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Plextor PX-W1210TS

  November 30, 2000 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Thanks to Plextor Corporation for providing the evaluation unit.

Introduction

Not very long ago, 12X write-once speeds were the new "big thing" in burner technology. At that time, though, CD-RW media could still be written to at only 4X. Soon thereafter, RW write speeds got bumped up to 8X and 10X, along with a new "high speed only" media that could not be written to in older 4X and slower rewriters. The final piece of the puzzle that comprises today's burner was brought forth by Sanyo with their invention of BURN-Proof. This technology virtually eliminated the buffer underrun by allowing the burning process to pause if the drive's buffer had run dry. Later, Ricoh joined the fray with their own buffer underrun prevention technology, JustLink.

Meanwhile, as burner technology progressed, manufacturers started moving away from the traditional but costly SCSI interface, and ATAPI burners started making their way onto the shelves. Manufacturers discovered that a properly engineered ATAPI interface, combined with correctly configured DMA, was able to deliver performance comparable to SCSI drives. The only caveat was the vastly inferior flexibility of being limited to two devices per ATA channel (realistically, one device per channel, to avoid the further limitations of slaving ATA devices). Die-hard SCSI enthusiasts, as well as those in the professional duplication market have kept support for the SCSI interface alive, and in companies like Plextor Corporation, going strong. Plextor's optical drives have traditionally been considered high-end SCSI parts. Though they've recently joined in the ATAPI parade as well, they have not forgotten what's gotten them where they are and continue producing burners geared toward the high-end SCSI market. Their latest achievement, the PX-W1210TS, combines 12X writes, 10X rewrites, BURN-Proof technology, a 4 MB buffer, all with an Ultra SCSI interface. These lofty specs have combined to produce one of the most hotly anticipated rewriters in recent memory.

In this article we will refer to the PX-W1210TS as the "12/10/32S", whereas the previously reviewed ATAPI model (model # PX-W1210TA) will be referred to as the "12/10/32A."

The specs, as Plextor presents them, include the aforementioned maximum write speeds, 32X max reads from pressed CDs and CD-Rs, 14X-24X P-CAV audio extraction, 150 ms access times, a digital audio out built into the SCSI jumper block, and a 1-year warranty including unlimited toll-free tech support. As has become the norm with Plextor's SCSI burners, there's a cooling fan built into the back of the drive. It's interesting to note that the 4 MB buffer on this drive is twice the size of the 12/10/32A's. To see Plextor's online spec sheet, click here. While the suggested retail price for this drive is $379, we were able to find it for as low as $289 plus tax and shipping in our new price comparator. The average of the top-10 prices came to $300.75. Finally, our retail unit arrived with firmware revision 1.00 with no updates at this point.

First, we examine this drive's read performance.

For an overview on methodology, click here.

CD-ROM Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

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Plextor specifies 150 ms random accesses and 14X-32X sustained read speeds. We measured access times at 141 ms, while sustained transfer rates were pegged at 16X-33X. Both numbers are right about where they should be. Notice how closely the 12/10/32S figures are to its ATAPI brother (PX-W1210TA). Let's see if this trend continues.

CD-ROM Winmark 99

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Our Plextor review unit averaged 1068 in our CD-ROM Winmark test, about 21% behind Ricoh's MP9120A in our comparison. This score also places the 12/10/32S only 4% behind the ATAPI Plextor, maintaining their neck-and-neck race in the read tests. Will they begin to separate themselves in the file and disc copy tests? Let's find out.

File and Disc Copy

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The Plextor 12/10/32S distinguishes itself as the fastest in the file copy test in our comparisons. Its speedy copy time of just under 3:10 is less than 3% better than the 2nd place Ricoh, and a bit over 3% better than the 12/10/32A. While such differences are measurable, it is highly doubtful that one could ever feel them.

In the disc copy test, where random access speeds have some influence, the 12/10/32S finishes in 2nd place, 5% behind the MP9120A and its quick access times. Still, the new Plextor keeps a nearly indistinguishable edge over its ATAPI brother.

As we near the end of our read tests, we now examine the 12/10/32S's audio extraction abilities.

Digital Audio Extraction

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According to Plextor's spec sheet the 12/10/32S reads CD-DAs at 14X-24X P-CAV, but our tests show the drive to in fact extract digital audio at 32X max. We've seen Plextor do this with their 40X max CD-ROM drive in the past, so we aren't too surprised at the "bonus" extraction speeds. Besides, Plextor's Director of Engineering gave us the heads-up in an email prior to testing, so they're obviously aware of the drive's capabilities. Perhaps the extra speeds were tweaked out after specs were announced.

While our test unit topped out at just over 31X at the outer edge of our test CD-DA (28% faster than the 12/10/32A), average extraction rates across the entire CD-DA were just under 24X, only 8% higher than the 2nd place 12/10/32A. This is because the P-CAV method used on the 12/10/32A extracts at identical speeds to the 12/10/32S for the first 30 minutes of a CD-DA, whereas the SCSI Plextor continues on to 32X while the ATAPI model is capped at 24X (Note: Plextor released a new firmware for the 12/10/32A on 11/27/00 that increases DAE speeds to 32X max, just like the 12/10/32S). Put simply, the more full an audio CD is, the more the 12/10/32S pulls away from the 12/10/32A when extracting from said CD. To illustrate, click here to see the two DAE graphs side-by-side.

Plextor maintains their image as a top-notch audio extractor with the 12/10/32S. Our quality tests produced a perfect 10 in CDSpeed99 with support for accurate streaming. CDDAE99 confirmed CDSpeed99's results with extraction rates approaching 32X on the final track, with no extraction errors detected. In our subjective listening tests of extracted .wav files, everything sounded great, with no detectable pops, etc. In short, the 12/10/32S is one of the top audio extractors we've ever seen, and the absolute best of the burners we've so far tested.

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

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There were no issues with CD-R readability that we could find with our Plextor review sample. Our TDK test CD-R reads at speeds identical to our pressed test CD. Random access times were measured a bit quicker at 135 ms. Finally, there were no issues with reading from our 700 MB Imation CD-R (in fact, the extra capacity yielded read speeds nearing 34X at the outer edge).

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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Ditto with CD-RW tests, though the 12/10/32S does slow down to 12X-24X CAV speeds when reading CD-RW media, just like the 12/10/32A. Plextor's latest had no problem with reading CD-RW media from Sony, Memorex or Verbatim.

Lastly, we recently found TDK high-speed CD-RW media available at a local computer store, so we snatched up a 5-pack to aid in testing. Beginning with this drive, we will use this media for all of our high speed -RW tests. We burned a copy of our low-level pressed CD test disc (see our methodology page for further details) to one of these -RWs and found that the 12/10/32S read from it at 12X-24X CAV speeds, just like it read from our 4X CD-RW media.

Now that we've completed our presentation of this drive's reading performance, let's move on to the burning tests.

Write/ReWrite Tests

CD-R Based Duplication

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In our audio CD duplication test, the 12/10/32S pulls ahead of its ATAPI brother by about 5% during the imaging process. However, both drives write the image back to CD-R at the same pace. This suggests that the faster DAE speeds we measured are helping during this process. Nevertheless, Sony's Spressa CRX160E remains the king of CD-R duplication in our comparisons. The 12/10/32S trails the Sony by 2.5% in total duplication time, but beats the 12/10/32A by 3% in the same comparison.

The data CD duplication test shows similar trends. Sony's CRX160E remains on top, but its lead is shortened. Plextor's 12/10/32S again edges out its ATAPI brother, but this time the difference is in the burning times, not in the imaging process. Its 3% advantage in burn speeds translates to less than a 2% advantage in total duplication times. The Sony holds tenuously to its negligible 3.5 second lead in total data CD duplication times.

All in all, Plextor's latest performs admirably in our CD-R based duplication tests. It's just a hair slower than the fastest 12X burner we've tested to date, Sony's CRX160E. Let's now see how the new Plextor fares when writing to high speed -RW media.

CD-RW Based Duplication

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Because the image portion of this test is identical to the image portion of our CD-R based data duplication test, results are nearly identical (human reaction times account for the ~0.5 second differences you may notice if studying these results in the database). The burn portion of the test shows the 12/10/32S to do its 10X rewriting at an identical clip to the 12/10/32A-big surprise. While the Sony is the fastest at imaging our test data disc, its 8X rewrite speeds keep it significantly behind the two 10X Plextors when we examine the total duplication times. In the end, the 12/10/32S edges its ATAPI brother by about 1 second-in effect, the two Plextors yield identical results.

CD-R Based Stress Tests

As we pointed out earlier, the 12/10/32S has an extra 2 megs of buffer over its ATAPI counterpart. Our feeling going into testing was that the extra 2 megs would probably benefit in our stress tests, where we drain the buffer and (in drives which support such technology) exercise the drive's buffer underrun protection. Were we right? Apparently not. As expected, this drive passed our Unreal Tournament stress test easily without ever running out of buffer. We felt, though, that our CPUmark99 stress test would show us a potential benefit to having 4 megs vs. 2. Results, however, showed the 12/10/32S to average about 4X burn speeds with Easy CD Creator set to 12X, just like Plextor's 12/10/32A. So, at least in our tests, we found no added benefit to the extra buffer, even under the highest loads.

According to Plextor's Director of Engineering, the extra buffer in the 12/10/32S is to accommodate those in the professional duplication market who may have 4 or more of these drives connected to a single SCSI bus, all burning simultaneously. We can't imagine the extra buffer having any added benefit in a single drive system, though, based on our CPUmark99 stress test.

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DirectCD Formatting

A full format of high-speed rewritable media under Adaptec's DirectCD averaged 15:45, which is the 2nd fastest result we've measured so far. Only Sony's CRX160E finished a full format faster. Continuing our comparison with the ATAPI Plextor, the SCSI version distanced itself here by about 16%, which is a change of pace compared to the nearly identical results we've been seeing in most of our other tests.

Subsequent quick formats of the same media took about 32 seconds, which is significantly slower than both the Sony and Ricoh comparison drives, and about the same as Plextor's 12/10/32A.

DirectCD Packet-Writing Performance

In our packet-writing performance test, we time how long it takes to copy a 195 MB folder from our testbed's hard drive to a DirectCD-formatted disc using Windows Explorer. The 12/10/32S averaged just over 3 minutes, which was (again) equal to its ATAPI sibling, but 11% slower than category-leading Ricoh. How significant this is depends on how often one uses packet-writing vs. standard burning. If packet-writing is all one will use a burner for, then perhaps 11% is worth factoring into the purchasing decision.

DirectCD CD-RW Erasing

Finally, we use DirectCD's "CD-RW Eraser" program to time how long it takes to wipe a used CD-RW to a blank state. The 12/10/32S clocked in at 44 seconds, which is not a significant amount of time, but measureably slower than the competition. Compare this to the 23 seconds it takes Ricoh's MP9120A to perform the same task. Only Plextor's 12/4/32 is slower in our compiled results thus far.

Conclusion

Plextor's latest SCSI burner is a solid performer in all of our tests, at or near the top of all of our performance measures. Even in areas of heat and noise, the 12/10/32S is excellent. Subjectively, this is the quietest, coolest Plextor we've yet seen. Along with the Sony CRX160E, this PX-W1210TS is the quietest drive we've ever run through our testbed. Seeks during high speed random reads were nearly silent-we had to eliminate all extraneous sound sources and put our ear nearly against the drive to hear it seeking during the Winbench 99 access time test.

The retail accessories give further reason to recommend this drive. Included are thick, complete manuals for both the drive and the Plextor Manager/CD-ResQ software suite, a bag of screws and emergency eject pin, a 12X CD-R disc and 10X CD-RW disc, and the most comprehensive software package we've seen for a burner. The software comprises of the latest versions of Adaptec's Easy CD Creator and DirectCD, CD-ResQ (an imaging/disaster recovery program), and Plextor Manager 2000. We particularly like PM2000. Among other things, it lets you rip songs off of audio CDs and convert them to .wav files on the fly just by dragging and dropping from Windows Explorer. Our other favorites include the CD duplicator (DiscDupe 2000) and the Drive Properties tabs. For further details on the software, click here. And finally, ALL of the software programs work in ALL Microsoft operating systems, unlike other offerings we've seen that sometimes do not support NT or Win2k.

We were quite surprised to see this drive for less than $300 online. Although that's still a little on the high side compared to other burners, prices have dropped significantly in the past few months. For example, when we reviewed the 12/4/32 SCSI Plextor not too far back, it was over $300. Today, it can be had for $265. That puts the 12/10/32S only $24 higher. Although you can get an equally spec'd ATAPI burner for significantly less, the price premium of the SCSI interface appears to be dropping slightly.

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. If your interface of choice is SCSI, the 12/10/32S is the burner to get today. However, those on a tight budget and/or those who have a dedicated IDE channel free should seriously consider other offerings. After all, Plextor's own ATAPI offering shows nearly identical performance for about $70 less. We feel, though, that those who are dedicated to the SCSI interface will be extremely pleased with this drive.


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