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Afreey DD-4012E

  May 15, 2001 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Special thanks go to Afreey, Inc. for providing our evaluation unit.

Introduction

Before we begin examining Afreey's DD-4012E, let's take a brief historical look at DVD-ROM technology. DVD-ROM drives have been on the market for about 4 years now. When the technology was introduced, there was excitement in the air about promised speed and capacity improvements over the CD-ROM standard.

Indeed, the DVD standard offers capacities in the gigabytes (as opposed to the 650MB CD-ROM standard), as well as much improved transfer rates (today's 16X DVD speeds break 20 MB/sec, whereas a typical 56X CD reader barely breaks 8 MB/sec). Don't forget the ability to read standard CD-ROMs.

There seemed no reason for the DVD-ROM to not overtake the CD-ROM.

However, it's four years later and the two technologies still co-exist. For various reasons, there's been a continuous wait-and-see game played out between software developers, optical drive manufacturers, computer makers, and of course, the consumers themselves.

The software developers face the reality of limited budgets. Nearly everyone has a CD-ROM drive, but only a minority has DVD-ROMs. If developers place their software on DVD, they risk missing out on a huge majority of their audience. If they put their titles on both CD and DVD, they must pay the added expense of such actions, with questionable returns. Only a relative handful of software companies have taken such risks. Today, retail outlets like CompUSA and Best Buy typically carry no DVD-ROM software titles at all. A consumer's best bet for locating software on DVD is to search the Internet for online vendors who may carry such titles.

To this day, DVD-ROM drives' number one attraction is the ability to play DVD movies on one's computer. Some even go so far as to output movie playback from their computers to their entertainment centers.

Afreey's main focus is on optical technology. In fact, their product lineup is limited strictly to CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs, and DVD players. They pride themselves in designing the most crucial components in their products, such as servo controls and mechanism modules. Afreey enjoys a reputation for some of the best digital audio extraction speeds. In fact, their 56X CD-ROM drive recently seized the top spot on SR's own Leaderboard. So how does their top DVD-ROM drive perform? Let's find out!

Specifications

Specifications according to Afreey's manual/website:

  • CD read speeds of 6000 KB/sec max (40X)
  • DVD read speeds of 16,200 KB/sec max (12X)
  • Digital audio extraction speeds not specified
  • 512 KB buffer
  • 90 ms average random access time
  • ATAPI interface (ATA-33)
For more information, click here to see Afreey's online product page.

The retail box contents:

  • The drive
  • InterVideo WinDVD 2000 CD
  • Analog audio cable
  • Four mounting screws
  • Installation floppy with DOS drivers
  • Multi-language drive manual
Like their 56X CD-ROM, Afreey does not package an IDE cable with the drive. The manual is of the foldout variety, with one side in English, the other in Chinese.

The rest of the drive's vitals: most noteworthy is the curvy tray fašade. This is the most unique-looking drive face we've ever seen. In addition, there are two LEDs - one a standard "busy" indicator, the 2nd lighting when a DVD disc is in the drive. This detail is useful; other manufacturers should follow suit. The rear of the drive houses both analog and digital audio outputs in addition to the standard 40-pin IDE connector, molex power connector and master/slave/cable select jumper block.

The drive arrived with firmware revision 12. No updates were available during testing. However, upon completion of the review and following the drive's return, Afreey informed us that a firmware revision 13 was released that addresses the DAE speed issue raised later in this article. We have not been able to verify the changes.

Noise levels are quite impressive...perhaps the quietest 40X we've ever heard. Noise remains low when reading from DVDs. Heat levels are also remarkable...extended stress testing leaves the drive barely warm to the touch. Overall, the drive does well in these two categories.

Current online pricing is about $60 according to Pricewatch.

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 random access times and sustained transfer rates.

The Afreey, while performing at rated speeds, is still the slowest of the 40X readers with a maximum transfer rate of 6063 KB/sec - a virtual tie with Toshiba's SD-M1401.

Access times come in at 92 ms, a hair slower than the 90 ms spec. Again, this leaves the Afreey in 5th place out of 6 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 result is an average from four different test discs obtained from Ziff-Davis. This tests each drive's ability to read from a range of discs pressed with identical data.

Here the Afreey climbs to 4th place in the comparison with a score of 1360 KB/sec. Competition from Artec and Pioneer remain significantly ahead with scores ranging from 1710 KB/sec to 1548 KB/sec.

File and Disc Copy

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The file copy test emphasizes sequential transfer rates by copying a single, 634 MB file. Again, the Afreey is the slowest of the 40X readers, averaging 2:49 to copy the test file. Only Ricoh's 32X reader takes longer.

The disc copy test introduces random accesses through multiple files and folders on the test CD. Like their 56X CD-ROM, Afreey's DVD-ROM drive appears to reduce spindle speed during this test. Unfortunately, this leads to disc copy times of 3:44 - slightly slower than the 32X-rated Ricoh.

Digital Audio Extraction

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We use two programs to measure DAE: 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 the hard drive.

CDSpeed99 measures a DAE potential of 14X-32X CAV. Average DAE is over 24X...easily the fastest we've seen for a DVD-ROM drive. Only Pioneer's DVD-116 comes close to keeping up. CDSpeed99 reports perfect extraction quality as well as support for accurate streaming.

When extracting the same CD with CDDAE99, speeds average only 15X. As Ian over at CDR Labs points out in his review of this drive, the Afreey only seems to extract at full speed after running CDSpeed99. Running CDDAE99 directly after a CDSpeed99 run yields an average DAE of 23.5X. Unfortunately, extracting from our CD without this preemptive action yields DAE speeds of approximately 10X-20X CAV.

It appears as though the drive's firmware detects something with CDSpeed99 that defines a certain spindle speed for audio extraction. CDDAE99 and other audio extracting programs do not seem to trigger this same algorithm, so the drive's firmware sets a reduced spindle RPM for audio extraction. This effect lasts until the system is rebooted. Since Afreey does not specify DAE speeds, we're not certain which of these two sets of extraction rates are correct. Thus, we cannot say if the issue lies with the drive or CDSpeed99. Regardless, even the slower set offers above-average DAE speeds - tying the Artec for 2nd place behind the Pioneer's 16X CLV speeds. [Note that a recently introduced firmware upgrade purports to fix this problem]

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

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Duplicates of our pressed test CD assess a drive's ability to read from a variety of CD-R and -RW media.

With CD-R media, the Afreey pulls slightly ahead of the Toshiba with a maximum transfer rate of 6180 KB/sec. Like almost every tested optical drive, the Afreey is slightly faster reading from CD-Rs than from pressed CDs. Access times drop a little to 89 ms. There are no compatibility issues with a variety of brands and dye colors.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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CD-RW read speeds drop to 1630-3320 KB/sec, about equal to the Artec and Toshiba. The Ricoh and Pioneers are much quicker with CD-RWs, reading them at 32X max speeds. The Afreey's access times remain at 92 ms here, and the drive is fully compatible with various brands of both low and high-speed media.

DVD-ROM Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

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DVDSpeed99 measures sustained transfer rates and CPU utilization a 1X.

With a DVD Video, transfer rates measure out to 5X-11.3X CAV, approaching the drive's 12X rating. CPU usage at 1X is the lowest ever at 5%.

The Afreey achieves nearly identical results with a data DVD. The test disc's slightly larger size permits maximum transfer rates of over 11.5X at the outer edge. Again, CPU usage at 1X hovers at 5%.

Subjective Playback Observations

In watching portions of two movies (Twister and The Matrix), we found no quality issues during playback. Remember, DVD movies play at 1X, so just about any modern DVD-ROM drive will do a good job playing movies, provided it is installed in a system with decent CPU speeds (greater than 300 Mhz) and sufficient memory (at least 64 MB, preferably 128 MB). Systems with hardware-based DVD decoders can get away with slower CPU speeds. The video card and decoding hardware/software typically play a much greater role in playback performance than the drive itself.

DVD Video discs spin at full speed in DVD-ROM drives, with data being read intermittently off of the disc. Thus, 1X read speeds are maintained despite spindle RPMs consistent with maximum read speeds. As such, noise levels during movie playback tend to be higher on faster-rated drives. For this reason the Afreey tends to be a bit quieter than most 16X-rated DVD drives when watching movies.

Conclusion

Afreey's fastest current DVD-ROM drive steps up with a decided disadvantage in DVD read speeds. At 12X, the drive faces stiff competition from 16X readers made by Artec and Pioneer. However, as a 40X CD reader, the Afreey specs in on par with the competition.

DVD read speeds tend to get inflated in some circles. Movie playback requires only 1X (1350 KB/sec) speeds. Speeds beyond 1X are of benefit mainly if you use the drive to read data DVDs. These typically include games, encyclopedia and mapping/atlas software. However, given the lack of data DVD availability (such software is typically not available through standard retail channels), SR places less emphasis on DVD read speeds. Most consumers look for a quick CD reader that can also play DVD movies.

Unfortunately, the Afreey also trails the competition as a CD reader. Its read speeds trail the 40X competition in most categories. Even Ricoh's MP9120A, a 32X reader, edges by the Afreey in disc copy tests.

Afreey's drive shines in digital audio extraction, with some of the fastest measured DAE for a DVD-ROM. Despite the strange DAE discrepancy between CDSpeed99 and CDDAE99, audio extraction performance and quality remain at or near the top of all DVD-ROMs we've tested.

In addition, the Afreey excels in areas of heat and noise. The drive's cool, quiet operation is sure to be valued by those used to the loud hum associated with much of the competition.

Lastly, while styling is a subjective matter, the unique faceplate is an attractive change of pace and the added functionality of the dual LEDs is quite useful.

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. In the end, consumers must weigh these matters through their personal preferences. Those interested in the fastest CD or DVD read performance should seriously consider the competition. Those more interested in unobtrusive operation, excellent DAE and unique styling should consider the Afreey. At a street price of $60, it's a compelling alternative to the pricier (but quicker) competition.


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