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Pioneer DVD-116

  March 27, 2001 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Special thanks go to Pioneer New Media Technologies for providing our evaluation unit.


Pioneer New Media Technologies, Inc., created in 1993, has been one of the premiere manufacturers of DVD-ROM drives over the past few years. Their first DVD drives, SCSI and ATAPI 1X units, shipped in early 1997. In the following years, they distinguished themselves by continuing to stay at the forefront of DVD-ROM technology.

It's now been about one year since Pioneer's initial foray into the realm of 16X DVD speeds. While the DVD-115 was a success overall, its DAE abilities raised questions. Rated at 12X CLV, the drive would break from this specification in some situations, leading to possible quality issues.

Enter the DVD-116. Featuring an all-new DAE specification of 16X CLV, Pioneer's evolutionary upgrade of the DVD-115 strives to improve upon previous weaknesses. Does it succeed? We're about to find out!


Specifications according to Pioneer's manual/website:

  • CD read speeds of 17.2X-40X
  • DVD read speeds of 6.6X-16X
  • Digital audio extraction speeds of 16X CLV
  • 256 KB buffer
  • 80 ms average random access time
  • ATA-66 interface

For more information, click here to see Pioneer's online product page.

Pioneer sent us a bare drive. We're not certain if there will be a retail version at this time. Online vendors appear to sell the drive exclusively in OEM or white box formats.

Finally, the rest of the drive's vitals: The back of the drive houses an analog audio out. There is no digital out - Pioneer apparently reserves it for slot-loading ATAPI models only. The front of the drive features a standard LED typical of most DVD and CD-ROM drives, along with a large eject button and an emergency eject hole. Buffer size has been reduced to 256 KB from the DVD-115's 512 KB.

New to this model is an ATA-66 interface. However, the drive is only capable of a theoretical maximum of 21.6 MB/sec sustained transfers when reading DVDs at 16X, so using the drive with an ATA-33 controller should have no negative impact on performance. Our testbed remains equipped with the BX chipset's native ATA-33 controller. Stay tuned for a future ATA-66 vs. ATA-33 control article featuring this drive.

The drive arrived with firmware revision 1.07. No updates were available during testing.

As far as noise levels go, the DVD-116 is not overly loud during full-RPM operation. There is a definite hum there, but it is pretty typical of most 40X-rated drives we've tested in the past. The drive also does a good job of staying cool during extended use. The drive gets a bit warm during stress testing and movie playback, but it doesn't reach levels that would be cause for concern.

Current online pricing for the DVD-116 is about $75.

For an overview on methodology, click here.

CD-ROM Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

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We use Ziff-Davis' venerable CD Winbench 99 to measure random access times and sustained transfer rates.

The DVD-116 lags the competition a bit in access times. A measured average of 92.5 ms comes in a bit slower than previous Pioneer DVD-ROM drives.

In sustained transfers, the DVD-116 remains neck-and-neck with the DVD-115 and 305S. This means the drive exceeds its 40X specification by over 4X, keeping it well ahead of Toshiba's 40X offering.

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 allows us to test each drive's ability to read from a range of discs pressed with identical data.

The DVD-116 averages 1548 KB/sec, putting it about 5% behind the 305S. The slower access time likely contributes to this small difference. We're pleased to see very little deviation in the scores between the four test discs, though.

File and Disc Copy

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Our file copy test places emphasis on sequential transfer rates in copying a single, 634 MB file. As expected, the DVD-116 keeps pace with the 305S and 115 - all three have nearly identical sustained transfer rates and all three copy our test file in about 2:18.

The disc copy test introduces random accesses, due to the multiple files and folders on our test CD. Looking back at our low-level figures, the DVD-116 has the slowest access time of the three Pioneers. Accordingly, it therefore trails its brethren slightly in this test.

Digital Audio Extraction

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We measure DAE with two programs: CDSpeed99 and CDDAE99. CDSpeed99 is more of a low-level measurement of DAE capabilities, while CDDAE99 is an actual audio ripping program that converts audio tracks on CD-DAs to .wav files on your hard drive.

CDSpeed99 pegs the DVD-116 at just over 16X CLV, right in line with Pioneer's specs. Extraction rates remain unchanged even with scratched CDs. CDSpeed reports a quality score of 10 (perfect), with support for accurate streaming detected.

CDDAE99 reports similar performance. Average extraction speeds are at 16X for both individual tracks and the entire CD and no errors are detected during verification. When we disable verification (which doubles extraction times by extracting each track twice and comparing for errors), the DVD-116 can extract our entire 65-minute test CD in four minutes flat.

These results make the DVD-116 the fastest, most accurate audio-extracting DVD drive we've yet tested.

CD-R Media Compatibility and Performance

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To test each drive's ability to read from a variety of CD-R and -RW media, we duplicate our pressed test CD to these discs and measure low-level performance with them.

With CD-R media, transfer rates remain tied with the 305S and 115 at almost 45X. There are no issues with reading from TDK and Imation 12X media, but there are intermittent problems reading from Verbatim 16X discs. We copied our test CD to six different Verbatim 16X discs trying to pin down the issue...the 116 can read two of these at full speed. The other four discs cannot be read at top speeds. The drive attempts full-speed reads, then quickly drops RPMs, resulting in slow read/copy times. Suspicious that the discs might be defective, we tried them in a couple of other optical drives, but these drives could read the discs at full speed. Thus, it appears that the DVD-116 might have a compatibility issue with Verbatim's new 16X CD-Rs with the metal azo recording layer.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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Fortunately, our tests with a variety CD-RW media show no compatibility issues. Read speeds, however, drop to 32X max, just like the DVD-115 and 305S.

DVD-ROM Performance Results

Low-Level Measurements

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DVDSpeed99 is used to measure sustained transfer rates and CPU utilization a 1X.

During development of our optical methodologies back in February and March of last year, we had difficulty finding any data DVD discs to test with. When we tried various movie DVDs, though, we found they read at top speeds in the three drives we had available to us (Toshiba's SD-M1202 and SD-M1212, and Pioneer's DVD-303S). Thus, we standardized our DVD transfer rate measures on the DVD movie "Twister." It was single-layer and yielded expected results with these three drives.

In July 2000, we looked at Pioneer's DVD-115. Using the same "Twister" disc we standardized on, we found the DVD-115 to read this disc at 5X-11X CAV, significantly slower than Pioneer's claimed 6.6X-16X. Later reviews of Ricoh's MP9120A, Toshiba's SD-M1401 and Pioneer's DVD-305S showed each of these drives to read at their maximum speeds with the "Twister" DVD. At this point the DVD-115 was the only drive out of seven tested to read our "Twister" DVD at speeds significantly below specs.

In the fall of 2000, we were finally able to locate a few data DVDs, including a global explorer program and a couple of games. We tried them informally with the SD-M1401, MP9120A and DVD-305S during their evaluations and found that they yielded results similar to our "Twister" DVD.

Armed with these data DVDs, we looked forward to seeing how the DVD-116 would perform with them. As it turns out, tests with the DVD-116 and our "Twister" DVD show results identical to the DVD-115. However, when we test with a data DVD, results climb closer to expected values. There is still a drop-off in read speeds on the outer portion of our data disc, but the transfer rate graph shows a trend that would approach 16X were it not for the dip at the outer edge. We could not get the drive to break 14X with any of our three data DVDs. CPU utilization at 1X is 6% with both data and video DVD discs.

In fairness to the DVD-116 and all future DVD drives we will test, we have added a data DVD Transfer Rate section to our optical database to supplement the current movie DVD results. We will use Access Software's "Tex Murphy Overseer" DVD for obtaining these results.

Subjective Playback Observations

There were no quality issues during playback of portions of Twister and The Matrix.. Remember, DVD movies play at 1X (1350 KB/sec), 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 can often get away with slower CPU speeds. Video card and decoding hardware/software typically play a much greater role in playback performance than the drive itself.


On paper, there's not much difference between Pioneer's DVD-115 and DVD-116. The most noteworthy change is the switch from 12X CLV DAE to 16X CLV DAE. A side benefit is that the DAE problems uncovered in our review of the DVD-115 have all vanished in the DVD-116.

Otherwise, performance between the two drives is nearly identical. While the interface upgrade from ATA-33 to ATA-66 looks impressive on the spec sheet, the fact remains that the drive's maximum transfer rate is well below ATA-33's ceiling.

There are many positives with this drive: It offers the fastest DAE available for a DVD-ROM, in addition to 44X max CD and CD-R transfer rates, 32X max CD-RW transfer rates, and DVD transfer rates up to 14X (measured).

Countering the positives, the DVD-116 comes up short in our low-level access time measures, has difficulties reading from some Verbatim 16X CD-R media, and fails to reach 16X in our DVD transfer rate measures. Also, it's worth noting that transfer rates with DVD-Videos are substantially slower than with data DVDs.

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. Despite its minor shortcomings, the DVD-116 offers a lot of bang for the buck. At $75 this drive provides speedy DAE as well as excellent CD and DVD performance.


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