March 27, 2001

Review: Plextor 12/10/32S SCSI CD rewriteable drive

Author: JT Smith

- By Jeff Field
After previously reviewing Plextor's ATAPI 12/10/32A, I was curious as to the benefits of SCSI over IDE for a burner. You see, up until now one of the reasons I have always heard to buy SCSI CD-RWs is because you will get fewer buffer underruns. Performance wasn't ever really brought up, mostly because CD-RWs are not very fast devices, and so IDE has no trouble keeping up. With BURNProof, underruns are no longer an issue, so what does that leave?
The drive
Physically, the 12/10/32S is very similar to the 12/10/32A I reviewed on NewsForge earlier. The differences are relatively minor, though one proved rather interesting. On the back of the 12/10/32S is a fan that pulls air into the drive in order to cool it. Why the 12/10/32A did not have this I do not know, but it is something I have not seen on an internal CD rewriteable drive before. Perhaps it is just that Plextor expects SCSI users to use the product more or push it further, but that is simply speculation.

The other physical differences are trivial -- different jumpers, as you would expect, because the 12/10/32S has to set the SCSI ID and not simply the slave/master setting of IDE, and instead of one light that can be off (empty), green (loaded but no activity) or yellow (busy) as with the ATAPI model, you get four lights, letting you know whether the drive has a disc in it, is reading (or, if empty, that the drive is on), writing high (on if writing at highspeeds) or writing low (writing at low speeds). These are just minor issues, but it is interesting to see that Plextor includes more features on its SCSI writers, unlike some companies who simply make two of the same drive with different connectors.

CD-Rewriteable drives all come with relatively large buffers (2 or 4 megs, usually) so that they can keep a constant flow of data going to the CD. When this buffer does not get data fast enough, for whatever reason, an error called a "buffer underrun" occurs, which halts the writing of the CD, thereby ruining the CD. Like its ATAPI counterpart, the 12/10/32S has the "revolutionary" BURNProof technology, licensed from Sanyo. What this technology does is have the drive remember where in the CD it stopped writing, and resume at this point. While this technology does revolutionize the process of burning a CD -- allowing you to do other tasks without worry -- I wonder why so many revolutionary ideas, in hindsight, seem rather obvious. This is something that should have been done from the beginning with CD-R drives, I guess no one thought of it. Many coasters later however, BURNProof is a reality and works wonders, I have been able to do any number of tasks, including occupying the source drive with a large copy operation while loading programs, and the drive just stops, and then happily resumes when the data flow returns. If you are wondering about whether BURNProof works with Linux, it does indeed, as the latest versions of CDRecord supports it "out of the box."

Configuration and documentation
Configuration via the jumpers is simple, thanks to the included documentation. Jumpers allow you to change the SCSI ID of the drive and turn on the drives internal terminator features, useful if this device is that last one on the SCSI chain. The jumpers are easy to access and the provided documentation makes them simple to understand. My only complaint is there was no summary on the drive itself, meaning if you did not have the original documentation, you would have to get it online to change the ID. The SCSI ID is by default set to 4, which was unoccupied on my machine. You can set the device to any ID you like, or you can set it to automatically pick up an ID.

The documentation included with the device is excellent. It includes detailed instructions on the physical installation and configuration of the drive, as well as detailed information on the media you should use, the functions of the device, how to upgrade the firmware, even how to install a SCSI card (which was certainly going above and beyond as Plextor does not sell SCSI cards). Also included is a giant fold-out diagram of how exactly to install the drive -- very impressive. I have to say I was taken aback by the extensive and very well written documentation included with this device, and applaud Plextor's efforts to make every customer's experience a good one.

Performance -- CD-ROM replacement?
The performance of the drive is excellent -- certainly good enough for use as a primary CD-ROM. The average data read speed of the drive clocked in at an average of 2184KB/sec, roughly 14x in CD-ROM terms. Comparing this to an average of 1422KB/sec on my Acer "50x" CD-ROM, you'll see the Plextor is quite a bit faster at reading CDs. As for digital audio extraction, the Plextor clocked in at an average of 2590KB/sec, or 15x, much faster than my Acer drive's speed of 1382KB/sec or 8x. Mind you, these are averages, and are not the maximum speeds -- the Plextor got as high as 26x on digital audio extraction, depending on where on the disc it is reading from.

Benefits of SCSI
With the advent of BURNProof, one major concern of people who burn CDs has been taken away -- that of having buffer underruns. One of the major advantages of SCSI was that it had less frequent buffer underruns. Thanks to BURNProof, this is no longer an issue, which begs the question -- what does SCSI offer now? Well, after my testing, I have found that one advantage of SCSI is that is uses significantly less CPU time -- CPU usage hovered around 40% with an IDE burner, but with a SCSI burner it was down to around 10% during the burn. This helps because while an IDE BURNProof burner can do other things while burning, you only have 50% of the CPU time to do it in. With a SCSI burner, the system performs a lot better while burning. I did not notice a significant change in system speed with the SCSI drive, while my PIII-933 slowed to a crawl with an IDE drive. For some, who need to do other things while burning a CD, this might just be an important benefit of SCSI.

What's in the box?
Besides the drive itself, the unit comes with a 10x CD-RW disc, a 16x CD-R disc, the manual for the drive, the software (Windows only), and a giant fold-out diagram of how to install the drive -- Plextor really goes out of their way to make it extremely easy to install its products, and I have to say I am impressed. The drive does not come with a cable, not surprising as SCSI cables can be expensive and come in so many varying sizes that it would be somewhat of a waste, plus the fact most SCSI cards come with all the cables you would need to install this drive.

The 12/10/32S from Plextor is, all in all, a remarkable drive. Capable of 12x CD-R burning, 10x CD-RW burning and fast reading, this drive is an all around great combination. If you are looking for an all in one drive, or just a drive for writing CDs, I feel safe recommending this drive. According to Pricewatch, the drive can be had for $259. Not a bad deal, because comparable IDE drives go for not much less than that (in fact, the IDE counterpart of this drive goes for $189, a $70 dollar difference -- not exactly small, but it will not break the bank). I recommend this drive wholeheartedly -- it is clear Plextor took time in thinking about what features this drive should have, and ended up with a very well-rounded CD-RW.

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