April 23, 2001

Review: Plextor CD-RW comparison

Author: JT Smith

- By Jeff Field -

A year or so ago, I purchased a 4x CD-RW drive. The thing seemed pretty fast, and I was happy with it writing CDs and CD-RWs at 4x. It did not have a good read speed, but it burned reasonably fast and was certainly a good drive at the time, if not the top of the line. Now for about $200 you can pick up 16x write/10x rewrite drives that blow away what I bought a year ago -- the question is, how much of a difference do these drives make?
Most of us know that in CD-ROM drives, going from your run-of-the-mill 32x CD-ROM to a 48x CD-ROM really does not make much of a difference, because in both cases the speed is the theoretical maximum that the drives can reach. It's not the average speed, which is much slower overall, sometimes less than half as fast as the CD-ROM makers claim. However, for the most part, when CD-rewriteable manufacturers claim to make their drives at a certain speed, they mean it. Recently I got my hands on the Plextor 16/10/40A -- the latest, bleeding edge CD-RW drive from Plextor.

The 16/10/40A
The drive itself is very similar to its 12X siblings -- it has the same one-light, one-button face as the 12/10/32A with the ventilation fan of the 12/10/32S. It is a trayloader, and if not for the writing on the drive, you probably would not be able to tell the 12 and 16x models apart. The 16x not only advertises faster writing capabilities, it has faster reading speeds, too, clocking in at 40x. Like the 12/10/32A it has Sanyo's BURNProof technology, used to combat bad burns.

Speed
Looking for better ways to benchmark these drives under Linux, I have benchmarked both IDE Plextor drives as well as my old IDE 4x4x32 Acer. To do the read benchmarks, I used the command time mkisofs -R -o cdimage.raw /mnt/cdrom. I then took the number of bytes transfered (in this case 503 megabytes) and the time the operation took, in order to determine the megabytes per second. To determine the write speed, I used the command cdrecord -v -dev=0,0 speed=XX (driveropts=burnproof) cdimage.iso where XX is the maximum write speed of the drive and the "driveropts=burnproof" option was only used on the Plextor drives. The ISO image used for writing was 501 megabytes in size. Here are the results:

Speed test results

Drive Reading Writing
Acer 4x4x32 8.14X - 1.19MB/s 3.97x - 0.58MB/s
Plextor 12/10/32A 13.03X, 1.91MB/s 12.16x - 1.78MB/s
Plextor 16/10/40A 12.57x, 1.84MB/s 13.43x - 1.97MB/s

The results of these tests are very interesting. We see that on the Acer 4x4x32, the read speed is abysmal, coming in at a quarter of the advertised "maximum read speed," which in this case is quite deceptive. Its write speed, however, is right on par with what it advertises -- 3.97x is certainly close enough to 4x that I will not notice the difference. The Plextor drives, on the other hand, while not on average getting close to their advertised maximum speed, certainly do much better than the similarly advertised Acer drive from a year ago. In fact, oddly enough, the 12/10/32A ousts the 16/10/40A in the read benchmarks. As for write speed, we see something very interesting -- clearly, the jump from 4x to 12x is a big one -- you really are seeing the full benefit. However, when going from 12x to 16x we find that in fact the drive performs a lot closer to 13x. This happened consistently, and makes me wonder if the same thing that happened to CD-ROM drives will happen to CD-RW drives -- companies increasing the "maximum speed" in order to create a false need for upgrades. I hope not, because purchasing a CD-RW drive is confusing enough already.

Conclusions
To get the full benefit of this review, you should read both the 12/10/32A and 12/10/32S reviews. This comparison introduces Plextor's latest drive, which has turned out to be the least impressive -- a good drive, without a doubt, but not worth more money than the 12/10/32A, and certainly not better than the 12/10/32S. We also get an interesting look at the possibility of the CD-RW speed curve getting steeper; for the first time a newer model does not live up to its speed name. We also see that we have come a long way from a year ago, now being able to write a full CD in about five minutes, something nice for those who want to put together an audio CD before they run out the door. My recommendation for CD-RW drives still rests with the 12/10/32A, because it is relatively inexpensive and performs about the same as the 16/10/40A. The 16/10/40A can be found on Pricewatch for $209.

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