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Artec CHA-52

  August 2, 2001 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Special thanks go to Artronix Technology, Inc. for providing our evaluation unit.

Introduction

CD-ROM drives have come a long way since their humble 1X beginnings in 1987. Along the way, we've seen proprietary interfaces, a change in read styles from CLV to CAV, and finally stagnation in read speeds. Current CAV-style readers top out at 56X maximum transfers, or 8.4 MB/sec. The reason for the limitation is related to spindle speeds. Whereas the 1X readers of yesteryear topped out at about 200 RPM, today's 56X readers spin at a constant 12,000 RPM. Such spindle speeds not only create high vibration and noise-levels, they also require precise balancing in order to maintain read accuracy.

Although established in October of 2000, Artec USA's product line consists of drives produced by one of the leading OEM optical drive manufacturers, Ultima Electronics Corporation. Artec is still getting their feet wet in the U.S. market, but more online resellers carry their products since we reviewed their 16X DVD-ROM a few months ago. Still, their optical drives are scarce on the net and in some cases are only available from Artec's own online store.

Join with us as we see how this drive stacks up against competition from Afreey, Creative Labs and others.

Specifications

Specifications according to Artec:

  • CD read speeds of 3450-7800 KB/sec
  • Digital audio extraction speeds not specified
  • 128 KB buffer
  • <100 ms average random access time
  • ATAPI/ATA-33 interface
  • 1-year warranty
For more information, click here to see Artec's online product page.

The retail box contents:

  • The drive
  • A floppy disc containing DOS device drivers and the drive manual in .txt format
  • One analog audio cable
  • Four mounting screws
  • Quick installation diagram on the side of the box
The obvious missing item is an IDE cable. Sparse accoutrements likely help keep the drive's selling price competitive.

Physically, the drive looks fairly typical. The main standout on the front faceplate is a 2nd button for advancing audio tracks. The rear of the drive includes a digital audio out in addition to standard optical drive connectors. Finally, the disc recess on the tray is very shallow, making it difficult to grab the edges of a CD when the tray opens.

The drive arrived with firmware revision 1.10. No updates were available from Artec's site.

52X CAV CD-ROM drives are generally pretty noisy. Though the Artec is fairly loud at full spindle speed, it's less so than we expected. Interestingly, the drive spins up in discrete steps, as opposed to most drives spinning up smoothly. Audibly, this sounds similar to a car's shifting gears. Our hypothesis is that the drive is programmed to run at certain spindle speeds depending on the type of media in the drive as well as the quality of the media. Perhaps discretely separating these RPM zones allows for less motor wear or more accurate speed changes. The drive became only lukewarm during extended stress tests.

Current online pricing is $39 from Artec's online web store. More online resellers are starting to carry the Artec line and we've seen this drive for as low as $25 on Pricewatch.

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 Artec proves to be one of the only high speed CD-ROMs we've tested that meets outside transfer rate specs. WB99 measures minimum transfer rates of 25X at the inside of the disc, with maximum transfers of just over 52X (7850 KB/sec). This places it about 4% behind of the Afreey, our current Leaderboard champ.

Artec specifies a rather vague <100 ms access time for the CHA-52. While it does meet the spec, its measured time of 93 ms keeps it in last place compared to the competition.

CD-ROM Winmark 99

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CD Winbench 99's CD-ROM Winmark 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 CHA-52 averages 1510 KB/sec, keeping it 9% behind Leaderboard champion Afreey. Scores deviate by only 2%, indicating that the Artec maintains full-speed reading with a variety of CDs.

File and Disc Copy

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The file copy test emphasizes sequential transfer rates by copying a single, 634 MB file. The Artec completes the copy in 2:09, edging the Afreey and leaving it just behind the Digital Research.

The disc copy test introduces random accesses, due to the multiple files and folders on the test CD. Again, the Artec comes in 2nd, just behind the Digital Research.

The Artec clearly excels in copy situations, despite middling low-level figures. How does it do with DAE, though? Let's find out.

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 Artec surprises with a DAE potential of 15X-32X CAV. Its average extraction rate of 25X trails only the Afreey, leaving other CD-ROMs far behind. CDSpeed99 reports perfect extraction quality as well as support for accurate streaming.

With CDDAE99, however, a different picture is painted. The test CD is extracts in 3:07 for an overall average of 20.9X - a bit off from CDSpeed99's pace. The Afreey has similar issues, completing the same task in 3:21 for a 20X average. However, while the Afreey continues to produce perfect extraction quality, the Artec consistently produces errors on track 4 of our test disc. In fact, there are easily audible pops and crackles where CDDAE99 reports the extraction error. Testing with other audio CDs shows that this extraction error always occurs in the 18-23 minute range, no matter what source is used - even brand new discs. Artec asked us to send the drive back so they could run their own tests. They could not duplicate this error on their VIA-based P3-900 system.

We requested that they return the original drive as well as a 2nd sample. We were able to reconfirm our initial results with both units. In addition, both drives exhibited the same problem in a different system. We even tried an 80-conductor IDE cable in addition to the 40-conductor cable. In all cases the DAE issue remained. Since both systems we used are based on Intel's 440BX chipset while Artec's system is based on a VIA chipset, this leaves the possibility of a chipset-specific issue that we cannot pursue.

CD-DA Error Correction

Digital Recordings' CD-CHECK tests each drive's error correction abilities with audio CDs. CD-CHECK is a reference disc with five levels of error gap sizes, each isolated to its own track. Error size and other details may be viewed by clicking here.

In each track, a continuous 20-second tone is played. The larger the error gap, 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.

All drives are tested through playing each track five times with each successful playback (no audible pops or clicks) noted. 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 or 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
Artec CHA-52 5/5 5/5 4/5 2/5 0/5
Ricoh MP7200A 5/5 5/5 0/5 0/5 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 Artec provides perfect error correction through Level-2. From there, error correction slowly declines - 80% successful at Level-3 and 40% successful at Level-4. No drive SR has tested has yet completed Level-5 with even a single error-free effort.

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

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Each drive's ability to read from a variety of CD-R and -RW media is tested through low-level tests utilizing duplicates of the original pressed test CD.

The CHA-52 improves upon its already impressive pressed CD performance with maximum transfer rates of 7940 KB/sec with our CD-R disc. This comes out to 53X. Access times, however, regress slightly to 94.5 ms. There are no issues reading from a variety of brands of media.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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With CD-RW media, read speeds drop to 8X-16X CAV. Though a bit swifter than the Afreey's 8X CLV, the Artec trails competition from Creative and Digital Research. Access times clock in at 136 ms. The CHA-52 clearly does not place much emphasis on reading CD-RWs at high speeds. Fortunately, there are no quality issues with reading from a variety of brands and speeds of CD-RW media.

Conclusion

The Artec CHA-52 performs well enough to put itself into contention for a Leaderboard spot.

In summary, its strengths include:

  • 52X transfer rates that actually exceed specifications
  • Dirt-cheap pricing
  • Consistently high read speeds with a variety of pressed media
  • Excellent copy speeds
  • Excellent DAE speeds
  • Good CD-DA playback error correction

The drive's weak areas:

  • Shallow tray makes removing discs difficult
  • Slow access times compared to the competition
  • Suspect DAE quality
  • Mediocre CD-RW read speeds
Were it not for the DAE issues, the CHA-52 would overtake leaderboard champ Afreey. Its remaining strengths make for an impressive CD-ROM drive. As it currently stands, though, we only recommend this drive to those who will not use it for audio extraction.

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