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Yamaha CRW2100E

  January 17, 2001 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Special thanks to Hypermicro.com* for providing the evaluation unit.

* Remember, mention StorageReview.com when ordering from HyperMicro and receive FREE shipping!


Introduction

Yamaha Corporation, originally founded in 1887, started as a manufacturer of reed organs. In the century that followed, their reach has expanded to all manner of musical instruments, semiconductors, home appliances, computer equipment, machine tools, and even industrial robots. Their foray into CD-RW drives began with what was at the time a state-of-the-art 2X/2X/6X SCSI burner featuring 1 MB of buffer and 250 ms access times.

How times have changed! Today we'll look at Yamaha's latest offering, the CRW2100E. Featuring impressive specs, the CRW2100E is the first kid on the block to offer 16X write speeds. Other manufacturers are still working on 16X offerings, leaving their 12X models to hold up the fort in the meantime.

We spent weeks trying to get a retail sample from Yamaha; despite an early affirmative from their PR firm, a sample never arrived and our follow-up queries never received a response. Therefore, when Hyper Microsystems offered to loan us an OEM sample, we jumped at the chance.

We were shocked at how loud our sample was during full-RPM operation. Even after securing the drive with all four screws and closing the testbed case, the noise and vibration generated by this drive when reading pressed CDs at full speed was unbelievable. Moving the drive into my personal system's Fong Kai case did not help. It was at this point that we voiced our concerns to Hyper Microsystems; they offered to send us a second sample. We were certain the original drive had a damaged spindle or something. Unfortunately though, the second sample was just as loud. The good news is, the drive is relatively quiet while burning (when RPMs are obviously much lower), but the racket starts up as soon as the drive starts spinning up to 40X CAV speeds.

A nice side effect of having the 2nd evaluation sample was the ability to confirm unexpected results. We're thankful to Hyper Microsystems for letting us hold onto both for the duration of our tests.

It should be mentioned that while the full-rpm hum never wavers, noise from the vibration varies dramatically depending on what disc we use. Obviously this points to issues of weight and balance, as well as sound deadening. CDs that aren't perfectly balanced (most aren't) will exhibit varying degrees of wobble, which translates to vibration in the drive housing. We'll briefly touch on the noise issue again on our Specifications page.

Since the CRW2100E is the only 16X burner around at the moment, our focus will be on how much better it is than the almost-but-not-quite previous-generation 12X burners on the market. Is it a worthwhile upgrade for those already at 12X, or should final judgment be reserved until other manufacturers start releasing their 16X models? Join us as we explore.

Specifications

Our ATAPI unit arrived with firmware revision 1.0d. We immediately flashed to the latest revision, 1.0g. In a related matter, we also had early problems getting the drive to work with the latest version of Adaptec's Easy CD Creator. The software detected the drive as a 4X reader AND writer, so that's as fast as it would work. Not only were writes limited to 4X, but reads as well-meaning that extracting digital audio, data files, imaging a data CD, all occurred at 4X speeds when the CRW2100E was the source drive. What surprised us was that in the end, the solution ended up not being an update of Adaptec's software, but a flash to firmware revision 1.0h. Since our tests with Prassi and NTI burning software showed normal performance with the 1.0g firmware, it appears the problem was isolated to Adaptec's software. We commend Yamaha for taking the initiative in this matter.

1.0h's improvements include increased audio ripping speeds, shortened high-speed CD-RW formats in DirectCD, and improved recognition times for unfinished CD-Rs written with packet-writing software. Although our specific problem was not mentioned, there is no doubt that the firmware update eliminated the EZCD issue we experienced. The latest Yamaha firmware can be downloaded from this page.

A problem still exists with EZCD's CD Copier utility for which we found a workaround. When used as the source and destination, the CRW2100E will not write to the destination disc after the source is imaged the first time CD Copier runs after system bootup. After inserting the destination media and hitting "OK," the burning will not commence. The solution? Cancel the burn and start again from the beginning WITHOUT rebooting the system. This was the only way we could obtain our CD duplication results.

The rest of the vital specs include 16X writes, 10X rewrites, and 40X reads. What's not listed on Yamaha's online spec sheet is that writes actually occur at 12X-16X P-CAV. Basically, the drive starts burning at 12X at the innermost tracks, gradually increasing to 16X. The drive reaches this speed about 14-minutes into a CD-R. From then on, until the CD is filled, 16X writes continue. Why? We're not sure. Our guess is that it has to do with 16X CLV requiring too many RPMs at the innermost tracks, which could compromise write integrity if not engineered properly. Continuing with the specs, another detail glossed over is that 10X rewrites are almost never realized. During standard writes to high-speed CD-RW media, speeds stay at 8X CLV. During packet-writes to high-speed CD-RW media, writes occur at 4X-10X CAV. In other words, 10X rewrites only occur at the outer edge of a high-speed CD-RW during packet-writing...a pretty unlikely scenario.

The ATAPI CRW2100E includes a generous 8 MB buffer in lieu of buffer underrun prevention technology, 160 ms average access time, 40X Max digital audio extraction, and an industry-standard 1-year warranty. For those with Soundblaster Live! cards, the CRW2100E does include a digital audio-out on the back.

Since our review sample is an OEM unit, the only thing included with the drive is a user's manual. This guide is very thorough and impressive. The spec sheet included inside is much more detailed (we got much of our information above from it) than what's disclosed on Yamaha's site. Included in this spec sheet is mention of the drive interface being UDMA Mode 1. This is a seldom-used mode, topping out at 25 MB/sec. However, in using the drive in two systems, it was detected by each motherboard as "UDMA 16" which we believe equates to UDMA Mode 0. Essentially, this is no different than multiword DMA Mode 2. Regardless, we can't see this drive approaching 16 MB/sec, let alone 25 MB/sec.

Current online pricing for the retail version of this drive sits right around $230, plus tax and shipping. For comparison, Plextor's 12/10/32 ATAPI drive goes for about $210.

In areas of heat and noise, the CRW2100E, as mentioned in the Introduction, suffers. Particularly in noise levels, where high speed transfers produce the loudest hum we've ever heard from an optical drive (including Digital Research's 56X reader!). Fortunately, the drive remains relatively cool to the touch even during extended stress tests.

For further details on this drive as well as information on what is included in the retail package, click here.

For an overview on methodology, click here.

CD-ROM Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

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In our sustained transfer rate (STR) measurements, the CRW2100E starts off at 18X at the inner tracks and finishes at 38X by the outer edge of our 74-minute test CD. This is a bit lower than Yamaha's 40X CAV claim (though the CRW2100E will reach 40X by the outer edge of our 80-minute test CD-R). This places the drive about 15% ahead of the 32X read speeds offered by the other burners in our comparison.

The Yamaha turns in a random access score of 130 ms. Not only is this 30 ms faster than specification, it's also the 3rd fastest access time we've yet measured for a CD-RW. Let's find out if these speedy access times and transfer rates aid the drive in our CD-ROM Winmark test.

CD-ROM Winmark 99

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The CRW2100E's score of 1135 places it firmly in 2nd place behind Ricoh's MP9120A. The Yamaha's low-level figures, though, teased with hints of better scores. Its results merely best Plextor's 12/10/32A (which has slower measured access times and transfer rates) by 2%.

File and Disc Copy

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In our file copy test, we eliminate random accesses from the mix by timing a copy of a single 634 MB file from CD to hard drive. Compared to the other burners in our comparison, the Yamaha shines due to its superior transfer rates. However, when compared to other 40X readers in our database, the Yamaha brings up the rear. This may be due to the underachieving 38X maximum STR we measured in our low-level tests. Regardless, when compared to its direct competition, the Yamaha does well here.

The story's a bit different in our disc copy test, which introduces random accesses to the mix. Despite a very respectable (for a burner) measured access time of 130 ms, the CRW2100E takes over 4 minutes to copy our test disc. This puts the Yamaha in last place with the Sony CRX160E in our comparison. We found that the Yamaha frequently spins up and down in the test, undoubtedly contributing to its slow copy time. A trial with our second sample yields nearly identical results. This leads us to believe that these results are typical for the CRW2100E and our test disc.

Digital Audio Extraction

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Yamaha advertises 40X Max DAE speeds for the CRW2100E. However, we were unable to achieve such speeds with our test CD-DA-Yes' "Union" (as a reminder, all optical drives are tested with this audio CD in our DAE tests to ensure valid cross-drive comparisons). The DAE transfer rate graph reveals some dips and valleys, which we investigated via CDDAE99, a program that extracts audio tracks to .wav files. We selected every track on the CD, pointed the extraction destination to our testbed's designated test partition, and then watched as each track was extracted to a .wav file at the drive's maximum speed. We were able to hear the CRW2100E drive motor spin down during the last few tracks and watched as extraction rates slowed down during this period. During CDDAE99's verification process, some errors were reported, which we focused our listening tests on. Although the percentage of errors was quantitatively near zero, we were able to hear an audible "tick" in two specific locations. Subsequent retries, though, showed inconsistent results. CDDAE99 reported errors occasionally, but we found no further audible anomalies.

We informally ran more CD-DAs of varying length and quality and found that we were able to get at or near Yamaha's advertised extraction speeds only with scratch-free discs. On these discs, extraction quality was perfect-no errors detected by the benchmark software and no quality issues uncovered while listening to the extracted .wav files. When there were visible surface scratches or other defects on the CD-DA, we sometimes were able to produce a small amount of errors during the extraction process. We never were able to detect any further audible "tick" sounds as in our first try, though.

For further analysis, we used our second review sample as a check. It behaved more or less like our first unit, reducing DAE speeds with scratched discs, yet producing no audible defects. Brand new CDs were extracted at full speed.

Overall, the Yamaha provides above-average DAE quality. The "tick" sound we originally found could never be reproduced despite numerous attempts. We've seen CDDAE99 show errors on other drives, but in nearly every case, there was no audible defect because error correction can usually fill in the missing information. However, be aware that the Yamaha may need to slow down when extracting from less-than-perfect CDs.

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

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The CRW2100E has no problem with a variety of CD-R discs, including 74-minute 12X TDK, 80-minute 12X Imation, and 80-minute 16X Verbatim. The 74-minute discs top out at 38X transfer rates while the 80-minute discs reach 40X at the outer edge.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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Likewise, the Yamaha has no problems reading our CD-RW test media. We're mightily impressed with the 39X maximum transfer rates we measured-easily the fastest of any burner, and the 2nd fastest we've ever measured (only Pioneer's problem-plagued DVD-304S is faster). Read speeds are consistent with Sony, Memorex and Verbatim 4X media, as well as TDK 10X media.

The Yamaha CRW2100E offers a mixed bag performance-wise. The problem areas we noticed were in DAE, and read speeds during random accesses. Overall, though, it is the fastest (and loudest) CD-RW we've tested in our read tests. Let's now examine how the 16X write and 10X rewrite specs play out in our benchmarks.

Write/ReWrite Tests

CD-R Based Duplication

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Offering 12X-16X P-CAV writes, Yamaha's latest burner unsurprisingly dominates the 12X CLV competition in our CD-R duplication tests. With our audio CD, records were shattered in times to image CD-DA and to burn the image to CD-R. Total duplication time is about 19% faster than the previous best from Sony.

Likewise, with our data CD, duplication times are equally impressive. The CRW2100E images our test disc in only 2:44, 14% faster than Sony's CRX160E. The burn portion of the test completes in only 5:36, 19% better than the Spressa. Total duplication time is 18% faster than Sony's previous record.

CD-RW Based Duplication

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As mentioned earlier, Yamaha advertises the CRW2100E as a 10X rewriter. Careful study of the specs, though, shows that 10x only occurs at the outer edge of a high speed CD-RW during packet-writes. During standard burning to CD-RW, rewrites actually occur at 8X CLV. Our test results here confirm this. Yamaha's rewrite speeds are almost identical to the Sony's-also an 8X CLV rewriter. Due to superior read speeds, though, the Yamaha finishes slightly ahead of the Sony in total duplication time. Still, it lags the 10X CLV Plextors by 11%.

CD-R Based Stress Tests

In designing the CRW2100E, Yamaha chose to skip out on the latest buffer underrun prevention technology and instead beef up the drive's buffer to 8 MB. We were curious how this would affect its results in our stress tests. Our first stress test is turning out to be quite a simple task for today's CD-RWs-burning a 195 MB folder while Unreal Tournament's intro flyby sequence cycles in RAM. As expected, the CRW2100E was able to complete a burn at 16X under these conditions with no problems.

Our second stress test, though, has challenged each and every one of the burners we've put through it. We attempt to burn the same 195 MB folder while Winbench 99's CPUmark99 test is running. This test not only stresses the CPU, but the cache and memory subsystem as well. The result? Yamaha's latest produces buffer underrun errors (i.e., coasters) at all speeds higher than 4X. This is no better than we've seen from 4 MB buffer drives tested in the past. We were hoping that the doubled buffer size would allow us to complete the stress test at 8X, but this was not the case. We're left wondering if the additional buffer size truly adds benefit. Perhaps in some situations somewhere between our two stress tests, where system resources are taxed for shorter amounts of time, it may deliver some additional benefit.

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DirectCD Formatting

A full format of a TDK high-speed CD-RW took only 13:39, easily the quickest we've seen so far. Subsequent quick formats were completed in about 35 seconds.

DirectCD Packet-Writing Performance

Using Windows Explorer to copy a 195 MB folder to a freshly formatted DirectCD CD-RW, the CRW2100E takes nearly 4:49 to complete the file transfer. This means it's 74% slower than Ricoh's MP9120A. Because the drive's transfer method during packet-writes is CAV, speeds start at only 4X at the inner tracks, increasing gradually to 10X by the outer edge of the disc. Unfortunately, this means that overall average transfer rates during packet-writes are significantly lower than the advertised 10X. In fact, unless you completely fill a 74-minute high speed CD-RW to 650 MB (minus formatting overhead), you'll never see 10X speeds.

DirectCD CD-RW Erasing

Finally, using DirectCD's CD-RW Eraser utility, it took 33 seconds to fully erase a DirectCD-formatted disc to a blank state.

Conclusion

Yamaha's newest burner, labeled "16/10/40," is primed for disclaimers. CD-R write speeds are not truly 16X; rather, they start at 12X and continue in a CAV-fashion to 16X, where they stay for the remainder of the disc space. CD-RW rewrite speeds almost never reach the advertised 10X, remaining at 8X or even lower in most situations. Finally, 40X read speeds are only reached at the outer edge of an 80-minute disc (standard 74-minute discs top out at about 38X). We even had trouble realizing the claimed 40X CAV audio extraction rates-we only saw such speeds on scratch-free CD-DAs. Not to mention the extremely high noise levels during full-rpm reads. Were it not for our second evaluation sample's confirming voice, we'd question our drive's results.

Regardless of our caveats, though, the fact remains that the CRW2100E outperforms the previous-generation "12/10/32" competition in some situations. These include CD-R write speeds, where it was 19% faster than the 12X competition; sequential read speeds, 15% faster than the 32X competition; read speeds with CD-RW media; and DAE, with average ripping speeds 9% faster than the next competitor.

The bottom line: If you rewrite to CD-RW media, especially in packet-writing situations, this drive may not be for you; if you expect to use the drive as a replacement for your CD reader and are sensitive to high noise levels, this drive is probably not for you either.

We feel comfortable recommending this drive only to those who will use it primarily for writing to CD-Rs. Although we use 16X-rated Verbatim media in our official tests, we have no issues writing at 16X speeds with 12X-rated media from Ricoh and TDK during informal use. This means you'll likely be able to finish off your current stash of 12X-rated media without compromising the improved write performance this drive offers.

If you're in a hurry for faster CD-R writes than your current 12X or slower unit will provide, check out Yamaha's CRW2100E. At $230, its price is not much higher than the 12X competition. Otherwise, we recommend holding off until 16X CLV units from other manufacturers appear.


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