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Plextor PX-W1610TA

  March 6, 2001 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Special thanks to Hypermicro.com* and Plextor for providing the evaluation unit.

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


Introduction

Burners finally seem to be catching on. It doesn't seem so long ago that improvements in writing and rewriting technology moved at a snail's pace compared to other computer components. While CPUs, video cards and hard drives are obsolescing themselves every 6 months or less, write/rewrite technology has typically held much longer life cycles.

We've now reached an age, though, where 16X write speeds are already breaking into the market mere months after the maturation of 12X writers (with 20X and 24X drives already on the horizon!). Yamaha was the first to market with their CRW2100E. Despite numerous issues uncovered by a variety of both online and print reviews, the drive's early introduction undoubtedly aided its popularity. Of course, Yamaha's bold move caused other manufacturers to scramble to get their 16X writers to market ASAP. First came Sanyo's OEM drive (CRD-BP1400P), followed closely by TDK's veloCD 16/10/40 and Plextor's PX-W1610TA.

While we would like to examine Sanyo's and TDK's products, Sanyo's OEM status and TDK's seeming lack of interest in supplying us with a review sample keeps us from exploring these possible gems.

Fortunately, both Plextor and Hyper Microsystems are on our side. Unaware that we already had a PX-W1610TA en route from Plextor, Hypermicro sent us an unsolicited retail box. We're grateful to both; given the opportunity, we always prefer to test two of each model as it helps us to determine whether or not unexpected results are normal.

Let's examine the specs.

Specifications

Specifications as gleaned from Plextor's manual and website:

  • Maximum write speeds of 16X CLV
  • Maximum rewrite speeds of 10X CLV
  • Packet-writing speeds of 10X CLV
  • CD read speeds of 17X-40X CAV
  • Digital audio extraction speeds of 40X max
  • 2 MB buffer
  • 140 ms average random access time
  • PIO Mode 4/DMA Mode 2 interface

For more information, click here to see Plextor's online product page.

A wide assortment of accessories is included in the retail package. We especially like the large, foldout poster that provides installation instructions for Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, and ME. The other side of this poster holds a quick reference sheet for Plextor Manager 2000, Plextor's unique utility software suite. The rest of the contents:

  • 1 blank CD-R disc
  • 1 blank CD-RW disc
  • An IDE cable
  • A bag containing 4 screws, a spare shunt, and an emergency eject pin
  • 60 page drive manual
  • 66 page Plextor Manager 2000 manual
  • Adaptec Easy CD Creator and DirectCD burning software
  • Plextor Manager 2000 utility software
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • 18 mp3 songs from various unknown artists
  • Warranty registration card

Notably missing is an audio cable. Most drives (even OEMs) include one of these...we guess Plextor assumes that if you have a soundcard, you have an audio cable. Still, it seems that a manufacturer of Plextor's repute should be including such small touches in their retail package.

Finally, the rest of the drive's vitals: Plextor again includes a digital audio-out next to the standard analog out. There is a single LED on the front that shows solid green when power is on and a disc is in the drive, solid yellow during initialization and disc reading, and blinking orange when writing. Also included is a cooling fan on the back of the drive. To our knowledge this is the first time Plextor has included a fan on one of their ATAPI burners; previously fans were reserved for their high-end SCSI line.

The drive arrived with firmware revision 1.00. No updates were available as of this review.

Plextor's newest burner is also their loudest. While noise levels during full-RPM operation are nowhere near Yamaha's CRW2100 series, they are a noticeable step up from the silent PX-W1210 series. This may be an inevitable consequence of the increased RPMs needed to drive read speeds from 32X max to 40X max. Thankfully the drive is silent when writing; increased noise levels occur only during high-speed reads.

The drive's cool operation under unrealistically stressful conditions also impresses us. After over 20 repeated CD Winbench 99 access time trials we cannot tell if the top of the drive warms at all beyond its power-off temperature. The bottom of the drive feels only slightly warm.

The retail box currently runs about $225 through retail channels. This compares favorably to other 16X writers on the market: Yamaha's CRW2100E goes for $220, while TDK's veloCD 16/10/40 is $260.

Let's see how this drive performs as a CD reader.

For an overview on methodology, click here.

CD-ROM Performance Results

CD Read Tests

Note: Recently it was revealed on another site that on the back of Plextor's latest drives, UDMA33 operation can be enabled by shunting a pair of pins marked "reserved." Leery of this procedure, we asked Plextor about it. Their response: the reserved pins are used for a variety of in-house tests. These tests are done purely for Plextor's internal research and development. Often the purpose of the reserved pins can change between different drive models; sometimes even between different revisions of the same drive model. Therefore Plextor cannot provide support for any end-user experimentation with the reserved pins.

In the end, we chose not conduct any tests with the pins shunted. Two reasons:

First, on a theoretical level the only tangible difference between UDMA33 and DMA2 is an increased transfer rate ceiling. Since the PX-W1610TA is not capable of sustaining speeds higher than 6 MB/sec, the 16.6 MB/sec ceiling that DMA2 offers is more than enough for optimal performance. Any CPU utilization differences reported by other sites border on insignificant at best - both modes offer low CPU utilization so long as DMA transfers are enabled in the operating system.

Second, Plextor's statement that the function of the reserved pins can change renders any testing pointless in our opinion.

Low-Level Measurements

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We use Ziff-Davis' venerable CD Winbench 99 to measure random access times and sustained transfer rates.

The Plextor averages 147 ms in our access time test. Not only is this slower than spec, it's the slowest result in our comparison. How does this affect upcoming benchmarks that place emphasis on speedy access time measures? We'll find out shortly.

In the sustained transfer rate test, the Plextor starts at 20X on the inside tracks and finishes at 41X by the outer edge of the disc. Both are a bit faster than Plextor specifies, enabling the PX-W1610TA to race ahead of all comparison drives.

CD-ROM Winmark 99

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CD Winbench 99's CD-ROM Winmark test runs through a timed script of routines from a variety of popular software programs. The presented score is an average from four different test discs obtained from Ziff-Davis. This allows us to test each drive's ability to read from a range of discs pressed with identical data.

The PX-W1610TA averages a disappointing 1070 KB/sec, keeping it near the bottom of our comparison. The reason becomes clear when we examine the individual scores. While disc 1 averages 1250 KB/sec, discs 2 and 3 average 1175 KB/sec and disc 4 averages only 681 KB/sec. Numerous retests show consistency in these figures, even with our 2nd evaluation sample. There is something about disc 4 that the Plextor does not like, as it spins down frequently during testing, eventually giving up and remaining at reduced RPMs for the remainder of the test.

How much emphasis should be placed on this? The PX-W1610TA might benefit from some tweaking to its error correction/speed reduction algorithms, but performance with most discs (3 out of 4 in this test) is adequate.

File and Disc Copy

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Our file copy test emphasizes sequential transfer rates since it copies a single, 634 MB file. Again we have read issues, this time when the drive reaches the outer edge of our CDTach98 disc. Both drives repeatedly spin down near the outer edge, completing the test at vastly reduced RPMs and slow copy times of 4:29. When we duplicate our CDTach98 test disc to CD-R and test with the copy, there are no spindowns: average copy times hover around 2:31. We return to our previous hypothesis - perhaps a firmware adjustment related to pressed CDs, error correction and speed reduction might fix this issue.

The disc copy test introduces random accesses, due to the multiple files and folders on our test CD. Fortunately, there are no spindown issues here. The PX-W1610TA averages 3:28, easily the fastest in our comparison. Clearly, when the Plextor maintains spindle speed, its read performance is at or near the top.

Digital Audio Extraction

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We measure DAE with two programs: CDSpeed99 and CDDAE99. CDSpeed99 is more of a low-level measurement of DAE capabilities, while CDDAE99 is an actual audio ripping program that converts audio tracks on CD-DAs to .wav files on your hard drive.

The fast, clean CDSpeed 99 extraction rates are impressive. The Plextor sets records for a CD-RW: 18X minimum, 39X maximum, and 30X average DAE! Even when extracting from scratched CDs, maximum extraction rates are maintained. CDSpeed gives the drive a perfect 10 for extraction quality, and support for accurate streaming is detected. Informal tests with a 76-minute CD-DA show the Plextor reaching 42X at the outer edge of this oversized disc.

Results are similar with CDDAE99. Extraction rates average just under 28X with zero errors detected. With verification disabled, our 65:23 test disc extracts in about 2:20. Overall, the PX-W1610TA to offers the highest levels of DAE speed and accuracy of the burners we've tested.

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

To test each drive's ability to read from a variety of CD-R and -RW media, we duplicate our pressed test CD to these discs and measure low-level performance with them.

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In CD-R read tests, sustained transfers are identical to pressed CD reads: 20X-41X. Interestingly, the Plextor's access time with CD-Rs is only 133 ms - significantly lower than our pressed CD measurements. There are no compatibility issues with the various brands and speeds of CD-R media we use. These include 16X Verbatim, 12X Imation, and 12X TDK.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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The PX-W1610TA slows down when reading CD-RWs: our tests show minimum read speeds of 16X and maximum reads of 33X at the outer edge. Average access times remain lower than with pressed CDs, a 134 ms average. There are no problems reading from a variety of brands: Verbatim 4X, as well as high-speed CD-RWs from Verbatim, TDK, Sony, and Memorex.

Overall, the Plextor's read performance results are mixed. While the drive's DAE is unparalleled, and performance/compatibility with CD-R and CD-RW media is good, spindown issues in some of our tests lead us to believe that the drive's firmware is too quick to reduce speeds when encountering difficult-to-read areas on certain pressed CDs.

Let's take a look at write and rewrite capabilities of Plextor's newest offering.

Write/ReWrite Tests

CD-R Based Duplication

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Using Adaptec's CD Copier utility, we measure how long each tested drive takes to duplicate our audio and data test discs when burning at maximum speeds. All drives are tested as both "source" and "destination," creating results for "imaging" as well as "writing." We present the sum of these in the body of our reviews. Individual "image" and "write" results can be viewed in our database.

The Plextor has a small issue when duplicating audio CDs that appears to be isolated to Adaptec's burning software. When the drive is imaging audio discs, it spins down slightly between each track (this is clearly audible), slowing down its "time to image" results. All other burners previously tested keep RPMs constant throughout the imaging process. This problem does not occur in Prassi's burning software, nor in Plextor Manager 2000's DiscDupe utility. The result: despite the fastest burning times we've ever measured (4% quicker than the Yamaha), overall duplication times end up about 8% slower than Yamaha's CRW2100E. This problem should not occur if you do not use Adaptec's burning software. Still, we hope that Plextor and Adaptec examine this issue, as Easy CD Creator is probably the most widely used burning software today.

We encounter no such problems with our data CD. Image and burn times are both the fastest we've seen, with a total duplication time of 7:59. The next fastest burner - Yamaha's CRW2100E - trails by 20 seconds (4%).

CD-RW Based Duplication

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Here we duplicate our data pressed disc to CD-RW media at the drive's fastest rewrite speeds. While actual rewrite times merely tie TEAC's CD-W512E for the top spot, total duplication time is the best we've measured due to the Plextor's superior read speeds.

CD-R Based Stress Tests

We stress our optical drives by attempting a scripted burn while the testbed runs certain programs. In what we've coined our moderate stress test, we attempt this scripted burn while the testbed is cycling through Unreal Tournament's introductory flyby sequence.

Going into this test, our concern centered around the Plextor's smallish 2 MB buffer. At 16X write speeds, a 2MB buffer lasts less than one second. We worried that this would cause BURN-Proof to activate even during moderate-to-light system loads.

Fortunately, Plextor's latest has no issues completing this test at top speeds. BURN-Proof does not even activate, proving once again that today's burners are very capable of working at full speed under fairly high loads.

Speaking of high system loads, our other stress test is designed as a worst-case scenario. We doubt that most users would put this much strain on their systems while attempting to complete a burn, but we like to test the limits of performance at SR. We attempt the same scripted burn while Winbench 99's CPUmark99 test executes. During the course of this test, the CPU and CPU cache are completely loaded, leaving few resources free for anything else.

How does the PX-W1610TA do? BURN-Proof comes through, allowing us to set burn speeds to 16X without worry. Keep in mind, though, that BURN-Proof kicks in frequently during this particular test. Real-world burn speeds end up closer to 4X with all the pauses factored in. Still, when the going gets tough, would one prefer a coaster or reduced burn speeds?

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DirectCD Formatting

Adaptec's DirectCD is used here to format CD-RW media. We time both full and quick formats. Full formats complete in record time at 12:48. Quick formats, however, lag behind the competition.

DirectCD Packet-Writing Performance

Timing how long it takes to copy a 195 MB folder from the hard drive to a freshly formatted CD-RW via Windows Explorer tests each drive's packet-writing abilities. The PX1610TA's time of 3:08, though right in line with Plextor's PX-W1210 series, lags slightly behind the TEAC.

DirectCD CD-RW Erasing

Finally, we time how long it takes to return a formatted CD-RW to a blank state with Adaptec's CD-RW Eraser utility. The Plextor's score of 43 seconds is speedy enough, though it trails a few other drives.

Conclusion

Plextor's new 16X writer compares favorably to the other 16X burner we've tested: Yamaha's CRW2100. While both face spindown issues in certain tests, the PX-W1610TA backs its spotty read performance up with the best DAE speed and quality we've seen from a CD-RW. In addition, the Plextor maintains a 4% advantage in write speeds and 20% lead in rewrite speeds while providing vastly superior packet-writing performance and much quieter operation.

The real challenge comes from TEAC's CD-W512E, a 12X writer. Despite its 32X reads, the TEAC is arguably the quicker unit due to its 87 ms access times. Indeed, to us it feels more responsive when reading from a variety of pressed discs. However, the TEAC simply cannot keep up the pace in DAE and burning.

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. So it comes down to individual priorities - if one is shopping for a well-balanced, inexpensive unit to serve as one's main reader and writer, the TEAC offers an excellent alternative to the latest 16X burners. However, for those who already own a quick reader and are looking for the quickest write, rewrite and DAE performance, Plextor's PX-W1610TA is currently the drive to beat.


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