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Makami Systems' Scuzzy Buddy DVD-ROM

Robert A. Starrett

EMedia, February 2000
Copyright © Online Inc.

Makami Systems' Scuzzy Buddy DVD-ROM
synopsis: The recent phenomenon that causes consternation for SCSI users (and any PC user strapped for ATAPI drive bays) is the lack of a SCSI model of certain desirable peripherals. The obvious solution is to connect an ATAPI device to a SCSI bus. Makami Systems' Scuzzy Buddy line of drives performs this magic and with the 8X DVD-ROM Buddy does it flawlessly. Combining its own ATAPI-to-SCSI widget with a steady-performing 8X Hitachi DVD-ROM drive and Cyberlink's superb PowerDVD MPEG-2 decoding software, the Scuzzy Buddy bundle provides as easy and effective way of adding DVD-Video and ROM functionality to your Mac or PC as is currently available.

price: $279.99

Makami Systems, Inc.
420 Oak Street
Carver, MN 55315
Fax 801/327-6702

The IDE interface has certainly made life easier for the average computer user. Today, installing an IDE device is as simple as setting it to master or slave and connecting the power and data cables. But IDE has its shortcomings, too. First, most modern motherboards support only four devices on the IDE bus. Second, cable length is limited, and to date, no reasonable solution has emerged for connecting external IDE drives. And, without a special controller, the four-drive limit remains, even if there were a scheme for connecting these devices externally.

SCSI users, on the other hand, have enjoyed more flexibility, albeit at the cost of a more complicated setup. Termination, SCSI IDs, LUNS, parity, disconnect, termination power, and other settings and configurations of device all had to be dealt with. But with modern SCSI cards allowing the connection of up to 30 devices, and the ability to use multiple adapters, the number of devices you could connect to a single computer is only limited by your budget and the amount of room on your desktop.

One recent phenomenon that causes consternation for SCSI users is the lack of a SCSI model of certain desirable peripherals. Many times, new drives with nice features are offered first as ATAPI devices and the SCSI version only comes later, if at all. So, the obvious solution is to connect an ATAPI device to a SCSI bus. Makami Systems' Scuzzy Buddy line of drives performs this magic and, at least with the tested DVD-ROM drive--an 8X Hitachi unit--does it flawlessly.

a plug and a prayer

People have been making fun of the term "Plug and Play" for years. And rightly so, in many cases. Disparagingly called "Plug and Pray," the idea was, or is, that computer peripherals and their associated interface cards could be easily installed by the average user, without playing the IRQ, DMA, and Base Memory Address game. But, all too frequently, this hasn't been the case.

Interestingly, "Plug and Play" was a trademark of Future Domain Corporation, a SCSI card manufacturer acquired by Adaptec a couple of years ago. Why they used the term, I don't know. They might have been praying for results, but their cards, like those from Adaptec, Advansys, and others, were no party to install and configure.

Thankfully, things have changed, and you can generally get a PCI SCSI card installed in short order, unless you are me, of course, who just spent hours trying to get my driver to "take" to any SCSI card around in a new machine I just built.

But I am cursed and the average use is not. Once you have a SCSI card installed, you can add devices pretty readily, assuming that you get the SCSI IDs and termination set properly. Most SCSI cards today use automatic termination on the card, so you don't even have to worry about that part anymore. You can add and remove internal and external devices at will without changing termination on the card itself.

how ATAPI gets scuzzy

But how are users to take advantage of the expandability and flexibility that SCSI allows as the ranks thin for SCSI-designed peripherals? Carver, Minnesota-based Makami Systems has one answer: the Scuzzy Buddies, an expanding line of external peripherals that includes DVD-ROM, CD-R/RW, SuperDisk, and hard drives. Current technology partners include Hitachi, Imation, Matsushita, Ricoh, Sigma Designs, Smart Storage, and Wired. The components themselves are ATAPI devices. Through the use of a special circuit board attached to the rear of the drive, they appear to the computer as SCSI devices.

The DVD-ROM drive examined here is an ATAPI-based 8X Hitachi GD5000. The drive is encased in a sleek plastic enclosure with a metal frame and a side-mounted power supply. Two screws on the rear hold the case on the metal frame, making for the easiest-to-access external case I have yet seen. The rear of the case is standard-issue SCSI: power connector, on/off switch, SCSI ID switch, two 50-pin connectors, and a fan that is MC5-concert loud in operation.

I know that when you buy cases in quantity that you get cheap fans. And cheap fans are loud fans. And loud fans are annoying, especially when you are talking about running many external devices with many cheap, loud fans. But in operation, this SCSI Buddy seems to keep its cool pretty well; my take on the drive is that it could run efficiently without a fan.

To install the SCSI Buddy DVD-ROM drive, set the SCSI ID on the back so it doesn't conflict with any existing devices, and plug in the power and data cables. Turn it on, start your machine, and you are set to go. That easy.

rest of the buddy system: superb software decoding

Although Makami does offer a RealMagic card as an option for $99.99, with the included PowerDVD 2.0 software from Cyberlink, you may never need one. The quality of the DVD movie-playing with this software decoder is astonishing. Sure, there is a little jerkiness from time to time, but it beats anything else I have seen for software decoding.

The software supports such features as four- and six-speaker output, pan and scan and letterbox playback, and optimization for Intel Streaming SIMD extensions and AMD 3DNow! processor technology. It also supports Dolby Surround, a dynamic resizable video window, and seamless multi-angle and multi-language switching. The software supports both full resolution 720 x 480 video playback for NTSC and 720 x 576 for PAL systems.

Makami Systems' Web site promises an average DVD-ROM data transfer speed of 5.52MB/sec and 180ms DVD access speeds for the DVD-ROM Buddy--about par for the course for so-called "8X" DVD-ROM drives--and the drive did indeed perform as advertised. The $279.99 list price is a little higher than other drive bundles at this speed, but since there's only one other SCSI ROM drive in the market today--Pioneer's DVD-114/104S--there's something to be said for giving users a choice. And the effective integration of the the PowerDVD software is a value not to be underestimated.

be my buddy

Other than the loud fan, there is nothing to fault with the SCSI Buddy DVD-ROM drive. The installation took about two minutes and the drive ran as advertised. The implementation of the ATAPI-to-SCSI interface is excellent and the bundled DVD decoding software works almost as well as hardware decoding.

Cyberlink's Web site describes the company's MPEG-2 decoding software as follows: "There simply isn't a better quality soft DVD package available." If you're understandably reluctant to take their word for it, take mine: I wholeheartedly agree. Certainly, it owes some of its success to the dramatic increases we've seen in processor speeds we've seen in the last year, which has made the once-unthinkable task of software DVD decoding for all but the fastest systems reasonably viable.

But PowerDVD as it performs here goes beyond mere viability. When bundled with the SCSI Buddy DVD-ROM drive, there is not a better or easier way to add DVD-ROM and DVD-Video functionality to your computer.

Robert A. Starrett (bobs@cdpage.com) is a contributing editor for EMedia, co-columnist for THE CD WRITER, and an independent consultant based in Denver, Colorado. He is the co-author of CD-ROM Professional's CD-Recordable Handbook.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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