit for the drive’s performance should undoubtedly go to Sony’s CD Extreme (made by Prassi) and Prassi’s abCD 1.3, the excellent mastering and packet-writing packages included in the Spressa Professional software bundle; each program performed flawlessly. Sony dropped the price on this model by $21 this month.

WHAT’S NOT: We aren’t particularly fond of CD Extreme’s HTML help file, which lacks an index. Plus, Sony doesn’t include the backup utility it included in an earlier packaging of this drive. Enabling DMA is not mentioned in the drive’s documentation; when we asked, Sony recommended that it be enabled.

WHAT ELSE: The Spressa Professional carries a one-year warranty. Toll-free technical support–formerly accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week–is now available for 12 hours a day, Monday through Saturday. That reduction in service hurt this model’s ranking, dropping it to the lowest spot on the chart.

BEST USE: If you want a quick 8X/4X/32X drive, the Spressa Professional CRX140E/CH2 is a solid bet.

Buying Information

Sony Spressa Professional CRX140E/CH2

$ 179

IDE, internal, 8X/4X/32X, 4MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software; one-year warranty, toll-free support for 12 hours on weekdays and Saturdays.

Sony can be reached at 800/352-7669 or at http://www.ita.sel.sony.com/jump/storage/spressa

Sony Spressa Professional CRW160E

WHAT’S HOT: The CRW160E turned in great time scores for both packet-writing 100MB to CD-RW and writing our 430MB test image file to CD-R. The drive’s excellent software bundle includes Sony’s CD Extreme mastering software (made by Prassi), Prassi’s abCD packet-writing software, and Dantz’s Retrospect Express backup program.

WHAT’S NOT: The CRW160E wouldn’t write our 430MB test folder to CD-R on the fly until we enabled caching of all files. This is the same as writing an image before writing the disc–a process that takes several additional minutes. The problem wasn’t fully unexpected; our test bed is a 400-MHz Celeron, and Sony recommends a 400-MHz Pentium II or better. When we moved the drive to a faster 650-MHz Athlon system, the drive performed on a par with other 12X drives. Enabling DMA is not mentioned in the drive’s documentation, although Sony recommends doing so when asked. Also, we aren’t particularly fond of CD Extreme’s HTML-based help file, which lacks an index.

WHAT ELSE: The CRW160E carries an industry-standard one-year warranty. Toll-free technical support is available for 12 hours a day, Monday through Saturday; Sony recently reduced its round-the-clock support hours.

BEST USE: The CRW160E’s excellent software bundle makes it tempting. But until we see more-consistent performance, there are better options available.

Buying Information

Sony Spressa Professional CRW160E

$ 299

IDE, internal, 12X/10X/32X, 4MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, backup software, one-year warranty, toll-free support for 12 hours on weekdays and Saturdays.

Sony can be reached at 800/352-7669 or at http://www.ita.sel.sony.com/jump/storage/spressa

TDK veloCD 12/10/32

WHAT’S HOT: TDK’s veloCD 12/10/32 is the second drive we’ve tested (Plextor’s PlexWriter 12/10/32A was the first) to integrate Sanyo Electric’s Burn-Proof buffer underrun protection technology, which prevents ruined discs if the drive runs short of data. The Ahead Nero-Burning ROM-mastering software and InCD packet-writing software are stable and friendly alternatives to the more common Adaptec options. TDK even includes a helpful VHS tape that shows you how to install the drive.

WHAT’S NOT: The pricey veloCD took 2 minutes to packet-write 100MB to CD-RW, about a half minute slower than most 10X drives. When we switched to Prassi’s abCD, the time dropped to 1 minute, 24 seconds–which indicated that the InCD packet-writing software was the likely culprit. Ahead is currently investigating the performance discrepancy. The 5 minutes, 25 seconds the TDK took to write our 430MB image to CD-R and the 5 minutes, 40 seconds it took to write our 430MB test folder on the fly are also about a half minute slower than the norm. We saw no mention in the documentation about turning on DMA–which is the setting TDK representatives recommended when we inquired about it.

WHAT ELSE: TDK offers a one-year warranty on the veloCD. Toll-free support is available for 11.5 hours on weekdays and 10 hours on Saturdays.

BEST USE: The veloCD is a fast drive that’s only slowed down by its software bundle for recording CD-R and CD-RW discs.

Buying Information

TDK veloCD 12/10/32

$ 299

IDE, internal, 12X/10X/32X, 2MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software; one-year warranty, toll-free support for 11.5 hours on weekdays and 10 hours on Saturdays.

TDK can be reached at 800/835-8273 or at http://www.tdk.com/velocd-new/index.html

Copyright 2000 PC World.com (US), International Data Group Inc. All rights reserved.

Prices listed are in US currency.



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