12X CD-R/RW Drive Roundup
Change, as we know, is the one constant
in the computer industry. No sooner do we rush out and buy the
latest gizmo than we see its new and improved replacement on sale
within weeks. Back when CD-R/RW recorders were specialized professional
devices, improved models were introduced at a glacial pace. But
now that recorders are popular consumer and business items, new
generations come to market in as little as six months.
Except for a short-lived effort by Hewlett-Packard
(and its hardware supplier Sony Electronics) in the fall of 2000,
the recorder marketplace more or less bypassed 10X CD-R writing
speed by jumping directly from 8X to 12X capability. With an ever-increasing
number of CD-R/RW recorders coming factory- installed in new computers,
the demand for upgrade kits is shrinking. Consequently, aftermarket
manufacturers desperate to hold on and differentiate their products
are promoting speed like never before.
Surveying the 12X landscape today, recorders
are available from all major manufacturers, are available in all
major brands of aftermarket kits (Hewlett-Packard, Iomega, Plextor,
TEAC, Ricoh, TDK, etc.), and come in bundles retailing for less
than $300. All-around device performance also continues to charge
forward with the introduction of 8X and 10X Constant Linear Velocity
(CLV) CD-RW rewriting, plus enhanced 32X Max data and Digital
Audio Extraction (DAE) reading capability.
In the past, manufacturers worried that
high-speed recording would cause consumer problems because many
computer systems couldnít keep up with the data transfer rates
required by their units. Impressive advances in PC and hard-drive
performance have largely put that problem to rest, but still a
few concerns remain. For example, to keep costs down and improve
ease of installation, most CD-R/RW recorders now use lower-performance
EIDE/ATAPI rather than SCSI interfaces. In addition, only a handful
of ATAPI CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives are capable of the high-speed
Digital Audio Extraction necessary for the reliable copying of
audio discs CD-to-CD at 12X speed. Consumer preferences have also
changed. Rather than being content to wait for a disc to complete
recording before doing something different, computer users now
want to work on other tasks while the disc is still in the process
of being written.
The conventional solution to this problem
has been to incorporate larger data buffers into the recorders.
But the addition of extra memory adds cost and still canít guarantee
complete protection from buffer underruns. Consequently, in order
to bullet-proof the CD recording experience, several recorder
manufacturers have developed new technol- ogies that prevent buffer
underruns. Known by several trade names including ìBuffer Under
Run Proofî (BURN-Proof) by Sanyo (and its licensees) and ìJustLinkî
by Ricoh, this feature is quickly proving itself to be just what
the doctor ordered and is gaining wide acceptance.
On the face of it, higher CD-R writing
speed is attractive but, realistically speaking, the law of diminishing
returns applies beyond 8X speed. Putting things into perspective,
a single-speed (1X) recorder writes data at a rate of 150 kilobytes
per second (KB/sec) and audio at a rate of 172 KB/sec. This translates
into (roughly) 73 minutes to record a full 650MB data or 74-minute
audio disc. Eight speed (8X) systems write eight times faster
to complete the same job in roughly nine minutes, while twelve
speed (12X) units oper- ate twelve times faster and record the
same full disc in roughly six minutesónot a significant difference
for most people.
Those who work with CD-RW discs, however,
will welcome the jump from 4X rewritability to the 8X and 10X
speeds offered by the latest generation of recorders. It should
be noted, however, that to take advantage of higher-speed CD-RW
rewriting, users must employ a new type of 4X-10X CD-RW disc that
is incompatible with older recorders [See Hugh Bennett, The CD
Writer, ìCD-RW: Busted For Speeding,î November 2000, p.49óEd.].
With more products than ever before to
choose from and with competitors offering similar bundles for
roughly the same price, itís important to pay attention to details.
Is high-speed CD-RW writing capability really that important?
Is enhanced read speed useful? Is it important to read DVD discs?
Declining prices have also made recorder companies less generous
in including software with their products, so to get good value
obviously means to make sure that the included programs do what
you need to do.
Without a doubt, of all the CD-R/RW recorder
manufacturers, Plextor has the most loyal following. Its reputation
for offering high-quality, high-performance products has gained
the devotion of professionals around the world and, thanks to
the companyís recent decision to offer equipment with ATAPI interfaces,
consumers too are now enthusiastically embracing Plextor.
Incorporating Plextorís PX-W1210TA recorder
mechanism, the $269 internal ATAPI PlexWriter 12/10/32A offers
solid 12X CD-R and 10X CD-RW Constant Linear Velocity (CLV) write
performance, 32X max/14X min Constant Angular Velocity (CAV) playback,
32X max Digital Audio Extraction (DAE), 150ms access time, a 2MB
buffer, and Sanyo-licensed BURN-Proof capability for preventing
buffer underruns. This mechanism has also been marketed by Plextor
to several of its competitors, including Iomega and TDK, who incorporate
the unit into their own product offerings.
Staying true to its professional reputation,
Plextor has in addition released the $379 internal and $479 external
PlexWriter 12/10/32S, which offers the same features as the 12/10/32A
model but with a SCSI interface and larger 4MB buffer.
Not known for excessive generosity with
its software bundles, Plextor ships a fairly basic suite of programs
with both units. Each comes with Roxioís (nee Adaptec) Easy CD
Creator and DirectCD for recording and packet-writing chores [See
Bob Starrettís review, November 1999, pp. 74-75óEd.]. The 12/10/32S
SCSI models also include Plextorís CD Res-Q backup software. But
be warned, the ATAPI unit does not come with an interface cable
and the SCSI models lack the appropriate SCSI connection cables
and interface cards.
In addition to solid hardware, Plextor
recorder bundles include the celebrated Plextor Manager 2000,
a useful set of tools for controlling and taking advantage of
the features of Plextor CD-ROM drives and CD-R/RW recorders. In
addition to playing multimedia files, Plextor Manager 2000 performs
Digital Audio Extraction (DAE) as well as CD-to-CD duplication.
Plextor Manager also features AudioFS, which allows users to view
and use the contents of audio CDs as standard WAV files. Drive
read speed and spindown rates can also be set along with valuable
information obtained about the hardware and any inserted disc.
Quietly going about its business, another
CD-R/RW recorder manufacturer with a well-established track record
is TEAC America. Currently, the company offers a single $299 internal
configuration of its new 12x10x32 CD-R/RW recorder employing TEACís
latest CD-W512E mechanism. The unit offers competitive performance
including 12X CD-R and 10X CD-RW CLV write speeds, 32X max CAV
read speed with a very fast 85ms access time, a 4MB buffer, and
an ATAPI interface.
If Plextor is considered thrifty when
it comes to including software with its recorders, then TEAC is
positively stingy. Currently, each device ships with a complement
limited to Roxioís Easy CD Creator and DirectCD for performing
all writing chores. The bundle does, however, supply the appropriate
ATAPI interface and sound cables for easy installation.
A marketing powerhouse best known for
its Zip and Jaz removable magnetic storage products, Iomega is
now making a concerted effort to attract CD-R/RW business and
consumer users. Its latest offering is the ZipCD 3840INT-A, a
well-rounded $279 bundle incorporating Plextorís PX-W1210TA recorder.
It does not always follow that recorders
employing the same mechanism offer identical features. Such is
the case with the ZipCD, which (surprisingly) comes up short in
one area compared to Plextorís 12/10/32A. Early Plextor firmware
versions for the PX-W1210TA mechanism offered only 24X max DAE
speed and, while Plextor later updated its programming to allow
32X max performance, Iomega has not yet offered the enhancement.
What the ZipCD may lack in state-of-the-art
audio extraction speed, however, it makes up for with a slightly
richer software bundle. In addition to Roxioís Easy CD Creator
and DirectCD, the suite includes a version of Iomegaís QuickSync
2 software along with MusicMatch Jukebox and Adobeís ActiveShare,
a simple program for managing, editing, and sharing photographs.
Best known as a manufacturer of audio
and video cassette tapes, CD-R discs, and other data storage media,
TDK Electronics is a fairly recent entrant into the world of aftermarket
CD-R/RW recorder kits. Aimed squarely at a younger audience with
its hip advertising, sculptured face plate, and funky translucent
iMac blue disc tray, the $279 internal veloCD 12/10/32 is definitely
not your fatherís Oldsmobile.
As is the case with Iomegaís ZipCD, the
veloCD incorporates Plextorís PX-W1210TA recorder. Unlike Iomega,
however, TDK has kept pace with Plextor and has incorporated the
latest firmware advances, which enable full 32X max DAE.
When it comes to software, the veloCD
ìCD Blenderî suite obviously panders to the kids to give them
exactly what they wantóthe tools to rip audio tracks, create music
compilation CDs, burn discs from downloaded music files, and copy
entire audio CDs. Data and multimedia work is tackled by the latest
version of Aheadís Nero [See Joshua McDanielís review, February
2000, pp. 56-58óEd.] and mundane data packet-writing chores by
InCD. A feature of Nero worthy of note is its ability to disable
the veloCDís BURN-Proof option so purists are ensured that written
discs are as ìperfectî as possible. One of Neroís more useful
features is its ability to take advantage of the raw reading and
writing functions of the veloCDís PX-W1210TA recorder to duplicate
some damaged and even commercially copy-protected discs.
Rounding out the TDK bundle is Adobeís
ActiveShare, MusicMatch Jukebox, Media Hub, Windows Media Player,
and Digital MixMaster, a useful but somewhat confusingly psychedelic
utility which acts as a digital music player, audio extractor,
CD-to-CD copier, and tool for recording audio from analog sources.
Never one to follow the pack, Ricoh has
kept pace with rapid changes in the CD-R/RW recorder world and
stayed true to its philosophy of developing and using its own
recorder mechanisms in all its products. Available directly from
the company in North America, the $199 internal MediaMaster MP7120A
is currently the best value in 12X recording. The package incorporates
Ricohís own MP7120A ATAPI mechanism with its competitive 12X CD-R
and 10X CD-RW CLV write performance, 32X max CAV playback, and
DAE, as well as a 120ms access time and a 4MB buffer.
Most recently, Ricoh has introduced a
$259 updated model called the MediaMaster MP7125A, which offers
the same performance as its predecessor but, instead, uses a smaller
2MB buffer while incorporating JustLink buffer underrun prevention
Without a doubt, Ricohís $299 internal
ATAPI MediaMaster MP9120A is unique among the current 12X recorder
field. Offering the same performance and features as the MP7125A
including the JustLink system, the MP9120A is a hybrid or combination
recorder which also functions as an 8X max DVD-ROM drive cable
of reading DVD-ROM, DVD-Video, and DVD-R discs.
Unpredictability also characterizes Ricoh,
as it never seems to settle on bundling the products of any one
software publisher. Both the MP7120A and MP9120A models come with
Prassi PrimoCD Plus and abCD packet-writing software, while the
MP7125A model includes Ahead Softwareís Nero and InCD. Rounding
out the otherwise- spartan MP9120A bundle is a copy of InterVideoís
WinDVD 2000 application for viewing DVD-Video titles.
Itís interesting to note that, while
Hewlett-Packard has dominated the aftermarket CD-R/RW recorder
landscape for nearly five years, its products seldom lead the
pack when it comes to price, performance, or even value. All function
and no nonsense, HP units always get the job done.
That pretty well describes HPís latest
12X series of CD-R/RW recorders, beginning with the HP CD-Writer
Plus 9500. Incorporating Sonyís latest CRX 160E recorder, the
$299 internal 9500 offers 12X CD-R and 8X CD-RW Constant Linear
Velocity (CLV) write performance, 32X max CAV playback, 20X max
DAE, a 125ms access time, a 4MB buffer, and an ATAPI interface.
Note also that HP is one of only a handful
of companies still offering SCSI versions of its recorders. The
$299 internal and $335 external CD-Writer Plus 9600 units offer
identical features and performance to the 9500, but incorporate
Sonyís CRX 160S SCSI recorder.
Both the CD-Writer Plus 9500 and 9600
series units include the same software bundle and use an HP-specific
version of Veritasí MyCD for primary CD creation and copying,
and Roxioís DirectCD with HPís Fast Format capability for packet-writing
to CD-R and CD-RW discs. Aimed at novice users, MyCD does an excellent
job of providing an easy alternative to mainline products such
as Easy CD Creator, Nero, and PrimoCD. More advanced users, however,
will find the lack of a full-feature set and wizard-like interface
frustrating to use.
Rounding out HPís bundles are MusicMatch
JukeBox (for playing and organizing audio material), HP Simple
Backup (for backing up hard disks or files onto CD), Neato CD
Labeler II (for creating and printing CD sticky labels), and Broderbund
Multimedia Organizer (for keeping track of multimedia files).