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Ricoh MP7200A

  July 5, 2001 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Special thanks go to Hyper Microsystems* for providing our evaluation unit.

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


Introduction

On March 6th of this year, SR was informed that Ricoh would no longer offer CD-RWs in the U.S. At the time, Ricoh was about to release their MP7125A burner, which we'd been waiting to review. When the news was announced, we felt that we may never be able to review another Ricoh drive.

Fortunately, when Ricoh released their new 20X burner in Europe and Japan, Hyper Microsystems saw an opportunity to offer the fastest-available CD-RW to loyal customers in the U.S. HyperMicro realized this aim only by importing the drive from Europe...we're thankful and fortunate that they did, for in turn, they've been able to loan us one for review.

Ricoh's latest brings with it a slew of new technological advancements. Along with the now-familiar JustLink, there's something called JustSpeed and Zone-CLV, as well as the addition of a high-precision stepping motor for improved noise levels during seeks.

Join us now as we look into these new technologies and put the MP7200A through rigorous benchmark trials.

Specifications

Specifications according to Ricoh:

  • Maximum write speeds of 20X
  • Maximum rewrite speeds of 10X
  • Packet-writing speeds of 10X
  • CD read speeds of 40X Max
  • Digital audio extraction speeds of 40X Max
  • 2048 KB buffer
  • 100 ms average random access time
  • ATAPI/ATA-33 interface
  • JustLink buffer underrun protection
  • JustSpeed optimum writing speed control
The MP7200A is the first burner SR has tested that features Zone-CLV technology. Briefly, when the Ricoh is set to burn at 20X, it actually starts at 16X and burns for a short period before ramping up to 20X writes for the remainder of the disc. In the following graph, the green line represents write speed while the yellow line represents RPM:

The reason for Zone-CLV? Starting with 20X writes would require spindle speeds in excess of 9000 RPM, possibly compromising data integrity. Because of the way data is encoded on CDs, spindle speeds are at their highest when writing to the innermost sections of media. Maintaining the same write speeds requires fewer RPMs as the write continues outward along the disc. Therefore, the Ricoh writes at a constant 16X (with a beginning RPM of about 8000) from the inside of the disc until about the 10-minute mark, where it is then safe to ramp write speeds up to 20X (bringing RPMs briefly back up to about 8000). Interestingly, at this point, the jump in spindle speed is clearly audible as the drive jumps from 6000 RPM up to 8000. The end result is an overall average write speed of about 19.5X across an entire disc.

By now we're familiar with Ricoh's coaster prevention technology, JustLink. But what is JustSpeed? It's a technology designed to determine the optimum recording speed for the target media.

When a disc is inserted into the drive, three steps are taken. First, the drive checks in the media's ATIP (Advanced Time In Pregroove) area for information embedded there by the media manufacturer. Second, a write test is performed in the OPC (optimum power calibration) area. Finally, the drive obtains the status of the servo follow check at the outer edge of the disc in order to determine the amount of track shift in the media. This determines how precisely the disc itself is manufactured. Once all this information is collected, the drive goes through an algorithm to decide the optimum safe writing speed for the particular disc in the drive. As we will see later, JustSpeed does work, but may be too conservative at times.

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

The retail box contents:

  • The drive
  • 1 blank CD-R disc
  • 1 blank CD-RW disc
  • Quick Start Guide in six languages
  • Warranty/Registration cards
  • Analog audio cable
  • Four mounting screws
  • Drive manual included on the software CD
  • Nero 5.5/InCD 1.61 pre-mastering/packet-writing software
Missing is an IDE cable and a printed manual. We are impressed, however, with detailed Word docs containing Nero user manuals as well as guides for hard disk backups and burning MP3s.

The front of the tray is fully integrated, rather than the flap-style seen on the MP9120A. There is a single LED that lights amber when reading or writing. We prefer either two LEDs or two different colored lights on a single LED. The back of the drive is standard fare for most internal ATAPI drives, save for the digital audio output. Our tests with a Soundblaster Live! confirm its functionality.

The drive arrived with firmware revision 1.02. We flashed to the latest available firmware, 1.10, prior to testing. Since testing has been completed, we've noted another firmware update to 1.30. Although it claims improved write and rewrite performance, tests show no such improvement. However, as discussed in the Write/Rewrite Performance section, the new firmware does improve JustSpeed media detection and performance with Verbatim 16X media.

Ricoh claims improved seek noise with the addition of a high-precision stepping motor. Compared to Ricoh's MP9120A and AOpen's CRW1232A (based on the Ricoh MP7125A), the MP7200A's seek noise is definitely quieter. The difference is remarkable. Full-RPM spindle hum is about on par with the Plextor PX-W1610TA and the Teac CD-W516EB - noticeable but unobtrusive. The MP7200A runs mildly warm after extended stress tests.

The Ricoh is currently available to U.S. customers for $180 at Hyper Microsystems. Because this drive must be imported to the U.S, we're aware of only one other vendor carrying this drive here, for a price of $182. This price point is actually less than that of some competing 16X/10X/40X burners.

For an overview on methodology, click here.

CD-ROM Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

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

The Ricoh lives up to its 40X spec with maximum transfer rates of 6040 KB/sec. Interior transfer rates clock in at just under 20X (2940 KB/sec). This places it 3rd in the comparison though it trails the Plextor and Teac only marginally.

Access times measure at 88 ms, well under the 100 ms spec. This ties Ricoh's unit for 2nd place with Ricoh's MP9120A in our comparison, trailing only Teac's sub-80 ms score.

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 tests each drive's ability to read from a range of discs pressed with identical data.

The MP7200A shatters Teac's freshly set record of 1360 KB/sec with its own high-water mark for a burner: 1480 KB/sec. As the Ricoh merely equals the Teac in transfer rates and trails it in access times, the MP7200A likely features better-optimized electronics. Also, Ricoh's scores deviate by only 3% whereas Teac's scores deviate by 6%. This suggests that the Ricoh reads better from a variety of pressed media at maximum speeds.

File and Disc Copy

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The file copy test places emphasis on sequential transfer rates in copying a single, 634 MB file. The MP7200A's copy time of 2:40 places it firmly into first place in the comparison. Teac's latest trails by 5%.

The disc copy test introduces random accesses, due to the multiple files and folders on the test CD. Teac's access time advantage helps it maintain a slim margin over the challenging Ricoh in this test. The MP7200A ends up an insignificant 1 second behind the CD-W516EB.

Digital Audio Extraction

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SR measures DAE using two programs: CDSpeed99 and CDDAE99. CDSpeed99 measures low-level DAE capabilities, while CDDAE99 is an actual audio ripping program that converts audio tracks on CD-DAs to .wav files on the hard drive.

In CDSpeed99, the MP7200A nearly equals the Plextor in audio extraction speed, trailing the PX-W1610TA by less than 1%. CDSpeed99 in addition reports perfect extraction quality as well as support for accurate streaming.

When extracting audio with CDDAE99, the MP7200A maintains speeds near to those demonstrated in CDSpeed99. The 65-minute test disc extracts in 2:21 at an average speed of 27.6X. The Plextor completes the same task one second quicker. The Ricoh also maintains the perfect extraction quality presented in CDSpeed99. In short, zero errors surface when CDDAE99 verifies the extracted .wav files.

CD-DA Error Correction

Due to popular request, SR has begun testing each drive's error correction capabilities when playing audio CDs. The tool we use is Digital Recordings' CD-CHECK. CD-CHECK is a reference disc with five levels of error sizes created on it, each error on its own track. Error size and other details may be viewed by clicking here. During each track, a continuous 20-second tone is played. The larger the error, the more difficult it is for the drive's error correction to mask the error without an audible pop or click occurring during playback of the tone.

We test each drive by playing each track five times. We record the amount of times each track plays back without producing an audible pop or click. A result of 5/5 indicates that no pops or clicks were heard in 5 out of 5 playbacks of a particular track. A result of 0/5 indicates pops and clicks occurred during all 5 playbacks of a particular track. Digital Recordings indicates the following interpretation of results:

  • Level-1 Pass: player meets minimum requirements
  • Level-2 Pass: Average error correction
  • Level-3 Pass: Good error correction
  • Level-4 Pass: Very good error correction
  • Level-5 Pass: Excellent error correction
CD-Check Performance
Error Level 1 2 3 4 5
Ricoh MP7200A 5/5 5/5 0/5 0/5 0/5
Artec 52X CD-ROM 5/5 5/5 4/5 2/5 0/5
AOpen CRW1232A 5/5 5/5 4/5 0/5 0/5
Plextor 16/10/40A 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 0/5
Pioneer DVD-116 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 0/5
Teac CD-W516EB 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 0/5
Kenwood 72X 5/5 4/5  0/5 0/5 0/5

The MP7200A performs perfectly at the first two levels. However, Levels 3-5 all produce playback errors 100% of the time. For comparison, the PX-W1610TA, CD-W516EB, and Pioneer's DVD-116 all provide perfect error correction up to Level-4. AOpen's CRW1232A provides 80% successful error correction at Level-3, but drops to 0% for Levels 4 and 5.

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.

With CD-R media, the Ricoh continues along at 40X max read speeds, nearly approaching 41X by the outer edge of our test CD. Access times measure in at 89.5ms, slightly slower than with our pressed disc. We see nearly identical performance with Ricoh, TDK, Imation, Verbatim, and PNY media.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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With CD-RW media, 41.3X (6200 KB/sec) transfer rates are achieved at the outer edge. This makes the MP7200A the fastest CD-RW media reader SR has ever tested. Access times weigh in at an impressive 87 ms. There are no issues reading from low- and high-speed CD-RW media from TDK, Verbatim, Memorex and Sony.

Write/ReWrite Tests

JustSpeed Tests

To test Ricoh's JustSpeed technology, we conduct write tests using our data CD (619 MB) and four different brands of media of varying speeds. Tests were conducted with JustSpeed enabled and disabled (Nero Burning ROM has a checkbox on the CD-Recorder selection page).

CD-R Media Performance
CD-R Media Dye Color Just Speed - ON Just Speed - OFF
Attempted Write Speed Actual Write Speed Attempted Write Speed Actual Write Speed
PNY 24X/Firmware 1.10 gold 12X 12X 20X 20X
PNY 24X/Firmware 1.30 gold  12X 12X 20X 20X
Verbatim 16X/Firmware 1.10 blue 16X 12X 20X 20X
Verbatim 16X/Firmware 1.30 blue 16X 16X 20X 20X
TDK 12X/Firmware 1.10 green 16X 12X 20X 20X
TDK 12X/Firmware 1.30 green 20X 12X 20X 20X
Ricoh Platinum 12X/Firmware 1.10 green/gold 20X 20X 20X 20X
Ricoh Platinum 12X/Firmware 1.30 green/gold 20X 20X 20X 20X

The only media tested that is capable of burning at 20X with JustSpeed enabled is Ricoh's 12X Platinum media.

Interestingly, with firmware 1.10 the TDK media is detected as 16X but during the burn process, JustSpeed lowers the write speed to 12X and the burn times reflect this. With firmware 1.30, the TDK media is detected as 20X, but again JustSpeed lowers writes to 12X speeds.

The Verbatim media was correctly detected as 16X with the 1.10 firmware while burn times indicated only 12X performance. After upgrading to the 1.30 firmware, JustSpeed again correctly detects the Verbatim media as 16X but this time burn times reflect this speed.

However, PNY's 24X-rated media is detected as only 12X by JustSpeed (with both firmware revisions). We believe that either the Ricoh's media table in its firmware doesn't have the PNY info, or the PNY media itself is missing ATIP information needed by JustSpeed.

With JustSpeed disabled, all four brands write successfully at 20X.

With JustSpeed disabled, though, is write quality affected? To determine, we first access each disc in Windows Explorer to make sure they read back what is written to them. Then, we run each disc through transfer rate tests to see if they read at full speed.

The results? All discs are detected normally by Windows Explorer and complete transfer rate measures at full speed.

Based on this, JustSpeed may be a bit conservative when identifying safe media speeds. With JustSpeed disabled, the Ricoh can write to a variety of name-brand media at 20X with no discernible consequences. Our advice: if unsure about your existing media, try a burn at 20X with JustSpeed disabled and see if it's successful. If so, there likely will be no issues with writing to that media.

Note: We asked Ricoh how they would implement JustSpeed to account for CD-R media produced after the drive's release. They informed us that firmware updates would be used for this purpose. As we've shown with the Verbatim 16X media, they've already begun updating their JustSpeed detection algorithms.

CD-R Based Duplication

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Ahead Software's Nero Burning ROM measures how long each tested drive takes to duplicate audio and data test discs when burning at maximum speeds. All drives are tested as "source" and "destination," creating results for "imaging" as well as "writing."

Note: All write tests were conducted on PNY 24X media with JustSpeed disabled in Nero.

On the audio CD, the MP7200A possesses both the quickest image and burn times. Its burn time of 4:18 is 13% quicker than the 16X Plextor. Though this isn't quite the 25% difference between 20X and 16X, nonetheless there's a new speed champion. Total duplication times clock in at 8:35.

With the data CD, we see very similar results. This time the burn completes in 4:26 - 16% quicker than the Plextor. Total duplication time is 7:02.

CD-RW Based Duplication

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Here the pressed data disk is duplicated to CD-RW media at the drive's fastest rewrite speeds. At present, 10X is the quickest rewrite speed available, and all drives in the comparison are 10X rewriters. It's no surprise, therefore, that all burn times are tightly grouped with less than 5% difference between the top and bottom drives. With an average burn time of 7:54, the MP7200A fits in at second place behind another Ricoh: the MP9120A. Because of the MP7200A's quick image speeds, however, it's able to complete the duplication process in 10:30 to edge out the Plextor.

CD-R Based Stress Tests

During the course of testing, when we create an ISO burn, the drive performs as expected. The drive's buffer never comes close to lowering due to Nero's dual RAM and hard disk buffers. Only freezing the system with a CTRL-ALT-DEL will force a JustLink activation. After this is done, the burn resumes normally and the resulting data is fully readable from the CD-R.

However, after duplicating the data CD with Nero's CD Copy utility and after the source is imaged, the following burn occasionally results in at least one JustLink activation. This only occurs with the data disc, not with the audio disc. And it only occurs with Nero's CD Copy, not with its ISO application. In addition, burn speed of 16X or slower keep software and hardware buffers full- JustLink is not activated. In some cases we're forced to raise Nero's RAM buffer and Disc Cache levels to their maximum values to prevent this. We've reported the findings to Ahead Software, but at present are uncertain if it is a hardware or software issue.

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InCD Formatting

Ahead's InCD formats CD-RW media. The MP7200A proves to be the quickest at formatting a high speed CD-RW with an average time of 11:27. With the exception of Ricoh's MP9120A, all drives group tightly.

InCD 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 MP7200A leads the way with an average time of 2:36. Teac's CD-W516EB virtually ties the Ricoh, and all drives finish within 1% of each other.

Nero CD-RW Erasing

Finally, Nero's CD-RW eraser utility times how long it takes to return a formatted CD-RW to a blank state. Once again, all drives perform similarly, with a 3% difference between fastest and slowest. The MP7200A comes in at the middle of the pack with a full erase time of 8:04.

Conclusion

Ricoh's MP7200A proves it's possible to bring tangible improvements to burner performance beyond 16X CLV speeds. In summary, its strengths include:

  • Fastest writing speeds yet tested.
  • Zone-CLV means <20X write speeds are minimized to the first 13% of a CD-R blank.
  • 12X and 16X-rated media works fine at 20X.
  • Fastest overall read speeds yet see in application-level tests.
  • Audio extraction speed and quality equals the best tested in a burner.
  • Competitive rewrite and packet-writing performance.
  • Unobtrusive noise and heat levels.
  • Excellent pricing/value.

Its weaknesses:

  • Availability is extremely limited in the U.S.
  • Duplicating data CDs at 20X with Nero's CD Copy occasionally causes JustLink activations. These are reduced, but not always eliminated by maximizing Nero's RAM buffer and disc cache.
  • JustSpeed appears to be too conservative with some media.
  • CD-DA error correction is only average.
Even minor criticisms of the drive are apt be rectified: the problem with CD Copy can likely be fixed with an upgrade from Ahead or a firmware update from Ricoh; the manufacturer will continually issue updated firmware revisions. Popularity of the drive may induce other U.S. vendors to start importing the drive. Not to mention companies like Aopen, known to base their drives on Ricoh technology, will likely make variations of this drive more commonplace in the States.

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. Overall, the MP7200A delivers the best combination of performance and value in a burner and give it an easy recommendation.


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