The CD drive market is in a slump. Drive speeds are stalled at the 48X to 52X speed mark with little change expected, and DVD drives are now a common replacement for the old fashioned CD drive. However, things are different in the wild and wooly world of CD/RW drives. Three or four years ago the only people who owned CD recordable drives were those with deep pockets and a lot of patience. Drives were slow and re-writable CD technologies (CD/RW) were just coming on to the market; indeed, I remember my first CD-R drive with its excruciating slow 2X speed and big ticket price tag. People were just discovering the utility of these newer drives and reveling in the ability to create their own music, movie, or data CDs.
Today, CD-R drives are past their prime, prices generally affordable, and CD-RW drives are as commonplace on most new systems as CD drives were half a decade ago. CD-RW drives are also getting faster, doubling in speed in a little over a year to match and exceed the speed of their older siblings. Oh how times have changed.
If you are looking for a new CD-RW drive or a replacement for something slower and older, you certainly have a lot of choices. Sony, Panasonic, Lite-On, BTC, GoldStar, Cendyne, Maxell, TDK, Memorex, and a list longer than your arm of other peripheral companies are marketing CD-RW products today. It can be real confusing, to say the least, especially with drives typically ranging in speed from 24X to 48X or higher, and various technologies and standards in play. How do you choose? That's not an easy question to answer. Everyone you ask will have a different answer, but there are some common things you can look for in a drive to help you decide. Below is a novice oriented rundown of some key terminology and technologies a consumer should be aware of when shopping for a new CD-RW drive.
Rated Speed - CD-RW drives typically are noted for their speed in three key areas; each relates to a specific maximum speed when performing a specific function. A 48x24x48 rated device breaks down to a speed of 48X when writing in CD-R mode, 24X when writing in CD-RW (re-writable) mode, and 48X when reading a standard CD.
Seek Time - The amount of time (in milliseconds) a device takes upon request to find a particular piece of information. This time is really an average and is meant only as a reference point. Seek Time is only important when the drive is used as a CD reader, and it does not take into account for latency in hardware processing.
Cache Memory - The amount of built-in memory in a given drive determines, in part, its ability to rapidly get data from the memory and drive subsystem, and its ability to transfer this data inline to the CD writing element during a creation session. In general, the more cache the better; drive cache sizes range today from as little as 256K to a much as 4MB to 8MB.
Buffer Under-run Protection - This kind of technology has become increasingly common in typical CD-RW products as drives have gotten faster in their ability to write to various media types. Typically a computer will be able to send data being burned to optical media faster than the drive can write it. The buffer stores this information temporarily and ahead of its need by the CD-RW drive. When the computer cannot provide data fast enough, the buffer makes up the difference and keeps a smooth stream of data flowing during a burn operation. If the buffer empties and the computer has not caught up sending data to the CD-RW device, the CD media is potentially ruined.
Standards Support - There are numerous standards that can and should be supported in today's modern CD-RW drives. Most software programs like Nero and EZ CD Creator support a wide range of burning schemes and standards, and so should your drive. While you may not ever use some of the more exotic or older methods, if it's not there when you need it to copy a particular disc or create media for a specific purpose, your drive is essentially useless to you.
Upgradability - Quite a few high end CD-RW drives are upgradeable in terms of their firmware. Having a flash capable firmware ensures that fixes to common problems, speed enhancements, and updated technology and standards support can be made to the drive, extending its useful life.
High End Drives, Big Ticket Price
Plextor falls in the high-end of drive makers today. With support for every major acknowledged standard, excellent buffer under-run protection, flash upgradable firmware, and high performance, the PlexWriter 48X24X48X CD-RW looks on paper to be the kind of drive most people dream about having in their system. But does this top shelf product from Plextor warrant the top shelf price tag?
Out of the Box
The PlexWriter comes complete and well protected. Inside the box you will find blank media, a comprehensive manual and quick setup guide, ribbon cable, a nice software suite, and the Plextor drive itself.
The Plextor PlexWriter 48/24/48A CD-RW looks fairly plain jane. On the front panel you will find a headphone jack, volume control for the front output, LED activity lamp, eject button, and the 'stuck tray' pin hole for ejecting the tray as a last ditch effort. The back of the drive has analog and digital audio outputs (cable not included), an 8-pin grid for setting the device mode, 40-pin IDE connector, and the ubiquitous molex D-sub power connection. The drive is drilled and taped along the sides for PC standard mounting.
Overall the PlexWriter is your average looking drive on the outside. Of note is the DMA jumpers on the back that are explained in detail in the manual, and an all black CD tray that is very unique among CD-RW drives. The tray is painted black according to Plextor to absorb errant light and increase the accuracy of the burn process; since this drive has no additional or special venting, and such a high burn speed, I suspect that extended use combined with the black, heat absorbing tray may result in slightly elevated internal drive temperatures, which in turn may hurt accuracy and possibly rotational stability.
BurnProof technology, otherwise known as Proof against Buffer Under-Run, is one variant of the now common hardware method of preventing track write errors during the CD creation process. Essentially, this technology keeps the writing process smooth, transitioning read and write gaps in the data stream across the IDE bus and from the CPU smoothly, so that there are no waiting or delays in burning since most modes involve a single, continuous burn pass. Large caches, of which the PlexWriter drive in this review has 4MB, and technologies like BurnProof ensure that the stream of information is not interrupted and a bad CD created while the user utilizes other programs or functions on the PC while burning a CD.
Note: BurnProof is one example of several similar technologies available today and integrated into CD-RW drives. While this technology is great, it is not capable of preventing a bad burn in the case of power failure or other abnormalities, an overutilized CPU that cannot provide enough of a time slice per operating cycle (i.e., an overtasked computer), or physical impacts to the system that jar the entire drive chassis.
Another interesting technology built into the PlexWriter from Plextor is called PowerRec. This technology, and acronym for Plextor Optimized Writing Error Reduction Control, is a media catalog connected to a utility that automatically configures the drive for optimal operation with recognized certified media. This technology not only ensures the fastest and most accurate burn possible for the media loaded, even with media containing slight imperfections, but the catalog can be upgraded through a flash of the drive BIOS to include newly released certified media from various manufacturers that you may use at home.
Compared to other value packages I have had experience with in the past, the PlexWriter documentation web support is a real breath of fresh air. The printed documentation in the PlexWriter package is more than adequate for even the novice user, with numerous technical explanations and detailed diagrams that will walk you through the installation with ease. The online FAQs and extended documentation found on the Plextor website are comprehensive and compliment the printed manual nicely.
Installation of the PlexWriter is relatively straightforward and simple. Simply power down your system and open the case sides to expose the mounting hardware of the existing drive you are replacing or an open bay. After removing an existing drive, if any, you can then slide the new drive into the mounting bay and secure it with the provided hardware once it is aligned flush with the case front. All you need to do then is plug in the power, IDE ribbon cable, analog/digital audio cable (if any), and ensure that the mode jumpers are correctly set for your system configuration; if easier, set your jumpers before mounting and securing the drive if space is at a premium. A quick power up and you are in business, your operating system should automatically detect and install this ATAPI compatible device automatically.
Included with the PlexWriter are two common software packages that most of you are familiar with, Roxio's Easy CD Creator and PowerDVD. One program of interest that many of you may not have used before is Oak Technologies SimpliCD. This is an additional suite of CD creation and copy utilities that integrates tightly with your Microsoft operating system, providing quick access to various often used functions that go far beyond the minimal CD burner features of Windows XP. With SimpliCD you can create video discs, copy CDs for archival or reproduction purposes, use drag and drop CD creation from files on your computer, and obtain CD-RW media support.
Test Computer System Information
||Windows XP Professional - Version 2002
||AMD XP 2100 (1433MHZ)
||1GB (2x512MB) 3200 DDR Samsung
||Soltek KT333 SL-75DRV5-C
||2 x Maxtor 7200RM ATA/133 40GB 'QuietDrive'
||Creative Labs 52X UDMA 33/66/100 ATAPI with 2MB Cache
||Plextor PlexWriter 48x24x48A CD-RW
||Dell / Sony P991 19" 1600x1024 Resolution / 120MHz Ma
||Logitech MX700 Wireless
||Logitech Elite Keyboard
||3Com 10/100 PCI 3c905c-TX
||Santa Cruz Turtle Beach 6.1 Digital (v2)
||PNY GeForce 4 Ti4600
||Logitech Z-640 5.1
Note: For this review I chose to use some Sony and Memorex CD-R media, as well as Sony CD-RW media, all rated to support the speed of the PlexWriter drive under review (48X and 24X respectively).
Nero CD Speed
Speed Test - The PlexWriter showed its speed in this test, averaging 42.27X speed throughout. This is exceptional performance for a multi-mode drive with variable speed.
Seek Time Test - 'Full' seek time of 168ms as tested and registered 69ms for random access, both within reason for the given ratings of this Plextor drive.
Transfer Rate Test - Putting the variable speed rating to the test, the PlexWriter turned in respectable average of 36.72X as tested. Decent performance by any measure to be sure.
DAE Quality Test - DAE quality was rated a perfect 10 by Nero CD Speed.
The first test of the PlexWriter was using CDDAE 99 to rip a full CD to the hard drive. In this test I ripped the 15 track Lenny Kravitz 5, which has over 760MB of data when ripped. As you can see from the screenshot, CDDAE 99 was able to rip this full CD with amazing speed thanks to the fast read times of the Plextor drive; total time to rip all 15 tracks was 4 minutes 31 seconds.
In comparison, a Creative Labs 52X was only capable of ripping the same CD in 10 minutes 15 seconds.
As you can see from the table below, the CDDAE 99 test of the Plextor PlexWriter drive reveals fast read times and more than acceptable performance when ripping and reading music CDs. Audio enthusiasts who like to transfer their music to MP3s or archive their discs will find the performance great.
|Track 1 Speed:
||29.2X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 2 Speed:
||24.5X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 3 Speed:
||23.4X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 4 Speed:
||34.8X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 5 Speed:
||28.7X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 6 Speed:
||30.4X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 7 Speed:
||31.6X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 8 Speed:
||33.2X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 9 Speed:
||41.3X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 10 Speed:
||35.7X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 11 Speed:
||32.8X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 12 Speed:
||33.5X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 13 Speed:
||36.9X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
|Track 14 Speed:
||40.6X Errors: 0 (0.00%)
||Average Speed: 30.5X Total Errors: 0 (0.00%)1
Nero and Windows XP
In this review I did multiple burns with Nero, copying the Lenny Kravitz CD mentioned previously and the game Max Payne. The Plextor PlexWriter was able to speedily copy the music CD in 3:41, while Max Payne was copied in 4:54 seconds. This is certainly fast enough for most users, and no errors were encountered during the copy process with either media types used.
Windows XP, with SP1 and all patches, was able to utilize the PlexWriter effectively, if slower than Nero. Copying the music CD with no errors was accomplished in 4:51. A copy of Max Payne was created in 5:44 seconds, and a data CD with over 100 MP3 files of various sizes was generated in 3:18 seconds from the hard drive. Overall I would hazard to say that a combination of top notch firmware, excellent design, and competent patching by Microsoft will ensure excellent performance even when using Windows XP's limited CD burning facilities.
The Plextor PlexWriter 48/24/48A E-IDE CD-RW is relatively quiet in most modes of operation. When playing music from a CD, the drive is essentially silent; however, when performing more data intensive actions you will notice a mid-level swish from the rapidly spinning CD that is still only a minor concern and hardly noticeable in most home office or gaming setups. I could discern no mechanical noise from the drive except during excessive seek operations on CDs containing numerous files at the root level. All in all, the PlexWriter is quiet enough even for your desktop computer.
Here is another area where the Plextor PlexWriter 48/24/48A excels, no matter whether it is in digital or analog mode. In Windows XP I found audio reproduction excellent, with no stutter or skipping even when the PC was under 100% CPU load. The large cache in conjunction with a fast IDE bus ensures that the Plextor will deliver the tunes cleanly every time.
Overall: If you are the kind of PC enthusiast who insists on having the absolute best in your computer, the Plextor PlexWriter 48/24/48A CD-RW is the best recordable drive on the market today. This is a strong statement, to be sure, but you will be hard pressed to find anything currently available that can best the PlexWriter on features or speed. The PlexWriter package is very complete, with everything you could possibly need to get burning, and odds are that the BurnProof technology coupled with Plextor's own PoweRec system will keep you from ever creating a coaster again.
- CD-RW Drive
- Quick Start Guide
- Roxio Easy CD Creator
- Roxio Direct CD
- ATAPI Ribbon
- Emergency Eject Pin
- Mounting Hardware
- Quick Start Guide
- 3-in-1 drive: 48X CD-R, 24X CD-RW, 48X max CD-ROM
- BurnProof Technology
- 65ms Average Random Access
- 4 MB Buffer
- Supports CD-DA, CD-Extra, CD-ROM Mode 1, Mix Mode CD, CD-ROM XA, Photo CD, Video CD, CD-I, Multisession, CD-Text, CD+G, UDF
- Supports Disc-at-Once, Track-at-Once, Session-at-Once, Variable & Fixed packet writing modes
- Flash ROM allows for easy upgrade over the Internet
- Windows 98/2000/ME/XP Compatible
- One-Year Full Warranty and Unlimited Toll-Free Tech Support
- CPU: Pentium II 300MHz
- RAM: 64MB
- HDD: 1GB free space for writing in CD to Image mode
- ATAPI interface: DMA must be set to ON in every OS. How to enable DMA inside operating system. Refer to your motherboard manual on how to set PIO Mode or DMA Mode.