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Afreey CD-2056E

  April 22, 2001 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Special thanks go to Afreey, Incorporated for providing our evaluation unit.

Introduction

Afreey, Inc., established in 1998, is an optical drive manufacturer based out of Taiwan. Their U.S.-based establishment is located in Fremont, California. Specializing in CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs and DVD players, Afreey has garnered a word-of-mouth reputation as a quality drive manufacturer whose products might be hard to find, but yield top performance, especially in digital audio extraction. In addition, Afreey boasts superior R&D with all crucial components designed in-house.

We're pleased to bring you our first look at an Afreey product - their 56X CD-ROM. We've also got their most current DVD-ROM waiting in the wings and hope to bring you reviews of future Afreey optical drives.

Does the drive live up to its reputation? Come with us as we determine.

Specifications

Specifications according to Afreey's manual/website:

  • CD read speeds of 2700-8400 KB/sec
  • Digital audio extraction speeds "up to 40X"
  • 128 KB buffer (unspecified, but reported by software)
  • 80 ms average random access time
  • ATAPI interface (UDMA33)
For more information, click here to see Afreey's online product page.

The box contents:

  • The drive
  • Installation floppy for DOS drivers
  • Four mounting screws
  • Analog 3-pin audio cable
  • Fold-out user guide (10 page, multi-language)
Missing is an IDE cable. Considering the low street price of the drive and the fact that most computer enthusiasts have plenty of spares, this is a minor oversight, but something to consider nonetheless.

The rest of the drive's vitals: The back of the unit holds what's becoming a fairly standard digital audio output along with the regular analog out. The rest of the vitals are standard fare for an ATAPI optical drive.

The drive arrived with firmware revision 23. After some problems related to initial spin-up speed, Afreey sent us firmware revision 22. Apparently revision 23 is an internal testing version that was accidentally sent.

Given that a 56X drive spins at about 12,000 RPM, above-average noise levels are a given. Although Afreey does advertise low noise, subjectively the drive is still among the louder units we've used during sequential reads (though it is a definite notch below Digital Research's 56X screamer). During random reads, however, noise levels do drop significantly, so perhaps Afreey's engineers tweaked the firmware to reduce spindle speed (and thus, noise levels) in certain situations. This may explain the drive's performance in our Disc Copy test below.

As for heat levels, the drive never reaches temperatures that would be described as "hot." Subjectively, we'd say that the drive could get very warm if pushed hard. Otherwise, the drive remains relatively cool.

Current online pricing for the retail box is about $35 on Pricewatch.

Next we examine drive performance.

For an overview on methodology, click here.

CD-ROM Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

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Ziff-Davis' venerable CD Winbench 99 measures sustained transfer rates and random access times.

In the transfer rate test, the Afreey commences at 26X (3920 KB/sec) on the inside tracks and finishes at nearly 55X (8200 KB/sec) by the outer edge. This moves it past the Digital Research - the only other 56X CAV drive we've tested, leaving it behind only Kenwood's 72X in maximum transfer rates.

In the random access time tests, the Afreey averages 82 ms. This trails the competition from Toshiba, Creative and Digital Research, but does leave the drive in the upper tier of all optical drives SR has tested.

Historically, fast access times lead to high CD-ROM Winmark scores. Let's see how the Afreey fares.

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 score presented here represents 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.

Afreey's average of 1653 KB/sec ties Creative's 52X, but trails Toshiba's 48X by 7%. This leaves the drive in very good company in this particular benchmark. It should be noted that the slower-rated Toshiba rules in this test because of its 74 ms access times - the quickest we've ever measured.

Let's now move on to another measure of drive performance: copy tests.

File and Disc Copy

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The SR file copy test places emphasis on sequential transfer rates in copying a single, 634 MB file. The Afreey 56X completes this test in 2:12, an insignificant 3% behind its direct competitor - the Digital Research. Kenwood's 72X remains the fastest drive in this test, besting the Afreey by a more significant 7%.

The disc copy test introduces random accesses through multiple files and folders on our test CD. Here the Afreey falls to last place in our comparison with a copy time of nearly 3:06. Through spindle noise levels, its apparent that the drive rarely spins at full speed during this test. Due to it's consistency, though (less than 0.1% deviation in copy times over three trials), we must conclude that the drive is performing normally. The lack of any further performance issues in other tests substantiates this.

Digital Audio Extraction

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DAE is measured with two programs: CDSpeed99 and CDDAE99. CDSpeed99 presents 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 a hard drive.

CDSpeed99 measures a DAE potential of 20X-32X partial CAV for the Afreey. We don't see "up to 40X" speeds as Afreey claims on their website. Because the drive hits 32X relatively quickly into a CD-DA, though, average DAE is a robust 29X. Its minimum 20X speeds mean that 16X on-the-fly burns are possible when using the Afreey to feed the latest CD-RW drives.

Out of the ATAPI CD-ROM drives we've so far tested, only Kenwood's 72X does better. However, because of Kenwood's lower quality rating (it especially suffers when extracting from highly scratched media), the Afreey is arguably the more complete audio extractor. CDSpeed99 rates its extraction quality as perfect.

However, when testing with CDDAE99 (an actual ripping program), speeds are considerably lower. It takes about 3:21 to extract our entire test CD with verification disabled. This computes out to a 20X average across the disc...considerably less than CDSpeed99 measures with the same disc. Analysis of individual track scores seems to indicate that when using CDDAE99 with verification disabled, the Afreey extracts at 20X CLV. Enabling verification actually improves reported extraction rates (we see 31X on occasion during the 2nd, verification read of later tracks), but because each track is read twice, overall speeds are slower than when verification is disabled. Performance may vary with different audio extracting programs. Again, the Afreey gets a perfect report with extraction quality - CDDAE99 consistently reports 0 extraction errors.

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

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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.

The Afreey repeats its pressed CD performance with CD-Rs. Transfer rates top out at 55X while access times measure out to 81 ms.

Initially there were some read issues with blue dye media, but on Afreey's advice, we duplicated the suspect CD-Rs to identically branded/colored media and the problem did not exist on the copies. Further attempts to recreate the problem with blue dye CD-Rs proved unsuccessful, so we chalk it up to an unexplained benchmarking anomaly.

Performance with other CD-R brands and dye colors remain consistent at 26X-55X.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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With CD-RWs, performance drops to 8X CLV. Access times rise to 171 ms. Again, there are no issues reading from a variety of brands of both low and high speed media.

Comparison drives from Creative and Digital Research read CD-RWs at up to 32X, showing up the Afreey in this category. It's rare to find an ATAPI CD-ROM drive that reads CD-RWs at high speeds; if this is important to you, consider the competition.

Conclusion

Afreey's 56X comes close to topping our list for CD-ROM drives. Unfortunately, weaknesses accompany its strengths. We learned this when crowning the Kenwood 72X our current Leaderboard champ. The Kenwood's weaknesses lie with reading CD-RWs, as well as accurate DAE with scratched discs. Now the Afreey stands poised to overtake the Kenwood. Let's examine the positives and negatives.

In most cases, the drive offers excellent performance. WinMark scores (remember, these are heavily reliant on quick access times) actually top the Kenwood. Most other benchmarks show the Afreey trailing slightly. Audio extraction, while significantly slower than the Kenwood, is much faster than most other CD-ROMs, and the quality is better than the Kenwood offers. Also, the Afreey has no problems reading CD-Rs and -RWs, whereas the Kenwood has been known to struggle with CD-Rs, and flat-out cannot not read CD-RWs.

On the other hand, the drive is quite loud in most situations. Despite Afreey's excellent efforts at sound dampening, there's only so much they can do to lower 12,000 RPM noise levels. The Kenwood with its low spindle speed offers nearly silent operation in all situations. Also, though the Afreey can read CD-RWs, 8X CLV speeds are quite slow for today's drives. Finally, the disc copy test indicates that the Afreey, when faced with random reads, often does not spin up to full speed thus compromising a bit of performance.

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. Depending on the application, either drive could be considered top dog. Those who need reliable DAE quality and good CD-RW readability should seriously consider the Afreey. Those who don't need CD-RW readability, and crave the absolute best pressed CD performance along with unsurpassed DAE speeds (with unscratched audio CDs) and near-silent operation should lean toward the Kenwood.

Note: Recently, Kenwood 72X drives have become extremely hard to find. Consider the Afreey if Kenwood's units are scarce.


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