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  January 28, 2001 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Special thanks to* for providing the evaluation unit.

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


When one thinks of CD-RW drives today, what manufacturers come to mind? Plextor, Yamaha, and Ricoh typically enter this reviewer's mind as a result of their generally well-regarded reputations. Although TEAC's data storage products do not enjoy the name-recognition that many of their other electronic components do, they have slowly amassed a reputation in many circles as a maker of high-quality, low-cost burners.

Featuring a generic, no-frills look, this TEAC's unassuming outward appearance is a far cry from the customized faceplates found on the likes of TDK and Ricoh. Even a printed manufacturer logo is absent from the face-they reserve the TEAC name and model # for the sticker adorning the top of the drive.

But does TEAC break through the Clark Kent exterior as many CD-RW enthusiasts claim? Or is its performance as mild-mannered as its appearance? We'll find out shortly, but first, let's examine the CD-W512's specifications!


The TEAC's vitals, according to their website:

  • 12X Write; 10X Rewrite; 32X maximum read
  • 14X-20X maximum digital audio extraction
  • 85 ms access times
  • 4 MB buffer
  • 1-year warranty

To view the rest of the specs, download their .pdf file through the link above.

In addition, a fully functional digital audio-out resides next to the analog out on the back of the unit.

Interestingly, our benchmark software detects only 2976 KB of buffer on the CD-W512E. Both Adaptec Easy CD Creator and CDSpeed99 report this figure. We asked TEAC about this; their response was that the CD-W512E has a 4096 KB buffer, but uses a portion (4096 - 2976 = 1120 KB) for "internal commands." TEAC confirmed that only 2976 KB is available for the burning software to use.

The drive arrived with firmware revision 1.0A. We found no firmware updates on TEAC's U.S. site, but did find one on their Japan site. You can download this firmware here. Please note that there is a CD-W512EB as well, which includes BURN-Proof technology. Our CD-W512E evaluation sample does not include any buffer underrun protection, but is otherwise, according to specs, identical to the CD-W512EB.

When downloading the firmware, take care to select the correct version according to the drive's model number. Note that the CD-W512E's firmware features 1.0x version numbers, while the CD-W512EB updates are revision 2.0x.

Our review sample is an OEM unit provided by Hyper Microsystems. All we received was the bare drive. A description of TEAC's retail package may be found here.

In areas of heat and noise, the CD-W512E is one of the best drives we've yet experienced. It even remains cool during repeated runs of our access time test, and ranks right up with the Plextor 12/10/32S and Sony CRX160E. Full-rpm hums are barely audible and random accesses (which generally get louder as access times get faster) are nearly silent-truly commendable considering the 85 ms spec.

Current online pricing for the retail version is about $197 plus tax and shipping. Hyper Microsystems sells the bare drive for $169. By comparison, Plextor's 12/10/32A goes for about $218 for the retail version.

Continue along with us as we examine this drive's read performance.

For an overview on methodology, click here.

CD-ROM Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

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The CD-W512E comes in close to specs. Sequential transfer rates measure at 16X-33X while access times clock in at 87 milliseconds. We particularly like the low access time-the best we've measured for a CD-RW. Do these low-levels yield a high CD-ROM Winmark? Let's find out.

CD-ROM Winmark 99

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The CD-W512E's Winmark score of 1315 is the 2nd best we've ever seen for a burner, just behind Ricoh's MP9120A. This drive's swift reads appear legitimate. Let's confirm with our file and disc copy tests.

File and Disc Copy

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In the file copy test, we time how long it takes to transfer a 634 MB file from our CDTach98 disc to the hard drive. Since there's only one file, no random accesses can occur. Hence, this test emphasizes sustained transfer rates. The TEAC yields a time of 3:07, edging past the SCSI Plextor as the fastest 32X reader in this test. Only Yamaha's CRW2100E, a 40X reader, is faster.

In the disc copy test, random accesses play a heavy role in results. The TEAC's 87 ms access time doesn't help as much as we expected, but with a copy time of 03:51 it's still the 2nd fastest burner in our comparison.

Digital Audio Extraction

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TEAC's product page specifies 14X-20X partial CAV extraction rates. We measure 14X-24X, with an overall average of just under 22X. Though slightly slower than the competition from Yamaha and Plextor, it's still in the upper tier for a burner.

The transfer rate graph exhibits a clean line all the way through the test-no dips or valleys as found in some other drives. We also ran a few of our more beat up CD-DAs through the TEAC informally to see how it reacted. The drive impressed us with clean, full speed extraction rates with all but the most heavily scratched discs.

CDSpeed99 gives the CD-W512E a perfect 10, with support for accurate streaming. CDDAE99, which actually rips audio tracks to .wav files, confirms CDSpeed99's results. We ripped our entire test CD-DA to hard disk at an average speed of 21X with zero errors detected. When extracting individual tracks, the TEAC conforms to its 14X-24X rating-the first six songs (30-minutes into the CD) extracted at speeds between 14X and 24X; the final eight audio tracks all ripped at 24X.

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

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No issues were encountered with CD-Rs or -RWs. The CD-W512E reads CD-Rs at 14X-32X-the same as its pressed CD reads. This keeps it in step with all but the Yamaha.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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When reading from CD-RWs, the TEAC exhibits a drop in speeds down to 14X-24X partial CAV. This places the drive slightly ahead of the Plextors but keeps it significantly behind the Yamaha and Ricoh. No issues arose when reading from a variety of brands and speeds of CD-RW.

The TEAC is one of the fastest-reading burners we've ever tested. In fact, we could actually envision using this drive as our main reader. Only Ricoh's MP9120A leaves a similar impression.

Let's explore this drive's writing abilities!

Write/ReWrite Tests

CD-R Based Duplication

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Although the TEAC is the slowest of the bunch during the burn portion of our audio duplication test, it images our CD-DA over a minute faster than the next 12X competitor. Thus, its total duplication time of 12:57 is the fastest we've measured for a 12X drive, trailing the 16X Yamaha by only 13%.

When duplicating a data disc, the TEAC again performs well, finishing ahead of the other 12X burners. This time, however, its score is much closer to the 12X competition, leaving it just a few seconds ahead of the Sony CRX160E. It trails the 16X Yamaha by 17%.

CD-RW Based Duplication

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When duplicating to CD-RW media, we found that the TEAC kept pace with the fastest 10X rewriters. The CD-W512E rewrites our 619 MB test disc in 7:55, 6 seconds faster than the Plextor siblings-the previous speed champs. Total duplication time is 11:08, nosing out the 10X Plextors and leaving Yamaha and Sony's 8X rewriters significantly behind.

CD-R Based Stress Tests

Our first stress test simulates a moderate system load while attempting to burn a 195 MB folder. This load consists of the popular first-person shooter Unreal Tournament cycling through its introductory sequence. To this day, every burner we have tested has been able to complete this test at its maximum speed. The TEAC is no exception.

Our second stress test represents a worst-case scenario. We attempt to burn the same 195 MB folder while Ziff-Davis' CPUmark99 test is executing. CPUMark99 completely loads all CPU, cache and memory subsystems, leaving few resources for anything else. The fastest the CD-W512E can complete this test is at 4X. Even so, the drive's buffer dipped below 10% at one point, barely escaping the dreaded buffer underrun. Could this have anything to do with the 2976 KB buffer that is detected by our benchmark software? Though it's possible, we cannot be certain. Previously tested drives with 4 MB buffers complete this test rather comfortably at 4X.

To date, the best we've seen from a drive without buffer underrun protection (such as BURN-Proof) is 4X, so the TEAC stands in good company.

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DirectCD Formatting

The TEAC sets a new record in high-speed full formats, completing the DirectCD format in 13:11. Subsequent quick formats occur in about 40 seconds, quite acceptable.

DirectCD Packet-Writing Performance

The CD-W512E sets records in standard rewriting speeds. How does it fare when packet-writing to CD-RWs? It completes a 195 MB copy via Windows Explorer in 2:57, a hair slower than all-time leader Ricoh. Its performance lies somewhere between the MP9120A and the Plextors.

DirectCD CD-RW Erasing

Finally, the TEAC lags a bit when erasing our CD-RWs to a blank state, completing the erase in 55 seconds. In absolute terms, this is still quite acceptable, but comparatively it's dead last.


In read tests, the TEAC CD-W512E turns in some of the best scores we've measured for a burner. Although Ricoh's MP9120A is a hair faster overall, it's also significantly louder. The TEAC manages speedy CD reads in spite of its nearly silent operation, making it one of the only burners we'd consider as a main CD reader. In addition, the CD-W512E offers excellent DAE speed and quality-a small notch slower than the competition, but rock solid, even with severely scratched CD-DAs.

As a writer, the CD-W512E shines with performance equal to or better than the fastest 12X burners. Only Yamaha's 16X drive is faster in our tests. As a rewriter, the TEAC is unparalleled, while in packet-writing tests it offers performance approaching the best we've measured.

The 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. The only fault we find with this drive is the lack of BURN-Proof technology (we'd love to test the CD-W512EB, TEAC's BURN-Proof version ). However, given the lower price and outstanding overall performance of this drive, we feel it offers a bit more bang for the buck than our now former Leaderboard champ, Plextor's 12/10/32A.

For those who do not need or desire BURN-Proof or JustLink technologies, TEAC's CD-W512E offers the best combination of performance and value we've seen to date.


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