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StorageReview.com's Optical Storage Testbed Explained

  April 18, 2000 Author: Tim Zakharov  

When I was first approached by StorageReview.com, one of the primary topics of conversation was what I had available to dedicate to a testbed. I did have a 2nd system already in place, which was built primarily because I had the spare parts available. It was used mainly as an emergency spare and for experimenting with hardware/software I was reluctant to expose my main system to. While this machine was wildly tweaked and overclocked, for testbed purposes it would need to be clocked at the rated CPU speed and installed from scratch with only official drivers and minimum applications required for benchmarking. These will be detailed in the following article. For now, let us explore what went into the testbed we call "Jane" (because of the very plain looking case) and why:

Operating System: Windows 98SE
The latest, most-popular consumer-oriented operating system available at launch time, Windows 98SE is what the vast majority of computers being shipped today have pre-installed. We felt one OS was sufficient to measure CD drive performance comparatively.

Motherboard: Abit BH6 revision 1.0x, bios revision NV (11/26/1999)
A newer motherboard was available, the Abit BE6, but the flaky Highpoint controllers onboard caused us to shy away. The BH6 has gone through numerous bios revisions since its inception and has become an extremely stable, reliable board, quite suitable for use in a testbed. Its only real limitation, a 600 Mhz P3 maximum supported cpu speed, was not an issue because the fastest available cpu was...

CPU: Intel Pentium III 450 Mhz (Katmai core - 512kb half-speed L2 cache)
After exploring some benchmark comparisons with the Coppermine 650 Mhz in my personal system, it was determined that cpu speed has a much lower impact on high-level benchmark results when dealing with CD drives, as opposed to hard disk drives. With this knowledge in mind, we forged onward with the fastest cpu I had lying around.

RAM: Generic 128 MB PC100 module
A pretty standard memory configuration for computer systems today. For the purposes of this testbed, it is more than enough.

Floppy Drive: Teac 1.44 MB
Used for driver installations and occasional file transfers to my personal system.

Hard Drive: Quantum Fireball Plus KA 9.1 GB
I had a couple of choices for the boot drive and settled on the KA. Since the focus of this testbed is CD drives, I felt no qualms about putting the KA on the BH6's primary onboard IDE controller. Already well-documented, the KA's maximum sequential transfer rate (see table below) is well below the ATA33 limit, so the drive will perform optimally on Intel's ATA33 controller.

 Disk/Read Transfer Rate for the Quantum Fireball Plus KA 
Beginning (KB/sec)20267
End (KB/sec)12400


The KA was partitioned as follows:

  • 2.5 GB for Win98SE
  • 2.5 GB reserved for future OS considerations
  • 1.26 GB Test Partition used for burn and digital audio extraction tests.
  • 2.31 GB Archive partition for holding drivers, application and benchmark installs, test results, screen shots and personal notes.

SCSI Host Adapter: Adaptec 2940U2W, bios revision 2.20, Win98 driver revision 3.03
Although it may seem like overkill for the sole purpose of driving SCSI CD drives, the 2940U2W will surely eliminate any host adapter bottlenecks that might creep in. Since the card has both 50- and 68-pin connectors, no converters are needed for testing any UW CD drives. Sync Data Transfer will be enabled for all CD drives, and Auto Insert Notification will be disabled.

ATAPI Controller: Intel 82371AB/EB PCI Bus Master IDE Controller, default Win98SE driver
All tested ATAPI CD drives will be configured alone on the secondary channel of the BH6's onboard IDE controller. DMA and Sync Data Transfer will be enabled and Auto Insert Notification disabled.

Networking: SMART-Linq USB Data Bridge Cable, driver revision 1.1c
Actually, this is not true networking but only a convenient method of transfering larger-than-floppy-sized files between systems. This is used primarly to copy driver and firmware updates from my personal system (which has internet access) to the testbed (which has no internet access).

Display Adapter: ATI Rage Fury 128, driver revision 4.11.6263
The best available video card I had in my possession, the ATI boasts hardware-assisted video acceleration, which can lower cpu utilization and smooth playback while watching DVDs. This will come in handy when testing DVD-ROM drives for what they were meant to do. The latest available supported driver was used (not any of the special-purpose, non-supported drivers).

Sound Card: Creative Labs SoundBlaster PCI 512, Win98 driver revision 4.06.511
Another compromise of quality and cost, the PCI 512 provides excellent audio playback and low cpu utilization. A sound card is a necessity for this testbed, as it provides a means to verify audio quality in the digital audio extraction tests. There were no driver updates available from Creative Labs, so the driver that came in the retail package was used.

Headphones: Grado SR60
For determining digital audio extraction quality. These are plugged directly into the back of the SB PCI 512.

Keyboard: Mouse Systems Contour Keyboard
The least expensive ergonomic keyboard I could find that still felt like a quality product.

Mouse: Logitech MouseMan Model M-CV46
I've had this mouse for awhile now, and it remains one of the most comfortable mice I've ever used. It is plugged directly into the BH6 PS/2 port, driven by Win98SE's native driver.

Case: Generic Mid-Tower
Basic case with 3 external 5 ¼" bays. Tested CD drives are placed in the upper-most bay while the hard drive (on 5 ¼" rails) resides in the lower-most bay. The central 5 ¼" bay is unused.

Power Supply: Real Power SR-235FS 235 Watt P/S
Ample power to run all components and enough source power outlets to avoid any Y-adapter plugs.

 Optical Storage OS, Drivers, Applications and Benchmarks Disclosed...


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