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Ricoh MP9060A CD-R/RW & DVD-ROM Drive

Michelle Manafy

EMedia, March 2000
Copyright © Online Inc.

Ricoh MP9060A CD-R/RW & DVD-ROM Drive
synopsis: Ricoh Corporation's MP9060A drive is the first product in commercial release to combine DVD-ROM technology with three CD technologies in one device. A rock-solid 6x4x24 ATAPI CD-R/RW drive, the MP9060A also plays DVD-Video and reads DVD-ROM at up to 4X CAV speed. The bundle includes Adaptec Easy CD Creator, Direct CD, and Ravisent Technologies' Cinemaster--which provides excellent software-decoded DVD-Video playback on PCs with ample processor power--as well as one piece of Ricoh CD-R and CD-RW media.

price: $399

Ricoh Corporation Disc Media Systems
One Ricoh Square
1100 Valencia Avenue
Tustin, CA 92780
877-742-6479; 714/566-3235
Fax 714/566-2683
http://www. ricohdms.com

Around my house, we have a definite fondness for all-purpose, everything-under-the-sun-and-a-spoon-tools, like the kind made by Victorinox, the Swiss Army people. We have them in many configurations, but the most recent addition was the new and improved Swiss Tool with (count 'em) 24 features. It serves a multitude of purposes and has definite size and convenience advantages over carrying around a complete set of its full-sized counterparts. For similar reasons, the MP9060A, Ricoh's multipurpose CD-R/ RW, DVD-ROM drive--the first of its kind in commercial release--has instant appeal.

When I popped the hood on my computer to install the ATAPI drive, I had my trusty Swiss Tool in hand. The foldout needle-nosed pliers came in handy to adjust the jumper pins. (It seems odd that companies still use hard-to-grasp jumpers when others like Kenwood offer a handy tab that is much easier to get a grip on.) Hardware installation was not difficult except perhaps that, though the supplied audio cable uses a standard four-pin connector to the DVD-ROM and offers an additional connector to the audio card, the directions don't provide any guidance on which of the connectors is optimal.

The directions do, however, explicitly state that the drive can be configured as master or slave. After being set up as the slave, the MP9060A was recognized by the computer, but it would not read any type of media and the drive's "BUSY" light blinked, signalling that the device was not ready. A call to Ricoh customer support yielded the useful information that DVD-ROM drives don't perform well as slaves to a CD-ROM drive. Upon further discussions with Ricoh, it turns out this is one of tech support's standard troubleshooting lines and that DVD-ROM drive performance as master or slave varies widely depending upon system configuration.

Drive reconfigured and hardware installation complete on the test-bed 350mHz Pentium II, I used the 24X Max Ricoh CD-ROM reader to install the included Adaptec Direct CD and Easy CD Creator software. The drive's read speed, while not the fastest on the market, performed as well as other 24X CAV CD-ROM drives. A good bundle can make or break the value of a CD-R/RW drive, and the inclusion of these two tried-and-true programs speaks well for the MP9060A. Both programs include the ubiquitous wizard for easy installation.

tools of the trade

Easy CD Creator (like its Mac cousin, Toast) is one of the most popular software choices for audio extraction. It includes one of those exceedingly cute little help characters to walk the novice through CD creation, as well as drag-and-drop ease. Easy CD Creator also allows the user to create CDs of all data types and supports CD-to-CD direct copy, track-at-once, disc-at-once, and multisession recording. The software's default recording speed is 6X, the same as the Ricoh drive (it also supports 1X, 2X, and 4X).

Extraction with Easy CD Creator is as simple as selecting an audio track from a disc and clicking the extract button. Creating a playlist is just an easy a drag-and-drop proposition. The drive performs digital audio extraction at speeds pretty typical of DAE-supporting 24X CAV drives; a typical extract found the drive a six-minute, 34-second audio track in a mere 38 seconds.

The first burn effort with the provided Ricoh 650MB media stopped after only five tracks, reporting that the media was out of room and, unfortunately, didn't run the close program to allow the disc to be read. But during my second attempt with Ricoh media, the drive's write performance was as-advertised 6X, recording a 648MB (73:45) CD-Audio disc in roughly 15 minutes. Though Ricoh says the drive supports 80-minute media, during tests with the extended media, the drive sent a "disc full" message at 522MB, 178MB short of the disc's 700MB capacity.

Because the 4X CD-RW feature of the MP9060A is most useful for backup, the inclusion of DirectCD in the bundle (not to mention a Ricoh MultiSpeed CD-RW disc) is a wise one. DirectCD formats a CD-RW disc to allow the user to play it on any computer equipped with DirectCD. The drive provides 4X rewrite speed, and tests using the provided Ricoh CD-RW DirectCD-formatted disc did perform as expected. Repeated uses of the disc did not decrease its initial usable capacity of 529MB.

DirectCD includes the option of allowing compression on an unformatted disc in order to increase its size, which in the case of the Ricoh disc, was 648MB. Quick formatting, which writes DirectCD file structures to the disc, but does not verify the physical condition of the disc, only takes a few minutes.

The full-format option takes about an hour to complete, but it configures the disc to receive data, verifies the integrity of the disc surface, as well as writing DirectCD file system structures to the disc. Once a disc has been formatted, it is as easy to use as any floppy disk. Data can be saved to it, dragged-and-dropped to it in Windows Explorer, or placed on the disc using the send to command. CD-RW discs can be erased as easily as selecting the files and hitting delete.

DirectCD-created RW discs can be read on any Windows-equipped PC via the UDF reader that is automatically installed on the computer when DirectCD is installed. If DirectCD is not installed on a computer, the UDF reader will be automatically installed from the DirectCD-created disc when it is inserted in the drive.

handy with DVD, too

The drive ships with Ravisent Technologies' Software Cinemaster for DVD-Video playback. Cinemaster also features a wizard, and installed in under a minute. The DVD navigational tool does not always appear when Cinemaster is opened, but Windows users can quickly right click and find a variety of control options. The control interfaces look like remotes, which provide immediate familiarity even if one is not well-versed in the options DVD-Video provides. Once the DVD is playing, another right click reveals advanced options, including multi-angle, time search, chapter title search, and subtitles. A particularly entertaining feature is closed captioning, which comes in handy for figuring out unintelligible song lyrics.

Ricoh's timing for delivering a combination drive that relies on software decoding for its DVD playback couldn't be better. Software DVD playback has been around for a while, but until computers with Pentium II or better processors became commonplace, the performance they delivered was sorely lacking. Unfortunately, graphics cards are another matter entirely and playback performance is certainly affected by card quality. My machine is equipped with a generic ADT 4MB card, which is anything but state of the art. However, everything that the graphics card could handle ran at real-time and both the drive and software are suited for standard consumer use.

The drive offers 4X Max CAV DVD read speed (roughly 5.5MB/sec when reading fastest at the outer edge of the disc), which is irrelevant for DVD-Video applications, since DVD-Video discs are always read at the 1.375MB/sec (1X) speed set by the DVD-Video spec. The increase in speed is useful when accessing data on DVD for things like encyclopedias and for fast software loading, and I found it to be much faster and useful than its CD-ROM equivalent. There are faster DVD-ROM drives out there--Hitachi and Pioneer have released 8X and 10X drives--but the performance differences are much less than the numbers would suggest. What disparities exist in DVD drive performance at this stage owe more to the quality and effective integration of the bundled encoder (hardware or software), host system capabilities (particularly where software encoding is involved), and the quality of the graphics card used. CAV read speed is a minor concern by comparison and should not be factored heavily into DVD-ROM drive purchasing decisions.

thinking outside the toolbox

Perhaps because I'm a fan of the all-purpose tool, I'm also quite aware of its limitations. I find, however, that this is often outweighed by the benefits of convenience and gadgetry appeal. The Ricoh MP9060A adequately performs a variety of functions and the fact that it only takes up a single half-height bay, but provides the functionality of three devices, and costs little more than a standard CD-R/RW drive, will certainly appeal to many. The old adage about choosing "the right tool for the right job" does apply to the Ricoh MP9060A, but it never did take into account an overriding factor--convenience.

Companies Mentioned in This Article

Adaptec, Inc.
691 South Milpitas Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; 408/945-8600; Fax 408/262-2533; salesbtc@btc.adaptec.com; http://www.adaptec.com

RAVISENT Technologies, Inc.
One Great Valley Parkway, Malvern, PA 19355; 800/700-0362, 610/251-9999; Fax 610/695-2592; sales@ravisent.com; http://www.ravisent.com

Michelle Manafy is Associate Editor of EMedia.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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