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Plextor 16/10/40 CD-R/RW Drive

Bob Starrett

Plextor 16/10/40 CD-R/RW Drive
synopsis: All in all, Plextor's latest offering has something for everybody. Pure ripping and recording speed for the professional, and BurnProof to keep the masses happy. It calls itself a 16X recorder, and that it is, dashing off full discs in an impressive five minutes. The bundled software is excellent, and with the combination of Roxio's Easy CD Creator and Plextor Manager, just about anything is possible.

price: $329

Plextor Corporation
4255 Burton Drive
Santa Clara, CA 95054
800/886-3935, 408/980-1838
Fax 408/986-1010

May 2001 | Plextor CD-ROM drives and recorders are easy to get along with. There are several reasons for this. First, they almost always work as advertised. Second, the documentation has always been outstanding. Third, they have great software included, software that will perform just about any reading or writing task.

Plextor's latest, the 16/ 10/40, appears poised to deliver more of the same, albeit in an IDE configuration unheard-of at Plextor in the pre-12X days, and with screaming 16X CD-R recording speed, and 10X CD-RW with compatible media if you're into that sort of thing. The bundle appears typically well-rounded. Out of the box, there is the Plextor recorder, and an additional accessories box that contains the following: an IDE cable, mounting screws, a spare jumper, an emergency eject tool, one piece of 1X-16X certified 74-minute Verbatim CD-R media, one Verbatim 10X-certified CD-RW disc, one software install disc, a warranty card (no postage necessary), and a coupon offering a free 10-pack of "Plextor" 12X-certified media, if you purchase CDResQ, Plextor's backup and restore utility.

Finally, there is a drive install poster and Plextor's always clear and extensive (66 pages) manual for the Plextor Manager Utilities. Clear and well-written, excellent manuals have always been a Plextor trademark. The fact that the hardware installation is covered in five steps on one side of the poster–the other side is a quick software reference–shows the marked difference between today's ATAPI drives, well-supported by the operating system, and the SCSI drives of the past that left us futzing around for hours installing a device. The drive is up and working instantly, so we too can and must get to work.

sweet sixteen

Okay, so first thing out of the box, what do we do? Of course, we copy a disk at 16X–no Burn-Proof, no hard disk buffer. Forget for now all the caveats about higher buffer underrun incidence at 16X, and the vaunted BurnProof decelerating safeguard, which slows things down as needed to keep your data buffer in business. We dupe a disc straight CD-to-CD, 329,000 sectors in all–almost a completely full disc. What happens? Five minutes and fifteen seconds later, the dupe pops out, and the buffer never goes below 95 percent. And lest you think this no-catch copying exhibition is a fluke, envisioning our host system as some lightning-fast fast freak of nature, let's establish right from the start that we're running this 16X burner at maximum speed off an AMD 600 Athalon with 128MB RAM, pretty middle-of-the-road for PC use today.

Like I said, easy to get along with. Plextor does note that the VIA motherboard chipsets are troublesome with this drive, and users should take this advice and uninstall any VIA IDE drivers; use the Microsoft IDE drivers instead, and things should go just about as smoothly for you.

Other important facts to know about the Plextor 16/ 10/40, as we bore down deeper into testing, is that it features a 2MB buffer, and its advertised specs show a seek time of 140ms. The recorder is compatible with Windows 95/98/2000/ME and Windows NT 4.0. Plextor offers a one-year warranty, and one year of unlimited toll-free technical support.

on the read side

Plextor says that, "With 40X playback, the 16/10/40A can be a full-time replacement for your CD-ROM drive." While this may be true, we would recommend against things like heavy gaming on a nice fast recorder like this. Time will tell, of course, how well the recorder will work when used as a full-time CD-ROM drive. But with fast CD-ROM drives available for a few dollars, it is best that the dedicated gamer or heavy CD-ROM user stick with a 56X CD-ROM, which can be acquired today for about $28. We tried some audio extractions with both the Plextor Manager and AudioGrabber. The results show how well-tuned the Plextor drive is to the Manager, but also show that it will still beat most drives when used with any competent audio extraction program. They also show that when done right, the EIDE interface can keep up with–and even surpass–SCSI in some instances. This 16X recorder ripped audio faster than a Plextor SCSI UltraPlex Wide.

Using the Plextor Manager and a four-minute audio track, the UltraPlex took 15.11 seconds to extract the track, while the Plextor 16X took only 13.3. Using Audiograbber, the UltraPlex ripped the track in 17.72, while the Plextor 16/10/40 came in at 13.74. Not the fastest, of course, as a Kenwood 72X (with Zen TrueX) pulled the track in 8.88. But overall, that is great performance.

and the law won

Now, I have been waiting to test this drive for awhile with some fairly confident expectations, and the results turned out as I expected. For all the promise of BurnProof to ease CD-R's growing consumer public transition into high-speed recording, I didn't think I'd need it for most applications in which the host system wasn't engaged in heavy multitasking–and as I suspected, I was right.

BurnProof clearly has its time and place, and distinct advantages when your PC is juggling multiple duties. But as nice as BurnProof is, I expected a couple problems. First, just intuitively, because of the process used by the BurnProof technology, I suspected that the resulting discs would somehow cheat a little on the colored book standards. And if something cheats, the Image Analysis Suite from Eclipse software will turn it in, as sure as a confessed murderer goes to jail. But Image Analysis showed the discs to be completely compliant with all applicable rules and regulations for data and audio CDs. So much for that. When something seems too good to be true, it usually is, but not in this case. The other suspect I was pursuing was increased writing times that should surely result when BurnProof was on, and this time, I caught the suspect. I set up a particularly tough interrogation in which the Plextor was the secondary master, and another drive was attached as the secondary slave. The slave drive was given hard time. Its job was to break rocks in the hot sun, or in CD-ROM terms, to extract audio continuously in a loop, thereby making heavy use of both the secondary IDE bus and hard drive resources. The master, with a somewhat lighter sentence, was to simply burn a full audio disc at 16X, with BurnProof on.

Well, sure enough, the CD-ROM toiled away with its extraction, while the Plextor dutifully burned the audio disc without buffer underrun or other incident. The only problem was–and this was of course expected and the purpose of the test–instead of the blazing five minutes that the recorder showed us unencumbered, this time, the burn took 12:34, akin to burning at 6X, not 16X. Now, I am not making a complaint here. Six-speed CD-R under significant duress is none too shabby, and a lot less annoying than blowing a disc. BurnProof is a wonderful technology that works. But, what strikes me is that two competing marketing forces are affecting recorders, and the consumer may not be aware of how one affects the other. Consequently, the consumer might be misled or disappointed without the proper instruction about just what is going on. The first force, of course, is the need for speed, with all manufacturers upping recording speeds as fast as they can to stay competitive in the market. The second factor is the implementation of technologies like BurnProof and Ricoh's JustLink, or in the case of Yamaha's 16X recorder, the use of an 8MB buffer, to make the consumer burning experience less painful. Can you imagine a consumer who bought a hard drive, and got the error message, "Sense error 0F–hard disk write failed." And then got it most of the time? Wouldn't go over too big, I don't think.

So BurnProof and JustLink Technologies take the error out of the process, but it seems there is insufficient education of the consumer, specifically, about the tradeoff. That is, while you will get a foolproof burn, you won't get the maximum recording speed out of your burner when you are performing other tasks at the same time, and taking advantage of BurnProof.

proof it all night

All in all, Plextor's latest offering has something for everybody. Pure ripping and recording speed for the professional, and BurnProof to keep the masses happy. The bundled software is excellent, and, with the combination of Creator and Plextor Manager, just about anything is possible. Street pricing is competitive with both the Sanyo and the Yamaha 16X burners.

Bob Starrett (bobs@cdpage.com) is a contributing editor for EMedia Magazine, co-columnist for The CD Writer, and an independent consultant based in Denver, Colorado. He is the co-author, along with EMedia Magazine contributor Joshua McDaniel, of The Little CD Audio Recording Book, published by Peachpit Press.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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