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ATAPI CD-ROM Drive Roundup - Performance Results

  May 30, 2000 Author: Tim Zakharov  

For an overview on methodology, click here.

Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

 Optical Testbed I Low-Level MeasurementsDetails... 
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 7520|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 3693|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 3577|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 3480|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 3420|
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 11267|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 7700|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 7433|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 7150|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 7037|
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 74.3|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 76.0|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 84.3|
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 107.7|

* Although we measure interface burst speed for all optical drives, the usefulness beyond confirming manufacturer specs and interface functionality is questionable at best. Given the start and stop nature of optical drives, chances are slim to none that one would ever find a situation where the maximum burst speed is realized.

 Optical Testbed I CD Tach 98 - Burst Speed 16k *Details... 
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 15905|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 15709|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 15631|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 11670|
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 10006|

When it comes to transfer rates, Kenwood's 72X monster rules the roost! Looking at its TR graph, we see a fuzziness that the others don't share-most likely related to the split-beam technology reading 7 tracks in parallel. Notice the P-CAV curvature as the Kenwood reads the first 1/3 of the disc at a variable rate of 49X-72X, then stays right around 72X-75X for the remaining 2/3. Compared to the Creative, Kenwood is twice as fast at the inner tracks and over 46% faster at the outer tracks. The Creative 52X is rightly faster than any of the 48X units, while among the 48X units; the least expensive drive in the roundup is also the fastest. Delta over-achieves at the outer edge, finishing nearly 2X faster than its rated 48X.

Looking at the access times, the Toshiba swings ahead with a blistering 74.3ms measured. That's nearly 4ms faster than its rated speed! Creative is a close 2nd at 76ms (also 4ms better than its rating), while the Delta barely ducks under its rated 85ms access time. Kenwood, specifying "<100ms" access times, strolls in 8ms later than expected. Finally, the Mitsumi, as noted earlier, could not complete our access time test without repeatedly erroring out, hence receiving no score.

How do these results relate to CD-ROM Winmark scores? You may be surprised!

CD-ROM Winmark 99

 Optical Testbed I CD WinBench 99Details... 
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 1775|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 1658|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 1615|
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 1503|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 879|

In comparing the Winmark results with the access time scores, it becomes immediately apparent that low access times are very important to high Winmark scores. The Toshiba, with its 74.3ms access time, manages to best the Creative unit by 7%, despite giving up 6.1-7.6% in transfer rates to the 52X. The Delta, despite outracing the Toshiba in transfer rates, falls nearly 9% back of the Toshiba in Winmarks because of its 10ms access time disadvantage. And finally, the mighty Kenwood, while destroying the competition in transfer rates, gives up 33.4ms to the Toshiba in access times and pays for it in the Winmarks by dropping into 4th place, over 15% back of the leader. Predictably, the Mitsumi unit, which failed the very important access time test, finished dismally in the Winmark test, with a score less than half that of the Toshiba.

Is access time really so important to real-world CD-ROM performance? Consider for a moment how you use your CD-ROM drive. Do you typically select the maximum hard disk install for your applications, or do you select the minimum install and run your apps mostly from CD? The answer to this question may help you decide how important access times are to your computing experience. The more you utilize your CD-ROM drive as a main source to your applications (perhaps most importantly in database situations), the more important low access times become for you. If you use your CD-ROM drive mostly to install/copy the entire app to hard drive, you may benefit more from the brute transfer rates the Kenwood has to offer.

If you're wondering how big of an effect these "brute transfer rates" have in file and disc copies, wonder no longer! Read on to find out how each of these drives did in our file and disc copy tests.

File and Disc Copy

 Optical Testbed I CopyingDetails... 
File Copy
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 02:02.1|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 02:13.9|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 02:14.5|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 02:16.7|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 02:41.4|
Disc Copy
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 02:08.8|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 02:42.3|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 02:44.4|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 02:49.6|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 05:24.6|

In our file copy test we time how long it takes to copy a single 634MB file from the CDTach98 CD to the test partition of our testbed's hard drive. Being a single file of such large size, it makes sense that sequential transfer rates would take precedence over random accesses. Indeed, looking at the results of our five contenders, they are all ordered by their STR's except for the Toshiba (which should have been nestled between the Delta and Mitsumi). During the test I noticed the Toshiba having trouble with the outer edge of the CDTach disc, with audible fluctuations in spindle motor spin rates. This situation replayed itself for all three test runs, with only a 2.36% deviation in test scores. Whatever caused the slowdown, it was consistent between all runs. Perhaps the Toshiba is not as accurate as the other drives at decoding info at such high RPMs on a less-then-perfect disc. At any rate, the Kenwood blew by the competition with an average time of 2:02.1. That comes out to about 35X, less than half of the drive's rated speed. However, it's still nearly 10% faster than the Creative 52X unit. Interestingly, the Mitsumi performs respectably in this test. Given the lack of any random accesses in a single file copy, it makes sense that the Mitsumi, which performed well in our low-level STR tests, would put up good figures here.

An interesting contrast to our file copy test, the disc copy test introduces some random access to the mix, with 3000+ files nested in a multitude of folders. Looking at the results, the Kenwood again sits on top, blowing away the next closest drive, the Toshiba, by 26%. So much for the importance of random access! However, taking a step back, the disc copy test is still mostly sequential in nature. After all, CD-ROMs do not become fragmented like hard drives do, and always read from inner to outer tracks. But the fact that there are multiple files in multiple folders does still throw a bit of a random access wrench into the spokes: Every drive completed the disc copy slower than the file copy, despite 15 fewer megabytes to copy. This points to the disc copy, with its multiple files, being a bit more of a challenge to read then the single file copy. Excepting the Kenwood, the remaining four drives all place in the same order they placed in the random access tests-yet more evidence that random accesses still hold some weight in this test. The final proof is the abysmal showing by the Mitsumi. Where it breezed through the file copy test at about the same clip as the other 48X CAV units, once even a bit of random access was thrown into the mix, it fell flat on its face, finishing in roughly double the time as the other 48X drives. Something is definitely not right with the Mitsumi. It is unfortunate that Mitsumi's tech support chose to end the dialog with us before the issue was resolved.

Now that we have finished looking at traditional CD-ROM performance figures, let's switch tracks and take a look at a comparatively new area of CD-ROM performance: digital audio extraction.

Digital Audio Extraction

 Optical Testbed I CD Speed 99 - DAE Transfer RateDetails... 
DAE Transfer Rate - Average
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 46.25|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 11.11|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 8.03|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 7.94|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 7.84|
DAE Transfer Rate - Start
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 30.75|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 8.01|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 7.85|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 6.80|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 4.80|
DAE Transfer Rate - End
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 49.99|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 14.52|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 10.25|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 8.03|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 7.97|

Along with the advent of CD burners comes a need to extract the audio from our music CD's in order to get it over to the CD-R media. As write speeds increase in CD-R/W drives, so does the need for faster audio extraction. Although many recommend extracting to hard drive, then burning from HD to CD-R (arguments for this range from more accurate audio duplication to fewer failed burns, or "coasters"), lots of folks love the quickness with which a CD-DA can be duplicated when going directly from CD-ROM to burner. However, in order for this method to succeed, the audio tracks must be extracted at a speed consistently equal to or greater than the burner's write speed. For most of today's burners that means 8X (CD-RW's can currently be written at only 4X, but it is unlikely that one would duplicate a CD-DA to CD-RW). Therefore, in our opinion, in order for a drive to have acceptable DAE capabilities, it must extract audio at a minimum of 8X, if not higher (assuming it will be used for this purpose). Anything less would be likely to contribute to failed burns unless you purposely lowered your burner's write speeds or imaged your CD-DA to hard disk before writing it to CD-R. For this reason we will focus on DAE speeds at the inner tracks, where it will be slowest. We have included links to DAE transfer rate graphs so you can see how each drive extracts as the process moves toward the outer tracks.

Looking at the results, Kenwood's 72X again stands out above the other drives. With a minimum extraction speed of about 30X from our test CD-DA, Kenwood's unit nearly breaks 50X by the time it gets to the outer tracks. Delta, the next closest competitor, extracts digital audio at a CLV of 8X, barely acceptable. Squeezing in behind the Delta is the Creative drive, also at a CLV of about 8X. Next is the Toshiba, which extracts in a CAV fashion; starting at a less-than-impressive 6.8X, but finishing at a more respectable 14.5X. This means the first few songs on a CD-DA will not extract at acceptable speeds, but that the rest of the tracks likely will. Finally, Mitsumi's offering brings up the rear with a minimum extraction rate of only 4.8X. At least the extraction process improves, as you can see by the CAV transfer rate graph. By the outer tracks, the Mitsumi has broken the 10X barrier, still only barely acceptable.

When examining the quality of DAE, we found all five drives to be acceptable. The Kenwood was the only drive not to receive a perfect 10 in CDSpeed99's quality test, which compares extracted sectors to the original for any differences. CDSpeed99 gave the Kenwood 72X a rating of 9 out of 10, which means a few differences were found, but not enough to be noticeable audibly. Indeed, in listening to extracted .wav files from the Kenwood (as well as the rest of the drives), I could not discern any difference between the original and the extracted audio. However, some audiophiles may find even the smallest difference between copy and original to be unacceptable. The Kenwood may not be the drive to conduct DAE with for such folks.

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

 Optical Testbed I CD-R Media PerformanceDetails... 
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 7300|
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 3833|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 3670|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 3560|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 3493|
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Kenwood UCR-421 (ATA-33) - 9973|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 7520|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 7210|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 7037|

When it comes to CD-R compatibility, all five drives were more than capable of reading our test media. The only real issue was with the Creative drive, which had problems reading the outside edge of our disc. Note in the transfer rate graph, all is well until the last few megabytes, where things come to a grinding halt and the drive drops severely in performance. Since this is limited only to the extreme outside edge of our CD-R, a region many discs don't even use, it should not affect most users (assuming the issue is not specific to our particular test unit). The other drives, with the exception of the Kenwood, read our CD-R at speeds equal to or greater than their CD-ROM performance. The Kenwood was a hair slower in reading our CD-R relative to its pressed CD performance, but was still ahead of the competition despite this.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

 Optical Testbed I CD-RW Media PerformanceDetails... 
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 2480|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 1230|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 1150|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 1140|
Windows 98 SE using FAT 32
Creative CD5230E (ATA-33) - 5030|
Toshiba XM-6702B (ATA-33) - 2330|
Mitsumi CRMC-FX4820T (ATA-33) - 2310|
Delta OIP-CD4800A (ATA-33) - 1230|

Things were not so rosy for our five drives when it came to CD-RW performance and compatibility. Although only the Kenwood utterly failed this test, all drives took a significant hit in read speeds with our test CD-RW disc. The drive that held up the best here was the Creative 52X. It performed at roughly 16X-32X CAV, far faster than the other four drives. The Toshiba and Mitsumi are 8X-16X CAV-capable with our CD-RW and the Delta read our test disc at a CLV of 8X. The Kenwood, as mentioned earlier, refused to recognize our test CD-RW (Verbatim brand). This could be a very sore point for some folks, as Kenwood advertises CD-RW compatibility, and their last two firmware updates supposedly addressed compatibility issues. Our experience with two firmware revisions did not alleviate the problem. For some folks, this could be a non-issue, but if you plan on ever reading CD-RW media in your drive, be aware that Kenwood's drives are known to have difficulties with CD-RW media.

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