iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






February 2001:
storage digest

1. Hard disks and controllers

By Nikolai Dorofeev

There were no serious technological shocks in February. Maxtor was the only big manufacturer to announce an advanced design. According to the message from the company the inner diameter load/unload ramp has been applied for the first time in the world in Maxtor 531DX (5400 rpm, ATA/100) series. The essence of this device is that the head is stacked in a special carrier at the parking that eliminates its contact with HDD plate's surface in case of impacts. The serie includes two disks of 10.2 and 15 GBytes in volume, both single-headed. There were no more important events this month therefore I continue to already traditionally "rate" hard disks. All of them can be conditionally separated by capacity (from 10 up to 20 GBytes and more than 20 GBytes) and by rpm (5400 rpm and below, and 7200 rpm). I shall try to name the leader of each group, both the best and also for the "economical" user. In many respects this rating will coincide with the December one of the past millenium, but no surprises here as there are few new models.

Disks from 10 up to 20 GBytes 5400 rpm

So-called "basic level disks". In this category it is meaningful to slightly renounce perfomance, in order to save money. However, the prices for disks of this class differ unsignificantly.

The leader is Seagate U5.

The "save money" leader is Fujitsu MPF 3xxxAT.

Considering the category, I would advise to take Fujitsu.

Disks from 10 up to 20 GBytes 7200 rpm

For those who does not need to store vast volumes of information. The defining factor, as I think, is the efficiency (price/perfomance ratio). If one could also add reliability… It's very hard to select the leader here therefore I repeat my subjective opinion.

The leader is Quantum Fireball Plus AS.

The "save money" leader is Seagate Barracuda ATA II.

Disks from 20 GBytes 5400 rpm

These are really meant for data storage I suppose. The speed is almost unimportant.

The leader is Seagate U5.

The "save money" leader is Western Digital WD450AA.

Disks from 20 GBytes 7200 rpm

The high linear read rate (the more it is equal throughout the disk the better), little access time. If shortly, the perfomance is the most important. What can I advise here?

The leader is Seagate Barracuda ATA III.

The "save money" leader is IBM DTLA.

In general disks characteristics were essentially aligned. So it's safe to purchase disks from any manufacturer, it will provide necessary operation speed.

2. Optical devices (CD-RW)

By Alexandr Vorobyev

The industry of optical storage and data recording systems is on the rise now. Almost daily companies announce the releases of new CD-RW devices or researches of new technologies. February was not an exception, though it was less brisk and diverse by way of product releases on the market.

Professional level CD-RW drives

The given category means excellence and reliability of recorder. But the price for such devices is appropriate.

Plextor PX-W1610A

At present this recorder is the most advanced in this category. Except actual 16X recording speed of PX-W1610A (Yamaha is more "sly" in this situation) and extremely useful Burn-Proof technology, the device also features one more important tech called "Powerec" (Plextor Optimized Writing Error Reduction Control). The given technology allows to automatically determine the type of CD-R used and to select optimal writing rate for it.

It is necessary to mark that PX-W1610A has excellent speed and correctness of grabbing musical tracks from a compact disk. On the normally balanced disk without obvious damages the speed of grabbing reaches 30x! However, the recorder behaves very silently at high speeds of reading and that favourably distinguishes it from Yamaha CRW2100E.

Another important thing is the support of RAW-DAO recording/reading mode that is unsupported by all other 16x recorders yet.

The record quality has remained on a high enough level. Though it is necessary to mark that after Plextor has aimed to the market of semi-professional recorders (though having kept prices accessible not for everyone), the quality of production of this company has decreased a little, but it still remains at a level inaccessible to many manufacturers.

The drive is a bit "raw" for the present (it's noticeable especially at testing data reading rate), but we are sure that new firmware versions will help to get the situation better.


The tested copy of CD-W512EB has demonstrated very high metrics, close to a similar model from Plextor. BLER metric is only a little higher than that of PX-W1210TA, velocity metrics are on a very high level - TEAC style. The quality of reading of "Chinese" and damaged disks seems to be even "optimized" for Russian users. The access speed is less than that of the brand competitor. Add to this rather moderate price and major spreadness of the considered device and you'll receive a very competitive product from the company that has beforehand issued one of the best-selling recorders - CD-W54E.

Average level CD-RW drives

This category combines high enough speed with low cost and optimal speed ratios. For today it means, as we suppose, 8/4/32 or 8/8/32.


The popularity of this recorder is stipulated by distinctive features of company's marketing policy – moderate price ($135-140), reliability and quality of sold devices, availability of both OEM and Retail versions, and also wide spreadness on the markets.

So if you really need 8x writing rate for a reasonable price, take a closer look at CD-W58E.

Mitsumi CR-4805TE

This recorder will be interesting first of all to those who love to create "backups" of their (or of others' ; -)) disks. CR-4805TE supports all imaginable ways of writing/reading in the RAW format: RAW-DAO, RAW-DAO Write Simulation, CD+G RAW-DAO, RAW-SAO, RAW-SAO Write Simulation. Looks like engineers from Mitsumi have tasked themselves to release a model wholly intended for copying protected disks. I must admit they've succeeded…

But not only the complete support of all "cloning" functions has made us to recommend this device. It is not so similar for Mitsumi, but the quality of recording for CR-4805TE is on excellent level for a CD-RW drive of average class. A high and correct reading rate of disks of any type and 8x writing rate together with the low price ($115-120) make this recorder a beneficial proposition for a user with average needs concerning compact discs recording.

Basic level CD-RW drives

The purchase of a recorder of this category means low money resources and precise understanding of what you want to get for these money.


As it seems, CD-W54EK today is namely that basic level drive, which, despite of its rather long life (in terms of dynamically explicating computer life), is in rightly great demand till now. As in case with 8x model, the CD-W54E is successfully sold first of all due to the low price and well-known reliability of TEAC company. This drive is an excellent choice for people requiring high speed and high recording quality at low price. 4x writing and rewriting will cover the major part of home user needs or organizations writing up to several tens of disks per month.

Modern technologies and their development

Just at the end of the previous month the Addonics Technologies company has presented a new CD-RW drive with 8/4/24 speed ratio for PC and Apple Macintosh users.

The sizes of the device are hardly more than a compact disk itself. Addonics Pocket CD-RW is available in the following variants: with USB, Firewire or CardBus interface. The variant with USB interface hereinafter can be upgraded up to the USB 2.0 standard. The recommended prices from Addonics are: Pocket CD-RW with USB or CardBus interface - $459, with Firewire interface - $499. Each drive is shipped in a package with Adaptec Easy CD Creator and Adaptec Deluxe CD software. The dimensions of Pocket CD-RW are about 140x135x20 mm, the weight is about 430 gr.

Traxdata company (its French department) has declared about itself the day later. It has announced the intention to release in short time its new 12/10/32 recorder (actually not absolutely "its" as "interiors" are similar to Lite-On LTR-1210B).

No need to say that this device supports Burn-Proof technology, already becoming essential for high-speed CD-RW drives, and recording in CD-Text and RAW-DAO formats. Prassi PrimoCD Plus software will be included in the box variant.

Plextor company shows increasing market activity, having announced on the 6th of February its new PX-S88T model designed in a slim case. It will be the first experience of the company in slim drives production (the dimensions are: 128x12,7x126,1 mm). But despite the small sizes, the recorder has quite good speed characteristics: 8x writing, 8x rewriting and 24x reading. As well as all other modern models, PX-S88T is equipped with the Burn-Proof technology in case 2 MBytes buffer will not suffice. The model will appear in Japan in March ‘2001 at the price of 50000 yens ($435) and originally it will be distributed only through the OEM-channel.

And again about Plextor. According to "Shinano Mainichi" Japanese news issue, the last year Plextor has sold more than 1500000 CD-RW drives. 288000 of them in Japan, 658000 in USA and 577000 in Europe. Some issues have interpreted these numbers as "…they don't like Plextor much in Japan". We would not make such strict conclusions. One shouldn't forget sizes of the whole European market and the market of "Countries of the Rising Sun" only.

In the beginning of February some information about TEAC's new 16x CD-RW drive have begun to appear here and there.

As it has become known little later, CD-W516E model (it's the title of new recorder) will have the following features:

  • 4, 8, 16x writing and 4, 10x rewriting
  • 40x reading (CAV) CDROM (Mode 1) and CDROM XA M2/F1
  • 14x-24x Read (Zone CAV) DAE, CD - RW, CDROM XA M2/F2
  • IDE/ATAPI (Ultra DMA33) interface
  • 2 MBytes buffer

You have certainly paid attention that the drive does not write disks not only at 2x speed (many people have already got used to this), but also at 12X! As it seems to us, it can cause particular difficulties, taking into account the fact that there are actually no CD-R disks today conforming the requirements of 16x recording. This CD-RW drive should appear in shops at the end of March or in the beginning of April.

In middle of February Sony has presented (and sales have begun on the 1st of March) an interesting device named CRX10U, which can be used and as a portable CD/MP3-player, and also as an external CD-R/RW drive. The batteries can supply 2,5 hours of playback and 2 hours of CD-R/RW disks recording/reading. The interface is USB, therefore maximum reading rate is only 6X, and recording - 4X. The dimensions are 132X189,5X25 mm, the weight is 340. The price for the device is defined at $385 level, but still only in Japan.

Yamaha Corporation of America has released the LightSpeed CRW2100FXZ drive, which, according to Yamaha representatives, is the fastest external CD-R/W device with the FireWire interface.

Multiplatform (for both PC and Mac) CRW2100FXZ model allows to write CD-R disks at 16X speed, rewrite CD-RWs at 10X speed, and the reading rate is 40X. The Yamaha Waste-Proof Write Strategy technology, developed by Yamaha itself, is applied in CRW2100FXZ to protect the buffer against overflows during recording process. It consists of 8 MBytes buffer, CAV technology support for "on-the-fly" recording and specific software installations & settings. The new model should appear for sale in the beginning of March at the price of $399,99.

And TEAC again… On the 16th of February the company announced an external SCSI CD-RW drive: CD-W5120S. It's designed on the basis of CD-W512S with UltraSCSI interface (up to 20 MBytes/s). CD-RW5120S is equipped with 4 MBytes buffer, supports 12x writing, 10x rewriting, 32x reading speeds at 85 ms access time. No need to say it also supports Burn-Proof…

And on some twentieth of February there was a rather interesting message that Ritek, the largest CD-R disk manufacturer, (from which Philips has recently withdrawn the appropriate production license) will test its five production lines for 100 GHz thin-film DWDM filters in March and in May it will be ready to begin mass production. Thus Ritek has far-planned schedules of active and passive devices production as well as fiber optic cables itself. More to this, the sister Ritekon company is already engaged in production of transceivers for fiber optics since the last quarter. Well, there were cheap CD-R disks, now there will be cheap fiber optics? It's just about quality…

At the end of the month the Japanese RATOC Systems company has also shown some activity, having announced the intention to release an external RCD-PN0804P CD-RW drive with the universal interface, supporting both IEEE-1394 and USB. OSes supported: Windows 9x and Windows 2000, Mac OS 9.0.4/9.1.

The speed formula of RCD-PN0804P looks like 8/4/24 (with FireWire) that is rather modest for today terms. USB interface allows only 6x reading and 4x recording rate. The drive is assembled on the basis of Panasonic mechanics, has 2 MBytes write buffer and 150 ms access time. It is necessary to mark the weight – 460 gr only!

The recorder should appear for sale in the beginning of March at the price of 57000 yens ($493), certainly, in Japan ; -)

Just these days it has become known, that the Disc4You company is going to increase the standard size of a CD-R disk up to 120 minutes (1,3 Gbytes)! While there's only one CD-RW drive capable of recording on such disks - Mitsumi 4804TE :-) Oh yes, that "widespread one" of the basic level. Certainly, the software, capable of understanding these off-the-shelf CD-Rs, is also required: CDRWin 4.0 (still in beta-testing) and little-known PadusDJ.

The new disk will be named "Disc4You-XXL-CD-R", and is expected to appear for sale not earlier than June ‘2001. The probable price is two DM per disk (or $0.93).

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