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Plextor UltraPLEX PX-32CSi/PX-32TSi

  March 27, 1998 Author: Eugene Ra  

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.

Test Bed - Hardware
Motherboard Abit LX6, v1.1, Bios vC7Q
Processor Intel Pentium II 266MHz, 512k cache
Memory 64MB 10ns SDRAM DIMM
SCSI Controller Adaptec AHA-2940U2W
Boot Drive Seagate ST34555W
Video Card Matrox Millennium II PCI, 4 MB
Test Bed - Operating System Configuration
Operating System Windows 95, OSR 2.1
File System FAT 32
Patches Applied 82371xB INF Update
Display Driver MGA PowerDesk v3.80
1024x768, 24-bit color, 85 Hz, Small Fonts
System Properties
 CD-ROM Settings
Supplemental Cache Size: 1238KB
Optimized Access Pattern: Quad Speed or Higher
Ziff Davis WinBench 98 - Plextor UltraPLEX PX-32CSi
CD-ROM WinMark 98 1672
CD-ROM Transfer Rate
Inside 2578 KB/sec
Outside 4948 KB/sec
CD-ROM/Access Time 97.82 ms
CD-ROM/CPU Utilization 5.56%
Transfer Rate 2591 KB/sec
Ziff Davis WinBench 98 - Plextor UltraPLEX PX-32TSi
CD-ROM WinMark 98 1692
CD-ROM Transfer Rate
Inside 2556 KB/sec
Outside 4944 KB/sec
CD-ROM/Access Time 91.16 ms
CD-ROM/CPU Utilization 5.51%
Transfer Rate 2579 KB/sec
TCDLabs CD-Tach/Pro - Plextor UltraPLEX PX-32CSi
Read Tests
16k Outside 4880 KB/sec
16k Center 3782 KB/sec
16k Inside 2183 KB/sec
2k Outside 4875 KB/sec
2k Center 4663 KB/sec
2k Inside 2209 KB/sec
Seek Tests
Full Stroke 138.2 ms
Random Access 83.2 ms
OS Overhead 7 ms
CPU Tests
2x 300KB/sec 1%
4x 600KB/sec 2%
6x 900KB/sec 3%
8x 1200KB/sec 3%
12x 1800KB/sec 5%
Burst Tests
2k burst 15459 KB/sec
8k burst 64567 KB/sec
16k burst 80719 KB/sec
Multimedia Index 103
Application Index 80.6
Drive Rating (x) 21.1
Drive Type CAV
Drive Capable of Extraction Yes
Drive Reports Alignment Errors Yes
Auto Alignment Correction Yes
Extraction Speed 3477 KB/sec
Rating (x) 20.18
TCDLabs CD-Tach/Pro - Plextor UltraPLEX PX-32TSi
Read Tests
16k Outside 4850 KB/sec
16k Center 3764 KB/sec
16k Inside 2179 KB/sec
2k Outside 4858 KB/sec
2k Center 4643 KB/sec
2k Inside 2197 KB/sec
Seek Tests
Full Stroke 125.8 ms
Random Access 77.4 ms
OS Overhead 7 ms
CPU Tests
2x 300KB/sec 1%
4x 600KB/sec 2%
6x 900KB/sec 3%
8x 1200KB/sec 3%
12x 1800KB/sec 5%
Burst Tests
2k burst 15410 KB/sec
8k burst 64315 KB/sec
16k burst 80604 KB/sec
Multimedia Index 103
Application Index 84.2
Drive Rating (x) 21.02
Drive Type CAV
Drive Capable of Extraction Yes
Drive Reports Alignment Errors Yes
Auto Alignment Correction Yes
Extraction Speed 3487 KB/sec
Rating (x) 20.24

The pair of drives turned in similar performance figures, though not close enough to be called identical. The biggest difference lies in the speedier access time provided by the tray version; on either benchmark, the tray UltraPLEX bested its caddy twin by about 5 milliseconds. Though not too great a margin, the difference in access times is probably what allowed the PX-32TSi to score higher in both the CD-ROM WinMark 98 and the CD-Tach Application Index. The caddy drive did manage to post ever so slightly higher scores in transfer rates, though it wasn't enough to gain equality with the tray version in high-level tests.

Both units are superb at digital audio extraction, passing TCDLabs CDDA Test with flying colors and posting extraction speeds near their rated speeds. Subjectively this meant digitizing an entire 70 minute + CD in a couple minutes while yielding files that evidenced no noticeable pops, crackles, or distortion.

Though the PX-32CSi fared slightly worse in performance, it maintains a notable advantage over its tray-based cousin: Noise. Like most high-speed CD-ROMs, the tray UltraPLEX can exhibit considerable vibration. This varies from CD to CD. Certain discs would play as quietly as they did in the caddy unit, but others would cause the drive to emit a loud low-pitched hum. The caddy-based drive, on the other hand, remained relatively quiet with a constant low noise level regardless of the disc. One can certainly hear the caddy UltraPLEX, but its more of a quiet, distant effect than the tray version's more obvious hum.

Overall, Plextor's pair of drives provides premium performance at a premium price. Choosing between the two units is a tough call: The tray based version provides slightly better performance and costs forty dollars less, but the caddy version quieter operation. Both drives excel at DAE, an operation where many other high-speed drives don't operate reliably at their rated speeds. Plextor labels the UltraPLEX as "The last CD-ROM drive you'll ever need!" I concur with that claim. Yes, they do cost more, but if you routinely buy SCSI then you're certainly used to it .

Plextor UltraPLEX PX-32CSi Plextor UltraPLEX PX-32TSi
Estimated Price: $289 Estimated Price: $249
Specifications Specifications
* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.


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