Back in April 1995, I upgraded the stock Mitsumi 2x proprietary CD-ROM in my system with Toshiba's SCSI-based XM-3501B 4x CD-ROM. The only drive available at that time that was reputed to be better was the rather expensive Plextor PX-43CH, with its massive 1 meg buffer. The little Toshiba served me well, continually spinning away as I upgrade part after part elsewhere in my system. SCSI's busmastering, robust even back then, allowed the drive to play away skip free in places even where newer 6x and 8x ATA drives would sputter. As I found out, there existed a "4x barrier" which many game manufacturers were afraid to cross; simply put, most full-motion video seems to be recorded at 4x speed. Sure the drive was a little slow when installing large apps or games, but those are basically one time deals.
This winter I embarked on a no-holds barred upgrade on my system. I uprooted and replaced everything, even that trusty Toshiba. Second-generation DVD-ROMs were proliferating, but they were all ATA based. I decided early on that I preferred to stick with SCSI. Besides, by the time I really needed a DVD-ROM, they'd certainly be available in faster configurations for lower prices. The 32x CD-ROM market was thin, but some things never changed: Plextor still had its top reputation, sporting its newly released UltraPLEX Ultra SCSI CD-ROM. This CAV CD-ROM seemed to have it all: 32x speed, 85 ms access time, 512k buffer, an Ultra SCSI interface, and compatibility with all sorts of various CD media. Though they abandoned the caddy with their 12/20x design, Plextor offers the UltraPLEX in both caddy (PX-32CSi) and tray (PX-32CTi) versions. Apparently Plextor saw enough demand from consumers to return to the caddy, with its increased reliability and quieter operation.
Getting my hands on one of these babies was a real pain. It seems Plextor simply could not make enough to satisfy demand. I routinely checked vendor after vendor in vain, my hunger for a fast CD drive (fast CDs seemed so irrelevant only weeks before) compelled me. Though I already had Adaptec's AHA-2940UW waiting to host the drive, I contemplated purchasing the drive as a bundle with an ISA host adapter as they seemed to be available in limited quantities. I held off though, and finally found a vendor that received a small supply of bare, caddy based drives.
The PX-32CSi arrived in a non-glossed, muted color box. Not as flashy as its 12/20x predecessor. Grumble. Well, who cares about the box, it's the drive itself that matters, right? Inside, I found a robust 80-page manual for the drive, a warranty registration card, a manual for Plextor's proprietary Plextor Manager 96 software, and an addendum stating that mounting rails no longer ship with the drive. Oh well, no biggie. My case didn't need the rails for installation anyway.
The drive came from the factory preset at SCSI ID 3 and with termination enabled. Both are easily changed using a block of jumpers at the rear of the drive. The manual is very thorough yet easy to understand, well written with a healthy dose of visuals and diagrams added for good measure. I left the SCSI ID as is, but since my hard drive was the last device in the SCSI chain, I disabled the termination.
I then booted up without a hitch, with Windows 95's SCSI drivers detecting the Plextor without fail. The drive seemed to work fine, and was indeed very fast. I decided to install the Plextor Manager 96 software and check out the advanced digital audio extraction features of the drive. I ran into my first problem here. The InstallShield setup program would always error out, preventing me from installing the program. I tried rebooting, copying the file to the hard drive and then installing, and a whole slew of other futile measures. As it turns out, I had "Revision A" of the disc, which has a known flaw in the installation process. So said the yellow addendum to the Plextor Manager manual, which I overlooked in my excitement. The sheet instructed me to use the enclosed floppy disk instead. What floppy disk? As it turns out, I didn't have one. I called up Plextor's 1-800 tech support number. After waiting a couple minutes, the tech offered to mail me a new copy of the CD, "Revision C". That would have been fine, but just as I was about to hang up, I asked him if there was any way I could get it faster. He then offered to e-mail it to me. The attachment finally worked, and I had the software up and running. And yes, digital audio extraction using Plextor Manager 96 was fast! PM96 also allowed control over other features on the drive, most notably spindown time.
For our CD-ROM testing suite, we of course turned to the standard CD-ROM tests found in ZDBop's WinBench 98. In addition, we decided to use TestaCD Lab's CD-Tach/Pro v1.65. This comprehensive benchmark goes into more detail in each test category found in WinBench in addition to providing some weighted high-level scores. The average of 5 trials are presented below.