Here we see a clean sweep by the Toshiba. In the access time test, Toshiba's ATAPI unit ducks in .1ms under its rating, while Pioneer's SCSI unit finishes 3.3ms later than the Toshiba (and over 8ms slower than rated). We see the trend continue in transfer rate tests, with the Toshiba virtually tying the Pioneer at the inner tracks, and then pulling ahead by 3% at the outer edge of our test CD. Note the Pioneer's transfer rate graph, where we see quite a bit of spiking as we near the outer portion of our test CD. While this didn't affect our performance measures, it does cause a bit of concern. One must question if the Pioneer truly had problems reading our CD, or perhaps it is some sort of benchmarking anomaly. Although it appears to be a significant issue, the lack of any consequences in the upcoming CD Winmark 99 and Copy tests should do a lot to alleviate concerns.
All of this bodes well for the Toshiba in the Winmark tests. As we have discovered, Ziff-Davis' CD-ROM Winmark is highly dependent on low access times. Will the Toshiba continue to pull ahead? Let's find out.
CD-ROM Winmark 99
Surprise, surprise. For the first time in our optical comparisons, access times did not accurately predict the outcome of a Winmark comparison. A closer look is warranted. While the Pioneer's scores deviated by a rather small 3.5%, the Toshiba proved to be very finicky about our four test CDs. It scored an amazing 1660 with our first test CD (this compares very favorably with some of the fastest CD-ROM drives we've tested to date), but averaged in the low 900s with the other 3 discs. It appears the Toshiba unit has a more difficult time than the Pioneer when faced with a variety of CDs to read. The same three discs that the Toshiba struggled with, the Pioneer averaged 1367. It's only when we compare our disc 1 results that the Toshiba comes out on top, 1660 to 1300. As always, when we encounter unexpected results, we retest. Our retests showed a very similar trend in scores, validating our final outcome.
Although the Winmark test posits that access times are of utmost importance, there are many situations where access times play a smaller role in performance (and sometimes no role, such as in purely sequential reads, which occur much more often in optical drives than in hard drives). Let us now move on to our file and disc copy tests, where such situations arise.
File and Disc Copy
Our file copy test generally correlates well with measured sequential transfer rates. Although our low-level results suggest the Toshiba should come out on top (just barely), it's the Pioneer that edges the SD-M1212 by a miniscule 1%- certainly well within normal deviation. For all intents and purposes, they tie not only in sequential transfers, but also in the file copy.
However, when we compare the disc copy results, we see a definite victory by the Toshiba. Through our previously tested units, we've shown that of drives that are of the same speed rating, the one with the lower access time generally does better in the disc copy test. This test requires the drive to read through multiple files nested within multiple folders and sub-folders. Speedy random accesses will of course benefit in such situations; the Toshiba is the swifter of the two. In the end, it copies our test CD nearly 10% faster than the Pioneer.
As we conclude our look at the traditional read performance of these drives, we have a very tight race. On the one hand, the Toshiba shows a definite advantage in access times and disc copying; on the other hand, the Pioneer appears to do a better job of reading a variety of discs with consistency. We tend to place more emphasis on the latter. As we move forward into less traditional areas of optical drive performance, we will see if the Pioneer can maintain its (slight) lead.
Digital Audio Extraction
The Pioneer is essentially a 12X CLV audio extractor. There are times when its extraction speeds dip slightly under 12X, so you almost certainly would have difficulties burning on the fly with a 12X writer. However, the Pioneer should be able to feed an 8X burner easily. The same cannot be said for the Toshiba. Even its maximum extraction speeds are a woeful 6X. Unless you burn at 4X or less, forget about recording on the fly.
Both drives extracted with no errors in our DAE Quality test. Subjective listening of some .wav files ripped from our test CD-DA confirmed CDSpeed99's results-to our ears extracted audio sounded no different to the source.
However, one should be cautious when using the Toshiba for audio extracting. CDSpeed99 reports that the SD-M1212 does not support accurate streaming. What is accurate streaming? A bit of background is in order.
Data on audio CDs is not grouped in a strictly sequential nature. There is some interleaving of data, which helps to protect the CD-DA from physical damage. If there is a scratch on the audio CD, a tiny portion of a number of audio sections may be damaged, rather than a significant portion of a single audio section. The end result is that you are far less likely to hear any audio defects when a scratch does occur. A by-product, however, is that interleaving makes it more difficult for the drive's head to quickly and accurately position itself. Optical drives which support accurate streaming are able to more quickly and accurately position the drive's head because the commands necessary to do this are hard-coded into the drive's controller chip, rather than depending on the DAE software to perform the complex algorithms. This greatly enhances the speed and efficiency of audio extraction and is probably one reason why the Toshiba extracts so slowly. It does not support accurate streaming, so more time must be taken to provide an error-free extraction.
Now that we have examined pressed CD and CD-DA performance, let's see how these drives read recordable and rewritable media.
CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance
CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance
Returning to the Toshiba, we see that it drops read speeds considerably when faced with a CD-RW: It turns into a 10X-20X CAV reader. However, it does so with grace- the transfer rate graph is placid.
Now that we've thoroughly examined each drive's CD-ROM performance, let's see how they perform when reading the type of media they were primarily designed for.