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Lite-On LTN526S

  September 20, 2001 Author: Tim Zakharov  
Special thanks go to Lite-On Corporation for providing our evaluation unit.


SR readers by now are familiar with Lite-On Corporation. We reviewed their 16/10/40 CD-RW on August 23rd and their 16/48 DVD-ROM drive on the 12th of September. We've also got a 24/10/40 burner in the works. One thing has become clear in our looks at their products: they generally offer a lot of bang-for-the-buck.

Let's turn now to Lite-On's 52X CD-ROM. Today's fastest single-beam CD readers top out at 56X, with 52X readers providing some auditory respite with only a small sacrifice in performance. Perhaps this is why Lite-On forgoes a 56X model in their lineup.

Join us now as we pit the LTN526S against top 56X and 52X models from the competition!


Specifications according to Lite-On:

  • CD read speeds of 52X CAV
  • Digital audio extraction speeds specified as "high speed"
  • 128 KB buffer
  • <80 ms average random access time
  • ATAPI/ATA33 interface
  • 1-year Warranty
For more information, click here to see Lite-On's online product page.

The retail box contents include:

  • The drive
  • Multi-language User's Manual
  • Floppy disk containing DOS driver
  • Four mounting screws
  • One analog audio cable
Missing is an IDE cable.

Like Lite-On's 16X DVD-ROM, the front of the drive features an audio track advance button as well as a standard eject button. In addition to the printed "52X Max" on the tray face, Lite-On includes a sticker furnishing their Internet address. The rear of the drive includes a digital audio output in addition to standard optical drive connections.

The drive arrived with firmware revision YS0A. This is the most recent firmware revision for the unit.

With regard to noise and heat, the Lite-On is about average for a 52X CAV reader...that is, quite loud. It does stay fairly cool, though, only getting significantly warm after extended stress tests.

According to Pricewatch, the LTN526S currently runs about $31 from online sources.. This is a bit higher than the $23 average for Afreey's 56X model (the current Leaderboard champ) as well as the $21 for Creative's 52X.

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.

In transfer rate measures, the LTN526S tops out at 7820 KB/sec, or 52X - fulfilling specs. This leaves it 5% behind the Afreey for the top spot.

The Lite-On averages 82.4 ms in our access time test, a bit slower than specifications. Creative's 52X drive remains the swiftest here with a 76 ms result.

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 drawn from four different test discs obtained through Ziff-Davis. This tests each unit's ability to read from a range of discs pressed with identical data.

Despite impressive low-level performance, the Lite-On turns in the lowest Winmark scores in the comparison: 1458 KB/sec. This leaves it trailing Creative's 52X by 14%.

File and Disc Copy

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The file copy test places emphasis on sequential transfer rates by copying a single, 634 MB file. The LTN526S completes the task in 2:13, leaving it 4% behind the Digital Research. All drives in the comparison complete the test within 7 seconds of each other.

The disc copy test introduces random accesses through multiple files and folders on the test CD. Once again Lite-On's finishes 4% back of the 56X Digital Research and holds its own with the other 52X readers.

Digital Audio Extraction

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SR measures DAE using two programs: CDSpeed99 and CDDAE99. CDSpeed99 assesses 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.

With CDSpeed99, the LTN526S yields an odd, nearly-20X CLV extraction rate. Rates begin briefly at 18X before jumping to 19X at two minutes into the disc. From there, rates climb gradually to about 19.8X by the end of the CD. Spindle speeds start at 9000 RPM on the innermost tracks and gradually slow to about 4400 by the outer edge. This means that the drive is significantly quieter when extracting latter tracks than when extracting earlier tracks. CDSpeed reports perfect extraction quality, but does not detect support for accurate streaming.

Accurate streaming is a feature built into many optical drive controllers that permits more precise positioning of the pickup during audio seeks, in effect simplifying the amount of algorithms involved in the extraction process. As we've gathered over the course of testing many drives, accurate streaming is not always required for good extraction quality, but is a consideration for those interested in the most accurate DAE. Lite-On's average rate of 19.56X is significantly faster than competition from Delta, Creative and Digital Research, but trails drives from Afreey and Artec by margins of 50% and 28% respectively. Before rendering judgment, though, let's see how the drives fare in CDDAE99, a real world audio extractor.

According to CDDAE99, Lite-On's unit averages 17.3X (the 65-minute disc is extracted in 3:46) when extracting audio from our test disc. The Afreey, despite what CDSpeed99 reports, extracts the same CD in 3:21 (19.5X) while Artec's drive does it in 3:07 (20.9X). So despite the large differences in CDSpeed99, these three drives all perform similarly when actually extracting audio tracks in CDDAE99. Also, despite the Lite-On's reported lack of accurate streaming, there are no problems with quality in our tests. Even with moderately scratched audio discs, the LTN526S extracts with perfect quality...CDDAE99 reports 0 errors on multiple passes with various audio CDs. Finally, in addition to expected DAE speeds when extracting an entire disc in a single session, individual tracks extract at anticipated speeds as well.

CD-DA Error Correction Digital Recordings' CD-CHECK tests each drive's 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 viewed by clicking here.

A continuous 20-second tone 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
Pioneer DVD-116 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 0/5
Lite-On LTN526S 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 0/5
Artec CHA-52 5/5 5/5 4/5 2/5 0/5
Lite-On LTD163 5/5 5/5 3/5 0/5 0/5
Kenwood 72X 5/5 4/5 0/5 0/5 0/5

We're quite impressed with the LTN526S's error correction abilities during audio playback! The drive equals the best performance we've seen to date with perfect error correction playback up to Level-4.

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-Rs, the Lite-On pulls in performance nearly identical to its pressed CD reads: minimum speeds of 3890 KB/sec (26X) and maximum speeds of 7863 KB/sec (52X). No issues arise when reading a variety of brands and speeds of CD-R media.

CD-RW Media Compatibility and Performance

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It's always interesting to see how various drives do when reading CD-RW media. Not so long ago, many drives were incapable of reading CD-RWs; today, the issue has more to do with how fast the drives can read such media. As is usually the case, the LTN526S reads CD-RWs at reduced speeds- about 20X CAV. This places the Lite-On ahead of the Artec, Delta and Afreey, but significantly behind Creative's and Digital Research's units.


Lite-On comes through with a solid CD-ROM offering.

In summary, its strengths include:

  • Audio advance button in addition to tray eject button
  • Excellent performance in file and disc copy tests
  • Above average DAE speed and quality
  • Excellent error correction during CD-DA playback

The drive's weak areas are:

  • Pricing a bit higher than the competition
  • Sparse retail accoutrements
  • Lower-than-expected performance in the Winmark tests
  • Accurate streaming not detected by CDSpeed99
  • Read performance with CD-RW media is slower than the competition
The LTN526S is a Leaderboard contender. Compared directly to the current Leaderboard champ, the two drives trade strengths and weaknesses.

Afreey's CD-2056E takes the majority of the low-level categories as well as the CD-ROM Winmark test. It also maintains an advantage in audio extraction tests. Unfortunately, CD-CHECK tests commenced after the Afreey was returned to the manufacturer, so we cannot compare CD-DA playback error correction (where the LTN526S excels).

Lite-On's drive overtakes the CD-2056E in CD-RW transfer rate and access times, and in the disc copy test, while remaining competitive in most of the other categories.

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. In the end, the CD-2056E retains its Leaderboard spot; however, the earns LTN526S an honorable mention and Safe Buy.


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