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Lite-On LTD-163

  September 12, 2001 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Special thanks go to Lite-On Corporation for providing our evaluation unit.

Introduction

On August 23rd of this year SR took its first look at a Lite-On optical drive: the LTR16101B 16/10/40 CD-RW. Though it offered middling performance in most areas, it did so with the lowest price tag we'd ever seen for a 16/10/40 burner, making it a top choice for budget-minded users. Since then we have looked forward to reviewing some of Lite-On's other models.

One of the manufacturer's most anticipated drives is a 16X DVD-ROM. The LTD163 one-ups competition from Artec and Pioneer by combining 48X CD read speeds with 16X DVD speeds. The aforementioned units top out at "only" 40X CD reads. In addition, reports indicate that the LTD163 can extract digital audio at up to 48X. With the exception of Kenwood's multi-beam CD readers, no other unit has surpassed 40X. Such lofty performance measures place the LTD163 in an enviable position. Does it live up to claims? Let's find out.

Specifications

Specifications according to Lite-On:

  • CD read speeds of 48X CAV
  • DVD read speeds of 16X CAV
  • Digital audio extraction speeds specified as "high speed"
  • Buffer size of 512 KB
  • <80 ms average random access time
  • ATAPI/ATA-33 interface
  • 1-year Warranty
For more information, click here to see Lite-On's online product page.

The retail box includes:

  • The drive
  • Quick Install Guide foldout poster
  • CyberLink PowerDVD software
  • Drive manual in .pdf format on CD
  • DOS drivers on CD
  • Analog audio cable
  • Four mounting screws

The drive front features a bold DVD-ROM logo printed in black at the center of the tray face. Like the company's 16/10/40 burner, there is a sticker depicting the company's website address. Rarely found on optical drives, the LTD163 also has a second button to advance audio tracks in addition to the standard eject button. The LED is large and easily visible, shining bright green when CDs or DVDs are accessed. The LED remains off if there is a disc in the tray that isn't being accessed.

The rear of the drive features a digital audio out in addition to standard optical drive connections.

The drive arrived with firmware revision GH4F. Recently, GH4N was released- brief comparisons with the new firmware determined that full retesting was not warranted - performance levels were identical and problematic drive issues remained unfixed.

As a 48X reader, the drive operates at a constant 10,800 RPM when reading at full speed. The drive is remarkably quiet considering its spindle speeds... there are much louder 40X readers out there. What most consumers should be more interested in, however, is the drive's noise levels when playing DVD-Videos. Whereas most DVD-ROMs spin at full spindle speed when playing back movies, the Lite-On spins at minimal speeds (perhaps 1X) and thus is nearly silent during movie playback. Heat levels consequently remain very low during movie playback as well. The drive does warm up a bit after extended use in full-speed reads, though not high enough to warrant any concern.

Current online pricing runs as low as $48 for the retail box. In comparison, Artec's retail 16X drive goes for $42. Pioneer's DVD-116 and Toshiba's 16X offering (both available only as bare drives) go for $49 and $47 respectively. In short, most of today's top DVD-ROMs are similarly priced.

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 LTD163 lives up to its 48X CAV read spec with a maximum transfer rate of 7320 KB/sec (48.8X). This distances the drive from 40X readers from Pioneer, Artec, Toshiba and Afreey.

Access times come in at 87 ms - a bit shy of Lite-On's <80 ms claim. Still, this is good enough for 3rd place in our comparison and bodes well for application level tests.

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 averages results 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.

Despite above-average low-level figures, the LTD163 only manages a score of 1243 KB/sec in this test...dead last. The Lite-On has trouble maintaining maximum spindle speeds through the various Winmark tests, undoubtedly contributing to lower scores. There is a 9% deviation between scores for the four test discs with a maximum of 1320 and minimum of 1075. This suggests that the LTD163 may have trouble reading various pressed CDs at maximum speeds.

File and Disc Copy

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The file copy test emphasizes sequential transfer rates by copying a single 634 MB file. The LTD163 completes the copy in just under 2:18, edging out the DVD-305S for the top spot.

The disc copy test introduces random accesses through the multiple files and folders on the test CD. Here the Lite-On finishes in 2nd place with a copy time of 2:52. Its score remains a scant 3% behind the DVD-305S. However, considering the former unit's superior transfer rates and equal access times, we expected the LTD163 to slide by the Pioneer. The drive's propensity to reduce spindle speeds during the test likely contributes to increased copy times here.

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 LTD163 turns in the quickest audio extraction we've ever seen from a CAV reader with 48X speeds at the outer edge of our test disc. This leads to an average rate of 36X, outracing the next competitor by a whopping 47%! For those feeding their burners in on-the-fly audio copying, the Lite-On's minimum rates of 22X mean easy disc-to-disc burns on even 24X Zone CLV writers. Remember, even 24X burners begin writing at 16X, allowing plenty of headroom for the LTD163 to feed such writes. CDSpeed99 reports perfect extraction quality as well as support for accurate streaming.

We've recently commenced testing DAE quality with a 2nd set of discs: two identical audio CDs with different surface qualities. One is brand new and scratch-free while the 2nd is moderately scratched from years of normal wear. With these discs, the LTD163 does show some slowdown with the scratched version as seen in the screenshot below. However, reported extraction quality remains perfect.

CDDAE99 reports average speeds of 34X - slightly below the 36X potential that CDSpeed99 proclaims. Still, our 65-minute test CD extracts in only 1:55 with no detected errors. However, when the 2nd set of discs runs through CDDAE99, some slowdown arises on the scratched version. In addition, CDDAE99 reports some errors. In one case these reported errors produced audible pops and clicks but in all other areas there aren't any abnormal sounds - apparently the drive's error correction abilities mask most of these problem areas.

CD-DA Error Correction

Digital Recordings' CD-CHECK tests 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 viewedhere.

A continuous 20-second tone is plays in each track. 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 tested drives play 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 means pops or clicks occurred during all 5 playbacks of a particular track. Digital Recordings provides 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
Lite-On LTD-163 5/5 5/5 3/5 0/5 0/5
Pioneer DVD-116 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 0/5
Lite-On LTR-16101B 5/5 5/5 3/5 0/5 0/5
Plextor PX-W2410TA 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 0/5
Teac CD-W516EB 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 0/5
Ricoh MP7200A 5/5 5/5 0/5 0/5 0/5
Kenwood 72X 5/5 4/5 0/5 0/5 0/5

Like Lite-On's 16/10/40 burner, the LTD163 provides perfect error correction up to Level-2. From there, successful error correction drops to 60% for Level-3 before dropping to 0% for levels 4 and 5. A handful of drives from Plextor, Pioneer and Teac are able to provide perfect error correction up to Level-4 - the best recorded so far.

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

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Low-level performance measurements on duplicates of the pressed test CD assess a drive's ability to read from a variety of CD-R and -RW media.

With CD-R media the LTD163 maintains top read speeds. Transfer rates come in at 7450 KB/sec (49.7X) on the outside of the test CD-R. In addition, access times improve slightly to 86 ms. There are no problems reading from a variety of brands and speeds of media.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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When it comes to CD-RW media, the LTD163 reduces read speeds to a maximum of 3443 KB/sec (23X). This betters DVD-ROMs from Afreey, Artec and Toshiba, but Pioneer's DVD drives are able to read CD-RWs at 32X CAV. The LTD163's access times drop to 123 ms here, but there are no issues reading from various brands and speeds of -RW media.

DVD-ROM Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

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

Unfortunately, Lite-On's drive has difficulty reading our DVDTach98 test disc, spinning up and down repeatedly throughout the test. Lite-On first replaced the test unit, yet when the 2nd sample behaved identically, they requested to send us their own DVD disc for testing. It worked flawlessly. Lite-On's disc was also used in Pioneer's DVD-116 and found to work perfectly there as well, yielding results identical to the DVDTach98 disc. If the LTD163 had problems reading our DVD-Video, there might be cause for concern, but when the Lite-On had no problems with it, we were forced to consider an odd compatibility issue between the drive and our DVDTach98 disc. Thus, the following data results are from Lite-On's DVD disc.

One other point of interest: Whereas the DVD-116 was CPU-limited in its DVD read speeds, the Lite-On is not. In our testbed, the DVD-116 requires a 750 Mhz P3 to reach 16X DVD reads; slower processor speeds tend to cap the Pioneer at 14X or lower. The LTD163, on the other hand, reaches unhindered DVD reads at 500 Mhz. Though two different processors were used at various bus speeds to determine this, reported scores are taken with the testbed's standard P3-450 Mhz processor. This issue will be addressed in our third-generation testbed. For now, though, the processor remains as-is to retain result database consistency.

Able to reach 15X at the outer edge of the disc, the LTD163 averages 11.6X across our entire DVD-Video disc. In comparison, the Artec maxes out at 14.2X (not processor-limited; rather, the drive's true speed) while the DVD-116 is limited to 11.4X with DVD-Videos. DVDSpeed99 reports CPU usage of 5% at 1X for the Lite-On. In comparison, the Artec and Pioneer both average 6%.

With data DVDs, the LTD163 reaches 15X at the outside again, averaging 11.7X across the entire disc. Again CPU usage is 5% at 1X. As mentioned earlier, the Lite-On requires 500 Mhz CPU speeds in our testbed to reach 16X transfers at the outer edge, achieved at both 66 Mhz FSB (7.5X multiplier) and 112 Mhz (4.5X multiplier). This makes the small hump at the end of the transfer rate graph disappear.

Subjective Playback Observations

No subjective quality issues arise during playback of portions in two movies (Twister and The Matrix). 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 may 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.

Though most DVD-ROM drives spin up to full spindle speeds when playing DVD-Videos (reading data intermittently off of the disc), the Lite-On LTD163 spins at very low RPMs (1X?) during movie playback. This offers nearly silent operation in comparison to the competition while playing DVD movies. For those looking for a quiet DVD player for their computers, this is the drive! An ancillary benefit- the drive remains very cool during movie playback. After 30 minutes of movie play it remains room temperature. Kudos to Lite-On for implementing this!

Conclusion

On the whole, the LTD163 paints one of the most complete DVD-ROM pictures we've yet seen.

In summary, its strengths include:

  • DVD playback software included with retail package
  • Audio track advance button in addition to eject button
  • Low pricing
  • CD and CD-R transfer rates outperform all competitors
  • Excellent performance in file and disc copy tests
  • Quickest DAE ever measured from a single-beam reader
  • Fastest DVD transfer rates
  • Drive is extremely quiet when playing DVD-Videos

The drive's weak areas are:

  • Often reduces spindle speeds when reading from some pressed CDs, especially in conjunction with random accesses
  • IDE cable not included in retail package
  • Documentation is sparse
  • DAE quality falters slightly with more scratched CDs
  • CD-DA playback error correction only average
  • Transfer rates slower than competition with CD-RW media

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, we are very impressed with Lite-On's latest DVD-ROM drive. It shatters DVD-ROM barriers in transfer rates and DAE speed while providing quiet operation during movie playback. On the other hand, the drive could use some work with DAE quality with more banged up discs, and perhaps in a related matter, improve its playback error correction with audio CDs. Perhaps these minor infractions may be eliminated with firmware tweaks.

In the end, the drive easily impresses us enough to supplant the Pioneer DVD-116 for a coveted Leaderboard spot.


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