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Plextor PX-W1210TA

  September 28, 2000 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Thanks to Plextor Corporation for providing the evaluation unit.

Introduction

Plextor Corporation has been a familiar name in the optical drive business for many years. Though known primarily for manufacturing SCSI products, Plextor has recently tested the waters with ATAPI CD-RWs. Their first effort, the Plextor 8/4/32, won acclaim from numerous publications both online and in print. Now they've released a follow-up, the 12/10/32A (model # PX-W1210TA), featuring BURN-Proof technology licensed from Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd. Basically, this technology allows the drive's recording laser to pause in the event the buffer runs dry to allow time for it to refill with data before resuming recording. This simple, yet new concept, claims to virtually eliminate all failed burns.

Plextor's ATAPI contender comes to the table with many of the same specs as the recently reviewed PX-W124TSi SCSI burner. For example, it writes at a maximum of 12X CLV, reads CDs at 14X-32X CAV speeds, and includes the same 1-year warranty with unlimited toll-free tech support as well as nearly identical accessories in the retail package. For details on included accessories, as well as our impressions of the included Plextor Manager 2000 software, please read the Introduction of our PX-W124TSi review. Finally, like the 12/4/32, this drive also includes a digital CD audio out. For full drive specifications, please click here.

Differences include the BURN-Proof technology, 10X rewrite speeds, ATAPI interface, as well as the lack of a fan and only a single LED (cost-cutting choices, no doubt). The LED is set up to illuminate green when the drive is idle with media inserted; yellow when a disc is being read from; and amber when a disc is being written to. This took some getting used to, as every time we saw the green light, we thought the drive was busy when in fact it was idle (just displaying that there was a disc in the drive). Also different are the specified random access times (at 150ms, 10ms quicker than the 12/4/32), the buffer size (2048KB vs. the 12/4/32's 4096KB), and obviously, the price. Typical pricing online for the retail package is about $270, with prices as low as $250 spotted. This is about $60 less than Plextor's SCSI 12/4/32. Finally, Plextor does not include the CD Res-Q disaster recovery/imaging software that comes with the SCSI 12/4/32.

Our test unit came with firmware revision 1.02, which we used for all tests. Recently, a 1.04 revision was released, but because of publication deadlines, as well as assurances from Plextor that 1.04 would not affect our tests, we did not retest with the newly released firmware.

Lastly, as is typically the case with 32X max readers, noise levels were very low and the drive did not heat up much beyond a lukewarm level during extended use.

Moving forward to inspect the drive's performance, we begin our examination with how the 12/10/32A performs as a CD reader.

For an overview on methodology, click here.

CD-ROM Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

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In our sustained transfer rate tests, the 12/10/32A starts off at nearly 16X on the inner tracks and increases to just under 33X by the outer edge of our test CD. This is right in line with specifications and ever so slightly faster than Plextor's SCSI unit.

Our random access measures puts the 12/10/32A at about 141ms, 6% faster than what Plextor specifies and nearly 10% faster than the SCSI 12/4/32. Let's see if this advantage holds when we move to the Winmark tests.

CD-ROM Winmark 99

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The 12/10/32A pulls in an average score of 1110 in the CD-ROM Winmark test, roughly 19% faster than the SCSI 12/4/32. Since the transfer rate results of the two drives are nearly equal, we attribute the ATAPI drive's advantage to its superior access times.

File and Disc Copy

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In the file copy test we see the 12/10/32A finish with an impressive 3:16, nearly a minute faster than the SCSI Plextor. Our 12/4/32 article hypothesizes that the reason for the slow times in this test was a more stringent read error detection algorithm. However, given the ATAPI Plextor's fine scores in this test, either our hypothesis was wrong, or the ATAPI drive's error detection is not as picky as the SCSI version's. Either way, our results up to now show the 12/10/32A to be a superior reader to the 12/4/32.

In the disc copy test it's a much closer race. Here the ATAPI Plextor is only 3% faster than the SCSI. While the 12/10/32A's superior access times most certainly account for this difference, it's still not as great as we expected, considering its 10% advantage in access times and 19% advantage in the Winmark test.

Digital Audio Extraction

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We were quite pleased with the 12/10/32A's audio extraction abilities. Minimum extraction rates on inner tracks were nearly 15X. By the end of our test CD-DA, the ATAPI Plextor had broken 24X and the graph revealed P-CAV extraction rates. P-CAV, or "partial-constant angular velocity" refers to the drive starting off as a CAV reader (see the extraction graph starting at 15X and moving upward to 24X), then leveling off to CLV (constant linear velocity), which keeps the extraction process at the same speed (24X in this case) for the remainder of the disc until the outer edge is reached. The average extraction rate was 22X (weighted heavy because of the P-CAV transfers), 40% faster than the SCSI Plextor. Remember, most CDs (data or audio) are seldom filled to the rim with data or music, so inner and middle track reads are emphasized. This is one reason why the (relatively) modest 17% difference between these two drives at the outer tracks doesn't mean very much in our extraction tests.

The 12/10/32A provides outstanding extraction quality as well. CDSpeed99 rates the extraction quality 10 out of 10 and detects support for accurate streaming. In addition, CDDAE99 detects no errors when extracting our test CD-DA to .wav files. The extraction rate graph reveals no unusual dips or valleys and .wav playback sounds excellent. No discernible pops or clicks were noticed.

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

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Again the ATAPI Plextor slightly edges by its SCSI counterpart, this time in CD-R reads. Recorded speeds are about equal to its pressed CD reading performance. We encountered no problems reading a variety of CD-Rs, including the 80-minute variety.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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In our CD-RW tests, however, the 12/10/32A distances itself from the 12/4/32; starting out a full 16% faster at the inner tracks and finishing 13% faster by the outer edge. Read speeds averaged 12X-24X, compared to the 12/4/32's 10X-22X recorded measures. Again, there were no issues with readability--the 12/10/32A had no problems reading Verbatim, Sony or Memorex rewritables.

Now that we've examined reading performance, let's take close look at how Plextor's first BURN-Proof drive does in our writing tests.

Write/ReWrite Tests

CD-R Based Duplication

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The 12/10/32A's superior DAE (as documented in the CD-ROM performance section) helps it to image our audio CD over 15% faster than the SCSI Plextor. Write times, though, were nearly identical, with the ATAPI unit enjoying a less than 2% advantage. Total duplication time for our CD-DA was 14:47, roughly 10% faster than the 12/4/32.

In our data CD duplication tests, results were much closer since both drives have nearly identical data CD read speeds. Although the 12/10/32A once again came out ahead, differences of less than 2% are well within margin of error. It can be said with confidence that both drives perform equally in duplicating data CDs, but the ATAPI unit's superior DAE help it to duplicate CD-DA's significantly faster.

CD-RW Based Duplication

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This is where Plextor's 12/10/32A shines compared to its 4X rewritable competition. As you can see, the ATAPI Plextor finishes the burning portion of our test in less than half the time that the 12/4/32 did. For those who use a lot of CD-RW media, this drive's 10X speeds alone will make it worth serious consideration. Remember that special high-speed media (one included with drive, but still hard to find in stores) must be used to get these speeds. Otherwise, the 12/10/32A rewrites standard 4X CD-RWs at 4X speeds.

CD-R Based Stress Tests

We've told you about the BURN-Proof technology. Let's see if it really works. In our first stress test, we expected this drive to pass easily at the highest speeds, since the BURN-Proof-less 12/4/32 had no problems burning at 12X in this test. Indeed, Plextor's 12/10/32A was able to successfully burn at 12X while Unreal Tournament's intro flyby loop sequence played. This gives you an idea of what these drives are capable of doing under higher-load conditions.

As you may recall, it was under our second stress test that Plextor's SCSI unit met its maker. Attempting to burn while Ziff-Davis' CPUmark99 test ran resulted in buffer underruns at all speeds higher than 2X. What happened when the ATAPI 12/10/32A was faced with the same situation? Success! We knocked the burn speed up to 12X, set the test up to run, and watched as the buffer meter slowly drained in Easy CD Creator. When it hit 0%, the drive paused as the buffer slowly started to fill, then the burning resumed. This continued until the burn completed. We checked the finished copy and all files were intact and readable in the 195MB folder we use for this test. One important thing to note, though: when you factor in the pauses, burn speeds were actually closer to 4X according to our best estimates. This is still a bit faster than the 12/4/32 was able to do. But really, the point here is that the BURN-Proof technology works, even under the highest loads!

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DirectCD Formatting

A full format of the included high speed CD-RW disc took 18:49, almost half the time it took Plextor's 12/4/32 with 4X CD-RW media. Subsequent quick formats were completed in a speedy 34 seconds.

DirectCD Packet-Writing Performance

Here again is an example of how much benefit the 10X rewrite speeds can net you. Copying our 195MB folder from hard drive to CD-RW via Windows Explorer took a little over 3 minutes, over twice as fast as the 12/4/32 was capable of with its slower 4X rewrite speeds. Those who use DirectCD or other packet-writing software with rewritable media will welcome the extra speed that Plextor's 12/10/32A offers.

DirectCD CD-RW Erasing

Finally, when it comes time to erase your CD-RW to a blank state, the 12/10/32A does it in under 34 seconds with the included high speed disc. This is nearly twice as fast as the 12/4/32 can erase the fastest-rated media it can support.

It's clear from our CD-RW Duplication and DirectCD tests that the 12/10/32A, with its 10X rewrite speeds, offers greatly enhanced speeds over the previous generation's 4X rewrite maximum.

Conclusion

What can we say? Sanyo's BURN-Proof technology, as licensed and implemented by Plextor, just plain works. Even our most stringent stress test could not create a coaster with this drive. Performance was excellent across the board...read speeds at 32X are closer to what we've come to expect from dedicated 32X readers, and writing performance was excellent as well. We were especially pleased with the 10X rewrite performance. Those who use CD-RWs a lot will notice a huge boost in performance. Keep in mind, though, that your existing media will still work at only 4X. You'll need to use the included high speed CD-RW until such media becomes more widely available. We've yet to see these in retail stores yet, only online.

Our complaints are few and far between. A single LED that varies its coloration according to what the drive is doing is a great concept. However, in practice we weren't as impressed. We had a difficult time telling between yellow (drive reading) and green (disc in drive, not being read). The amber write color was easily distinguishable, however. In our opinion, splurging for a second LED might've been a better choice. In addition, we feel the buffer could be larger. Sure, BURN-Proof will nearly always save the day, but an extra 2 megs (like most of today's burners have) would keep things running smoothly when the going gets especially tough. The pauses and slowdowns (as BURN-Proof kicks in) would be less frequent, and Sanyo's new technology wouldn't get as much of a workout. Of course, this only applies if you regularly abuse your system while burning CDs...in our experience most light-to-medium computing tasks aren't enough to drain the 2 meg buffer. Finally, we wonder why Plextor chose not to include CD Res-Q with this drive when it's included with the SCSI 12/4/32.

The StorageReview.com Safe Buy Award



Simply put, this designation means we'd purchase this product without regret. Sure, there may be a slightly better, slightly faster, and/or slightly less-expensive model from a competitor, but you can't go wrong with this particular unit. This award is applicable, of course, to all units at the top of their class, but also applies to units that, though not quite best-of-class, provide a strong showing nonetheless. All in all, our opinion remains unchanged on Plextor's retail packaging. The included software (including Plextor Manager 2000), detailed paper manuals, and accessory bag of mounting screws, jumpers and emergency eject pin show a great attention to detail that we appreciate. In addition, our experiences with tech support and the quality of their website were all positive. Clearly, the extra money you may pay for a Plextor product goes into keeping up such perks and should be factored in when deciding whether to pay a little more for their products. For our part, we highly recommend this drive.


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