iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






December 2000 Storage Digest

1. Hard drives and controllers

Due to absense of any important events this month, I shall try to analyze our market to help you understand what you should purchase and what you shouldn't. All drives are conditionally separable in capacity (from 10 up to 20 GBytes and more than 20 GBytes) and rpm rate (up to 5400 rpm and 7200 rpm). Don't blame me if you won't be able to find these drives for prices given.

Drives from 10 up to 20 GBytes, 5400 rpm

So-called "initial level drives". It is meaningful in this category to slightly renounce perfomance in order to save money. I advise you to pay attention to Seagate U10 and Fujitsu MPF 3XXXAT series. These drives have shown quite good test results and furthermore they are cheap enough (minimum retail prices: 10.2 GBytes U10 (ST310212A) - $78, Fujitsu MPF 3102AT - $83). New Seagate U5, Western Digital Protege (EB), Fujitsu MPG 3XXXAT series with 20 GBytes per disk write density are certainly good (10.2 GBytes WD100EB - $92, MPG3102AT- $92), but I think it's early to mess with ATA100 on computers of this class. Seagate U5 stands alone here. It's doubtful to pay additional $48 for a small speed increase for drives of this level (U5 (ST310211A) has the same 10.2 GBytes - $126.4). Probably, this is because these drives have just appeared.

Drives from 10 up to 20 GBytes, 7200 rpm

For those who does not need to store vast data volumes. The defining factor, as I think, is the efficiency (price/perfomance ratio). And a bit of reliability as well… As I think, the leader here is Western Digital Caviar BB (10 GBytes WD100BB - $103). It is also possible to recommend Seagate Barracuda ATA II (10 GBytes ST310210A - $96), Fujitsu MPE 3xxxAH or Fujitsu MPF 3xxxAH (13.6 GBytes MPE 3136AH - $90, 10.2 GBytes MPF3102AH - $96) (I'd choose MPE on reasons of efficiency). Much has been said about IBM DTLA already and I shall not repeat my words again. I haven't messed with Maxtor products for a long time, therefore I won't be able to tell you anything about their drives. Quantum Fireball Plus AS (10 GBytes AS10A01x - $127) is a bit expensive for this category. You should wait for some lower prices.

Drives from 20 GBytes, 5400 rpm

These are real data storage devices. The speed is of almost no importance. The bottom (20.4 GB) recommendations are the same (Seagate U10 (320423A) - $94, MPF 3204AT - $96). As to maximum capacity drives, I think you should choose 45 GBytes Western Digital's WD450AA. The good test results are combined with quite acceptable price of $150.

Drives from 20 GBytes 7200 rpm

Here's high linear read rate (the more it's equal on the disk, the better), short access time. Perfomance is the most important factor. What can I advise? From those available for sale now: Western Digital Caviar BB (20 GBytes WD200BB - $150), Quantum Fireball Plus AS (20 GBytes AS20A01x - $142) – these are drives with 20 GBytes per disk write density, than the same Seagate Barracuda ATA II (30.6 GBytes ST330630A - $152), IBM DTLA for the amateurs (20 GBytes DTLA-307020, for high velocity features of this disk are undoubted). Who can wait should wait for new Seagate Barracuda ATA III and IBM Deskstar 60GXP "monsters".

2. Optical devices

By Alexander Vorobiev

December has appeared less saturated with different announcements of new devices. There's nothing surprising here: the optical drives technology have been almost "squeezed out" already. Just look, there's already a possibility to write a disk for five minutes (not a word about the quality ; -)), you should not be troubled for data transfer stream continuity when recording at fast speeds because it's up to the Burn-Proof technology, recorders are able to read data as fast as usual CD-ROMs. In case you need to quickly store information that you'll replace with something else in the future, there are high-speed CD-RWs at your service with speeds up to 10X.

But not all technologies here are close to an ideal, and in this field manufacturers still have problems to solve. So, Yamaha CRW2100EZ CD-RW, tested in our laboratory, has demonstrated depressing results. It concerns both RW operation and the recording quality. Unconditionally, it is also up to rather "raw" CD-R disks manufacture technology, and 12X and above speed recording requires very high disk quality. You'll be able to read about this drive in detail in a browse that will be released later.

Despite some silence in the field of CD-RW devices, many new models have appeared on the our market in December, you could have read about them before only in press releases. These are: TDK CyClone CDRW121032, Creative CD-RW Blaster RW121032E, Teac CDW512E (B), Teac CDW58E, the same Yamaha CRW2100EZ. Each of these drives has already been tested in iXBT Hardware's laboratory and the articles are prepared for publishing. If you observe features of each drive, you'll notice a tendency that standard CD-RW speed combination has been practically set up at a level of 12/10/32, and I wrote about it in previous digests. It is also possible to mark that Burn-Proof technology becomes the standard, though I must say that nevertheless the given technology has an alternative – the "JustLink" development of the Ricoh company. The strategy of the Yamaha company is unclear, having in mind that they decided to increase buffer size instead of realizing one of two error control technologies - "Buffer Underrun".

We continue to publish guidelines about purchasing recorders. I shall note that even despite model lines upgrade made by many companies, previous generation CD-RW drives remain more favourable in many cases. It is so due to better operation level and also availability of patches without almost any "bugs" and also due to wide spectrum of software. So …

Professional level CD-RW drives.

The given category means recorder excellence and reliability. Accordingly, prices for such devices will be appropriate. Recommended professional class recorder has remained the same Plextor PX-W1210TA.

Plextor PX-W1210TA

If need an advanced recorder supporting off-the-shelf technological novelties and standards and having an unsurpassed writing rate, then Plextor PX-W1210TA is your choice. Yes, it's expensive, but it costs that money. And the price is just 10% is higher than of PX-W8432Ti model. There's nothing more to say about this drive.

In the BLER (Block Error Rate) tests this drive has demonstrated very high metrics alongside with PX-W8432Ti model, and that is one of major criteria according to the quality of the written CDs. In case you need maximum production output, you should pay attention on a SCSI clone, PX-W1210TS model.

Certainly, there is an alternative to the given drive. I think it's TDK CyClone CDRW121032. I guess TDK's recorder could receive even more popularity than Plextor, but products of this company are almost absent on the Russian CD-RW market, and that's a pity…

Average level CD - RW drives

This category includes rather high-speed devices with low price and with an optimum speed ratios. Nowadays we think such ratios to be 8/4/32 or 8/8/32.

Teac a CD - W58E

By all factors this model is good, and the price ($140-145) is low, both velocity characteristics and recording quality are good, but there's one thing: suddenly this recorder has appeared in the market, and suddenly it has been removed from production. There are still some of such CD-RWs in warehouses, but we don't know for how long they will suffice. In total, if you need a speedy model for a reasonable price, look closely at Teac CD-W58E.

NEC NR-7500A

In the recent digests this recorder was a "beginner", and now NEC-NR-7500A is one of the best-selling CD-RW drives. It can be explained by the low price and high test results. The recording quality is at a quite decent level as well. Therefore, in case you do not need 8X rewriting, and you realize what complexities can await you in an OEM drive, pay the most steadfast attention to recorder of the NEC company.

Initial level CD-RW drives

The purchase of this category recorders means low money resources along with precise understanding of what you want to get for this amount of money.


Teac CD - W54EK is in great demand, first of all due to the low price and also to reliability of the Teac company itself. This drive is an excellent choice for the people requiring high speed and high recording quality for the low price. The 4X recording and rewriting will cover a large part of requirements of a home user or organizations writing up to hundred disks per month.

Mitsumi CR 4804 TE

I'd advise the given recorder only in case you want to buy it for a price much lower than that of Teac. Today the difference in price between Teac CD-W45EK and Mitsumi CR 4804 TE makes less than $5-6, therefore it's up to you to decide about expediency of the given purchase. Low speeds of both reading and recording do not give the basis to advise the given drive to users who need a reliable high-performance system with probable long work time. But a home user, writing not more than few disks per week and sometimes archiving data on CD-RW, may consider this variant as an optimum. The Mitsumi device is a good choice as an addition to a usual CD-ROM. The drive is one of the most silent among all tested, without almost any vibrations. We even had to look at the LEDs to be sure the drive was working. It's hard to say something particular about reliability of the given recorder. Basing on personal experience and guarantee workshops employees recalls it can be said that the quality varies from shipping to shipping. Sometimes a large number of drives was reset under warranty during first months, and sometimes this happened with only a few drives. Therefore, if you have chose this drive as a purchase, also choose dealers granting 12 month warranty (instead of usual 6 months).

The development of modern technologies

There was an interesting trial at the end of November. The thing was that there was an action against Hewlett Packard in Germany. GEMA, the largest german license group has required 12DM from HP for each CD-R/CD-RW drive sold since 1998: users could have illegally written music with them! The most interesting is that HP has paid 3.60DM for each drive sold since that time, and has agreed to pay 12DM for every sold hereafter.

In the beginning of December the I-O Data company little-known in Russia has announced an external CDRW-SX1610B model of SCSI CD-RW with speeds of 16/10/40X. As it has already became usual recently, on the chassis from Sanyo. The shippings are expected in the beginning of January for rather high prices of about $445.

Pioneer, one of the main "combiners" has announced a writing CD/DVD combination - DVR-103 drive, having declared thus, that it counts it "as one of the most important products in history of the company", the product which should appear for sale in the first quarter of ‘2001. It also features CD rewriting. It's a first such combination. It also the first to write DVD-R at double 2X speed. The price wasn't mentioned.

The computer industry is such a thing that if one company has started talking about "combines", all others will not stay aside. For example, the Oak company. In middle of December it has presented the integrated controller for optical drives – a single OTI-9897 chip. This controller provides necessary functions both for operation in CD-RW mode, and for operation in DVD-ROM mode. In other words, it allows to create inexpensive CD-RW/DVD combines. However, though IDC predicts 139% average sales growth for the nearest four years for similar drives, nevertheless their major part, will surely be used in notebooks. Such drives are more necessary there.

LaCie, the manufacturer of peripheral units for Mac-compatible PCs, has decided to not go deep into combine things and has presented the PocketDrive CD-RW device. This an external CD-RW capable of connecting to the computer both via USB and FireWire (IEEE1394). PocketDrive CD-RW automatically determines, what it is connected through and activates the appropriate controller. Accordingly, is compatible with PC and Mac.

U&I (USB and IEEE) technology will also be used in PocketDrive hard drives from LaCie of 10 and 20 GBytes. The shippings of PocketDrive 4x4x24x will begin soon, the guiding price is $450. PocketDrive 8x4x24x will be released approximately in the beginning of ‘2001 for a price of about $500.

TDK was active as well. In middle of December TDK Europe has announced the new CyClone 161040 CD-RW drive. The drive, as it is already clear from the title is capable of writing at speed of 16x, rewriting at 10x and reading at 40x. Taking into account, that the drive is based on Sanyo chassis, the support of BURN-Proof technology is present. A new CD-RW drive package includes usual software for TDK - Nero Burning ROM 5.0, Digital Mix Master and InCD. The shippings will approximately begin in January ‘2001. The price has not been declared for the moment of announce.

I hope that given recorder will reach us nevertheless and then we shall see an actual alternative to a 16x CD-RW from Yamaha.

TDK has reminded again about itself a bit later, having announced the new CD-RW drive distinguished by rather exotic interface – it has dual Firewire and USB. And taking into account different bandwidth of these buses, the speeds are 12/10/32 and 6/6/6 accordingly. The rest is quite standard: 2 MBytes buffer, BURN-Proof, 150ms access time. The price for this device is $380.

In the same time there was rather interesting information in WWW about an LG-8083B recorder. It has appeared "tweakable" (!) without any physical interference into drive's interiors. It can be slightly "accelerated" by changing 1.06 patch for LG-8080B. In any hex editor you should replace "GLC-DWRC DE8-80B0" with "GLC-DWRC DE8-80B3" and "CD-RW CED-8080B" with "CD-RW CED-8083B", then the drive must be repatched with this file, and after reboot you get 8/4/32 LG-8080B instead.

On the 18th of December, Philips has announced the distribution of Orange Book Part II CD-R Volume 2 Version 0.9 Multi Speed – a standard defining CD writing speeds up to 16X. Accordingly, the company starts checking all released CD-Rs for correspondence to this standard, promising to publish the list of models which have shown good results on their site.

The Iomega company, in the end of the month has begun shippings of the new external Predator CD-RW drive, having announced it on Comdex. It features nice design, upper loading instead of traditional frontal, and speeds are 8/4/32X. Though it is a maximum speed limited by the interface: this combination will be available only for a FireWire model, and USB Predator will have only 4/4/6X. Within ‘2001 another two interfaces will be added: PCMCIA and USB 2.0. USB variant will be out in January at the price of $270, FireWire variant - in the first quarter at the price of $350.

3. Modern DVD technologies

By Roman Shelepov

Let's continue our discussion of technologies, of DVD writing in particular.

The capability of recording to DVD disks excited many high technology manufacturers and customers. However this question caused the earlier integrated DVD forum to break into several "camps". The first and the biggest was derivated by supporters of DVD-RAM standard. Then there are DVD-RW standard supporters. And at last there's a Pioneer company standing aside with it's DVD-R standard. But the term "standard" is not yet complete for all these drive types, as all of them are still being considerated by ISO. Let's observe the DVD writing "battle arena".

The DVD-RAM standard

The largest founders of this standard are Toshiba, Matsushita (Panasonic), Hitachi. I don't want to list all corporations in this group, and I named only those whose products are really present in the market. The DVD-RAM standard exists since ‘1997. For this time it had grown from 1.0 up to 2.0 version. Version 1.0 meant DVD-RAM disk capacity of 2.6 GBytes per side. Accordingly double-sided disk had 5.2 GBytes. Version 2.0 provides capacity of 4.7 GBytes per side. The double-sided disk total capacity is 9.4 GBytes. But, it is unformatted capacity, and after formatting you get 2.4 GBytes and 4.3 GBytes per side. Besides, there are two types of DVD-RAM drives. The 1st type means that DVD-RAM disk is placed in a special cartridge and can not be used without it. It greatly limits the usage of this type. The 2nd type is a DVD-RAM disk that can be taken out from a cartridge and can be read by the usual DVD-ROM drive. The second type allows to considerably expand possibilities of DVD-RAM drives application. However here's a small "problem". Not all DVD-ROM drives are capable of reading 2nd type DVD-RAMs. Below is the list of those capable of it.

  • Compaq SR-8583 (5X)
  • Compaq SR-8584 (6X)
  • Creative DVD-5240E (5X)
  • Creative DVD-5241E (5X)
  • Creative DVD-6630E (6X)
  • Hitachi GD-5000 (8X)
  • Hitachi GD-7500 (12x)
  • Matsushita (Panasonic) SR-8583 (5X) (not with firmware 0W01 and 0Y01)
  • Matsushita (Panasonic) SR-8584 (6X)
  • Matsushita (Panasonic) SR-8585 (8X)
  • Matsushita (Panasonic) SR-8174
  • Matsushita (Panasonic) SR-8586 (12X)
  • Toshiba SD-M1302 (8X)
  • Toshiba SD-M1402 (12X)
  • Toshiba SD-M1502 (16X)

DVD-RAMs were developed on the basis of magneto-optical technologies, it is say so due to disk's surface structure and life expectancy (DVD-RAM disk allows up to 100000 rewritings). UDF (Universal Disk Format) file system is used for operation with DVD-RAMs. Unfortunately, Windows98, WindowsMW, W2K support this file system only at a level of disk reading. To have a fully operational DVD-RAM you are to use special drivers/utilities or to gain similar software from 3rd party software manufacturers. And now let's look at production lines of main manufacturers.


1.0 standard drives line (2.6 GBytes per side)


  • IDE interface
  • 1 MBytes data buffer
  • DVD-RAM Data Transfer Rate
    • 1.38 MBytes/s (reading)
    • 650 KBytes/s (writing)
  • Access Time 210 ms (DVD)/150 ms (CD-ROM)
  • Compatible with DVD-ROM/R, CD ROM (reading) DVD-RAM (writing)


The same parameters, but SCSI-2 interface

2.0 standard drives line (4.7 GBytes per side)


  • extended IDE (UDMA 2) interface
  • 2 MBytes data buffer
  • DVD-RAM Data Transfer Rate
    • 1.38 MBytes/s (reading) with 2.6 GBytes disks
    • 2,77 MBytes/s (reading) with 4.7 GBytes disks
    • 650 kBytes/s (writing) with 2.6 GBytes disks
    • 1.33 MBytes/s (writing) with 4.7 GBytes disks
  • Access Time 210 ms (DVD) / 150 ms (CD-ROM)
  • Compatible with DVD-ROM/R, CD ROM (reading) DVD-RAM (writing)


The same parameters, but SCSI-2 interface

All devices are RPC-2, there are no patches to make them RPC-1.

Matsushita (PANASONIC)

1.0 standard drives line (2.6 GBytes per side)


  • SCSI-2 interface
  • 2 MBytes data buffer
  • DVD-RAM Data Transfer Rate
    • 1.38 MBytes/s (reading)
    • 650 KBytes/s (writing)
  • Average seek time 120 ms (DVD) / 85 ms (CD-ROM)
  • Compatible with DVD-ROM/R, CD ROM (reading) DVD-RAM, PD (writing)


The same parameters, but IDE interface

All devices are RPC-2, there are RPC-1 patches present.

2.0 standard drives line (4.7 GBytes per side)


  • SCSI-2 interface
  • 1 MBytes data buffer
  • DVD-RAM Data Transfer Rate
    • 1.38 MBytes/s (reading) with 2.6 GBytes disks
    • 2,77 MBytes/s (reading) with 4.7 GBytes disks
    • 695 KBytes/s (writing) with 2.6 GBytes disks
    • 1.38 MBytes/s (writing) with 4.7 GBytes disks
  • Average seek time 75 ms (DVD) / 65 ms (CD-ROM)
  • Compatible with DVD-ROM/R, CD ROM (reading) DVD-RAM (writing)


The same parameters, but Extended IDE (UDMA 2) interface

All devices are RPC-2, there are no RPC-1 patches.


1.0 standard drives (2.6 GBytes per side)


  • SCSI-2 interface
  • 2 MBytes data buffer
  • DVD-RAM Data Transfer Rate
    • 1.38 MBytes/s (reading)
    • 650 KBytes/s (writing)
  • Average seek time 120 ms (DVD) / 140 ms (CD-ROM)
  • Compatible with DVD-ROM/R, CD ROM (reading) DVD-RAM (writing)

2.0 standard drives (4.7 GBytes per side)


  • ATAPI interface
  • 8 MBytes data buffer
  • DVD-RAM Data Transfer Rate
    • 1.38 MBytes/s (reading) with 2.6 GBytes disks
    • 2,77 MBytes/s (reading) with 4.7 GBytes disks
    • 695 KBytes/s (writing) with 2.6 GBytes disks
    • 1.38 MBytes/s (writing) with 4.7 GBytes disks
  • Access time 190 ms (DVD) / 100 ms (CD-ROM)
  • Compatible with DVD-ROM/R, CD ROM (reading) DVD-RAM (writing)

All devices are RPC-2, there are no RPC-1 patches present.

Nowadays there's a gradual replace of 1.0 standard drives with 2.0 standard ones. The 2.0 standard is completely compatible with 1.0 standard. The side capacity increase of DVD-RAM disks has given users the opportunity to effectively to store video information on these disks, pirate DVD movie copies in particular. The cost of DVD-RAM drives varies in a range of $350-500, the cost of DVD-RAM disk makes up about $27.

DVD-RAM technology actively advance in home appliances apart from computer field, Hitachi corporation, in particular, creates home DVD-players capable of working with DVD-RAM drives. And there's a nice solution for 80mm DVD-RAM disks – they are made a part of 2.0 standard with the capacity of 1.46 GBytes per side. It is possible to write up to 30 minutes of video per side with a very high quality and 60 minutes with average quality. These drives are also used in portable digital cameras from Hitachi (DZ-MV100) and Panasonic (VDR-M10). It is difficult to underrate such a revolutionary DVD-RAM application. These cameras record video in MPEG-2 standard and the user does not have to transfer data to the computer and reformat it. One can just insert a disk in a DVD-ROM or a DVD-player, and watch what has been recorded or edit it. But the problem of DVD-ROM and DVD-RAM compatibility arises here again. In common, it is possible to say that DVD-RAM is a stably developing standard and it will please us shortly with some interesting novelties.

The DVD-RW standard

This standard was created by Sony, Hewlett-Packard and Philips. But the reasons of creation are still unclear, as until now there were no serious attempts to create devices on this base. There was a prototype of such device shown at some exhibition, but still no more.

The standard DVD-R

This standard was developed by the Pioneer corporation in a proud loneliness. It was intended to replace CD-RW drives. The technology similar to CD-RW is used for recording. Lately standard was "grown" up to a 2nd generation. In 1st generation DVD-Rs 3.95 GBytes disks were used, and in 2nd generation 4.7 GBytes ones already. Now there are following Pioneer's devices on the market:


The 1st generation device.

  • SCSI-2 interface
  • 3.95 GBytes DVD-R disk capacity
  • Writing method - Disc at once
  • Writing rate 1.32 MBytes/s
  • Supported formats - DVD-ROM, DVD-Video

The device had considerable dimensions (11cm in height) and weight (about 5 kg).


The 2nd second generation device.

  • SCSI-2 interface
  • 3.95 GBytes and 4.7 GBytes DVD-R disk capacity
  • Writing method - Disc at once Incremental writing
  • Writing rate 1.32 MBytes/s
  • Supported formats - DVD-ROM, DVD-Video
  • Dimensions of the given device are more than acceptable, it looks like an external CD-RW.

Both devices are initially RPC-1.

Unfortunately, the most sad point in these cool devices is their price. It varies in the range of $3500-4500. Such devices can be afforded only by a rich office, but not by a usual user. Cost of DVD-R disks is similar to DVD-RAM's - $27. And there's an important advantage of this technology – it does not have DVD-ROM compatibility problems. And single-write blanks also make a perfect backup material. But once I thought that if there's a possibility of Buffer Underrun error like in CD-RW, one can earn himself a heart attack thinking of a spoiled twenty-seven-dollar blank :). But this is an unproved supposition as it's still not possible to test such drive.

So. That's the nowadays situation with writable DVD market.

Information from the following web-sites was used in the digest:

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