iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






November 2001: Storage Digest

Hard drives and controllers

By Nikolai Dorofeev

Well, highest-capacity drives were released (Maxtor D540X "Neptune" of 160 GBytes and 5400 rpm, and Western Digital WD1200BB of 120 GBytes and 7200 rpm; the IBM Deskstar 120GXP is just only announced) and the market entered a slack season where it is still miring. As soon as we get these drives we will carry out the tests and publish the reviews.

Optical recording devices (CD-RW)

By Alexander Vorobiev

The November has become a "24X month": the most of manufacturers of optical recorders took out of production their 16X models. The drive makers develop new models faster than the old generation gains ground. However, old models do not lie too long unsold and they rarely get discount prices, though cheap, always available 4X-8X models could swiftly replace a floppy drive.

The November is also a starting point for a market life of the DVD+RW technology. Now all the vendors of the DVD+RW Alliance, except Yamaha, are armed with a DVD+RW drive (the as you might know, the Ricoh 5120A serves a base for all of them).

Below is our TOP of the recommended CD-RW drives.

Recorders with the highest speed of CD-R recording equal to 20X-24X

Price range: $110-220

Yamaha CRW2200E

The price of the recorder corresponds to its functional possibilities. At a moderate price you can get a CD-RW drive with incorporated modern technologies and a sizeable buffer. The recording quality has improved considerably as compared with the previous model. The drive has some drawbacks in the firmware, but I hope Yamaha will soon correct them in the new microprogram versions. Its "not very true 20X" is not a real shortcoming as today all 20-24X CD-RW drives use all possible tricks to minimize the negative effect of high speeds on recording quality. I think the Yamaha CRW2200E-VK will soon find its users.

TDK CyClone 24/10/40 (AI-241040)

Surely, not everyone needs 20x or 24x recording speed of CD-R media, especially considering that the Ricoh MP7200A sells very good, and discs which can be recorded at 20-24X are still absent. This new CyClone will attract people who like everything new and who purchase computer components with some reserve. The TDK AI-241040 will be interesting for people fond of Audio CD recording and rejecting speeds higher than 2X. The track extraction speed is very high at the same time. An excellent Retail set, high-quality recording and good speed characteristics will make a choice between the CyClone and a similar drive difficult.

Plextor PX-W2410TA

The words we said about the TDK CyClone AI-241040 can also refer to the new Plextor. Plus, an excellent recording quality and a 2-year warranty from the manufacturer. Plextor remains a standard regarding quality of recording of any types of discs. The PX-W2410TA is the most up-to-date drive from Plextor with a rich set of functions. Such a miracle of the current technology costs $220.

Mitsumi CR-4809TE

This model will possible become a bestseller in the world market. It has an extremely low price, a 16 MBytes buffer designed for the most stable recording even at 24X, ExacLink (buffer underrun error prevention technology) which gets activated if you have used up all the possibilities of a 16 MBytes buffer, 12x operation with CD-RW media, quiet reading, high-quality recording. You won't be disappointed with this budget model.

Recorders with the highest speed of CD-R recording equal to 16X

Price range: $115-190

Plextor PX-W1610A
TDK CyClone CDRW161040

These two devices are based on the pickup from Sanyo, that is why they show very close results. But as time goes by their prices become more different in favor of the CyClone. If you want an almost Plextor but at the less price, then you should go with the TDK. But if the highest quality and reliability are required, then the choice must be done in favor of the PlexWriter.

The PX-W1610A has a true 16X recording speed. The BURN-Proof technology was supplemented with the "Powerec" (Plextor Optimized Writing Error Reduction Control). This technology defines a type of a CD-R used and sets the optimal recording speed.

Besides, the PlexWriter has an excellent speed and correctness of sound track extraction from audio CDs. The speed may be as much as 30x on a well-balanced disc without vivid damages! At the same time, the recorder doesn't make much noise.

The TDK offers high-quality recording, stable reading, a pleasant design and is able to replace the Mitsumi which works mainly under the CloneCD.


I'm sure you know quite well the CD-W512E for its high recording quality, fast and stable reading, high reliability and a moderate price. The W516EB doesn't differ much: it just writes faster and costs more. On the whole, it is an inexpensive and high-quality 16x recorder.

Modern technologies and their development

In the beginning of November Sanyo announced its new CRD-SBP15A pickup for external CD-RW drives and portable devices. This mechanism will be a base, for example, for FP-241032 drive with FireWire interface from TDK. The CRD-SBP15A allows producing devices of 24/10/32 speeds (CAV); it is equipped with an ATAPI interface and a 2 MBytes buffer. An access time is 250 ms. It provides support for the BURN-Proof and for Shock-BP which prevents errors in course of recording if a drive shakes up. The CRD-SBP15A measures 123.0 X 152.0 X 23.0 mm. The pickup is already shipping to the OEM partners.

Sony has supplemented its family of external data storage devices with two new ultra-thin portable CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drives. The CRX85A/A1 model with PC Card interface is expected in November at $329, the CRX85U/A2 model with USB 2.0 interface must appear on the shelves in December at the same price.

Characteristics of the drives:

Sony CRX85A/A1 Sony CRX85U/A2
  • PC Card interface
  • 20X Z-CLV recording (CD-R),8X recording (CD-RW),24X (max.) reading (CD-ROM),8X (max) reading (DVD-ROM)
  • Dimensions: 127.5 x 17.5 x 132.5 mm
  • Platforms supported: Windows98SE/2000/Me (Windows XP expected)
  • Data rate: 3.6 MBytes/s (max.) recording, 3 MBytes/s (max.) reading
  • Burst speed: 16.7 MBytes/s
  • Average access time: 160 ms
  • Buffer: 8 MBytes
  • Recording methods: Disc at Once,Track at Once,Session at Once, recording of bursts of fixed and variable size
  • Formats supported: CD-DA, Video CD, multisession Photo CD, CD TEXT, CD Extra, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, CD-I, Enhanced CD, UDF and Karaoke CD
  • USB 2.0 external interface
  • Support of USB 1.1 with a reading speed up to 8X and a recording speed up to 6X
  • 20X Z-CLV recording (CD-R),8X recording (CD-RW),24X (max.) reading (CD-ROM),8X (max) reading (DVD-ROM)
  • Dimensions: 127.5x17.5x132.5 mm
  • Platforms supported:Windows98SE/2000/Me/Windows XP/MacOS 9.0.4, 9.1, 9.2.1
  • Data rate: 3.6 MBytes/s (max.) recording, 3 MBytes/s (max.) reading
  • Burst speed: 480 Mbit/s (max.)
  • Average response time: 160 ms
  • Buffer: 8 MBytes
  • Recording methods: Disc at Once,Track at Once,Session at Once, recording of bursts of fixed and variable size
  • Formats supported: CD-DA, Video CD, multisession Photo CD, CD TEXT, CD Extra, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, CD-I, Enhanced CD, UDF and Karaoke CD

In January 2002 Hitachi will start producing a DVD-RW/CD-RW drive GMA-4020CB supporting all recording formats recommended by the DVD Forum - DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM. The support of the latter format is especially interesting because of its logical design and a "cartridge" mechanical structure. The MA-4020B will have the ATAPI interface, 2x recording of DVD-R, 1x recording of DVD-RW, 2x recording of DVD-RAM, 10x reading of DVD discs; 12x recording of CD-R, 8x recording of CD-RW, 32x reading of CD.

The more detailed information is still lacking, but it is known that this model will have a 2 MBytes buffer, will weigh 1 kg and will be able to set in horizontal or vertical position. I don't know the price, but according to the volumes - around 100,000 pcs a month - the model is going to be quite popular, and the price - rather bearable.

TDK launched a new portable CD-RW drive PCD8824U2 with USB 2.0 interface. It has 8/8/24 speeds, a 2 MBytes buffer and an access time in a reading mode of 110 ms. The drive utilizes the JustLink technology. With the USB 1.1 interface the speeds are lower - 6/6/6.

The drive measures 133 X 146 X 15 mm, weighs 250 g and is able to work under Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP and Mac OS 8.6/9.x. It will appear on the market in December at about $205.

The DVD+RW technology gets more and more "admirers". Thus, LiteOn, BTC and AOpen have become interested in this far not cheap technology with a possibility to rewrite DVD+RW media. The DVD+RW doesn't place limitations on a size of one recording session and writes twice faster than the DVD-RW.

At the same time, while Japanese and American companies are doing their best in applying the most advanced technologies, the Taiwanese ones are producing what is needed right now.

A bit of interesting statistics: 1,000,000 CD-RW drives were made in 1998, in 1999 the figure was 16.7 million, in 2000 we had 35.2 million. In 2001 the overall volume is going to be 40.2 million drives. In particular, Taiwan is going to produce 9.3 million devices against 5.8 million the last year - the share evidently got higher. Moreover, next year they are going to increase their share even more. CD-ROM drives are gradually stepping back. And while it is expected that in 2001 80 millions of them will be sold (for DVD-ROM drives it is only 40 million), by 2004 the figure will fall down to 35 million (for DVD-ROM drives it is going to be 120 million).

So, the Taiwanese companies which are now possessing 48% of the CD-ROM market are going to extend production of CD-RW and DVD-ROM devices.

Ricoh is expected to release its 32x CD-RW drive MP7320A. It will feature ATAPI interface, a 2 MBytes buffer and 32 (Z-CLV)/10 (CLV)/48 (CAV) speeds. It will definitely support JustLink and JustSpeed. An average access time in a reading mode is 90 ms. Recording methods: Disc At Once, Session At Once, Track At Once, Multi-Session, Packet Writing; recording formats: CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, CD Extra, CD-I, Mixed-Mode CD, VideoCD, PhotoCD, CD TEXT and Bootable CD.

The new drive will come onto a scene in January 2002; the price, however, is unknown. It is interesting that the MP7320 was developed together with Funai Electric which will start their mass production. Thanks to low production costs at the Funai plants the model must become rather popular.

On November 13 Sony announced a DVD+RW drive Sony DRU110/C1 supporting 2.4X recording of DVD+RW (which is equivalent to a 20X recording speed of a standard CD-RW drive). For CD-R and CD-RW discs the writing speed is 12X and 10X. The drive uses a DVD+RW pickup from Ricoh. The Sony DRU110/C1 must have entered the market by the end of November at $599. Besides, Sony started sales of DVD+RW discs DPW47 with a recording density of 4.7 GBytes. The recommended price is $16 piece.

Archos, which is known for its JukeBox MP3 player, showed off several new devices at Comdex Fall 2001 in Las Vegas: MiniHD is a mini hard drive with 4 to 40 GBytes and USB 2.0 interface, MiniCDRW2, DEX-CDRW2 and CESAR-CDRW/MPM drives.

The MiniCDRW2 will be the smallest external CD-RW drive of the 16x class. It will be supplied with a USB 2.0 card and have 4 external ports. The unique drive DEX-CDRW2 is meant for desktop PCs and can record discs at 40x. The Archos CESAR-CDRW/MPM is an ultra-thin CD-RW drive of 135 mm in diameter, i.e. just a bit larger than a usual CD. The Micro Power Management (MPM) allows it to do without external power supply units. This device should appear by the year-end.

At this display LG Electronics demonstrated two new drives for CDs. The GCE-8320B can record CD-R at 32X. The drive features a special buffer underrrun error prevention technology and a large buffer - 8 MBytes. The recording speed of CD-RW is, however, 10X. The drive supports the Mt.Rainier standard for direct recording of files (without special software). The drive will start shipping in December at approx. $200.

Besides, soon we will see the GCE-8240B CD-RW drive, 24/10/40, at $170.

Now a little on the Super-Multi Write Drive GMA-4020B. This monster records DVD-RAM (2X), DVD-R (2X), DVD-RW (1X), CD-R (12X) and CD-RW (8X), and reads all existent disc standards (except DDCD from Sony). It supports SuperLink technology. The access time is amazing: 100 ms for DVD-ROM/R, 140 ms for DVD-RAM and 100 ms for CD-ROM/R. The drive will start shipping in February 2002 at approximately of $800.

TEAC showcased its new CD-RW drive in Las Vegas. The drive has ATAPI interface, 24/10/40 speeds, 80 ms access time in a reading mode and a 2 MBytes buffer and supports BURN-Proof. Its Retail version has a wide software set for disc recording. The date of beginning sales and the price are unknown.

Plextor announced its new external CD-RW drive PleXWriter PX-W2410TU/BS with USB 2.0 interface. The drive has 24/10/40 speeds, a 4 MBytes buffer and 140 ms access time in a reading mode. The drive supports the BURN-Proof technology; apart from Zone-CLV it incorporates PoweRec-II technology (Plextor Optimized Writing Error Reduction Control II).

The device measures 163 X 247 X 57 mm and weighs 2.1 kg. It can work under Windows 98 SE/ME/2000/XP. The PleXWriter PX-W2410TU/BS is expected in December at about $210.

Verbatim informed that it is going to start supplying its DVD+RW discs certified for operation at 1X to 2.4X speeds (approximately from 8X to 20X for CD-R/RW). The company says the discs are supported by all modern DVD+RW and combo drives, as well as home DVD+RW video recording devices. Usual DVD-ROM drives can definitely read them. The DVD+RW discs from Verbatim support both CAV (Constant Angular Velocity) and CLV (Constant Linear Velocity) to provide fast recording of large data volumes and to provide reading in a real-time mode. Verbatim is also going to release DVD+R discs soon.

Another big manufacturer of optical recorders - Mitsui - announced new CD-R discs Gold Ultra 2 certified for 24X recording speed. Due to a special coating of phthalocyanine and an improved reflecting "gold" layer Mitsui positions new CD-R discs as the best for long data storage and for professional audio records. The Mitsui Gold Ultra 2 will be produced in two versions: 650 MBytes and 700 MBytes. Besides, there will be discs with a special surface for thermo and ink-jet printing.

NEC released its new CD-RW drive NR-7900 with ATAPI interface (Ultra DMA 33) and 24/10/40 speeds. The drive comes with a 2 MBytes buffer; the access time in a reading mode is 98 ms, the buffer protection technology is JustLink. Besides, it supports also NEC Active OPC technology for optimization of a recording mode at high speeds. The drive works with CD-ROM, CD-R and CD-RW discs of 80 mm and 120 mm in diameter. The supported recording formats are CD-DA, CD Extra, CD Text, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, CD-I, CD-I Ready, CD-Bridge, Photo-CD, Video CD; recording methods are DAO (disc at once), SAO (session at once), TAO (track at once), multisession recording. The NR-7900 can be used in a vertical position. The device will come out in December; the price is unknown.

At the same time, two leading CD-R makers, Ritek and CMC Magnetics, shaved 10% - 15% off the prices for their products. Such a cut in prices will let them to successfully fight against minor competitors as the demand for discs will fall down again in 2002.

First Ritek planned to maintain prices at the level of $0.22 -$0.24 but the increased demand and a desire to keep a considerable share of the European market resulted in the fact that average weighted prices for November were $0.20 - $0.22 per disc. CMC brought down the prices to $0.24 - $0.25 from $0.28. The company says it wants to get rid of stocks of 24x CD-R discs and focus on 32x ones which are expected to come out in quantity in 2002.

The X-mas is just around the corner, and every company is preparing differently to this profitable event. Ricoh undertook a contest from November 22 to January 15 at its site with a view to popularize DVD+RW format. 500 finalists will get a black DVD+RW drive MP5120A. To take part in this contest you should send a postcard to the company or notification by e-mail or fax.

Since November 25 you can place an advance order for first double-side DVD-R discs at CD-Recordable.com. No peculiarities on the disc manufacturers are provided. There is only general information: 2X recording, 9.4 GBytes in all (or 240 min. of video). If you are going to place an advance order the price will be $4.95 piece which is rather beneficial even for one-side DVD-R discs. The delivery is expected to start at the end of December. I think by the New Year we will get some press-releases with detailed characteristics of such discs and their retail prices.

There are more and more manufacturers informing about readiness to start production of 32X drives. ACM (Acer Communications & Multimedia) announced they were going to start delivering 32x devices yet in December. According to the representatives, to reduce a risk of standstill in production because of irregular supplies of components, Acer concluded agreements with two providers of a pick-up for 32x CD-RW drives: Philips and Mediatek (pick-up from Sanyo). There is no any information on whether it will be different models or the trade mark will be the same.

And in the end, a bit of analytics: price cuts for DVD recorders which stimulate activity of the DVD-R media market allowed the Taiwanese manufacturers of optical discs to unveil their plans of increasing their volumes. According to the specialists, a sales volume of DVD-R media in 2002 will be at least 10 times higher than in 2001.

For example, CMC Magnetics is going to produce 1 million DVD-R discs in 2001 and 30 million in 2002. Thanks to the licences from Pioneer (DVD-R production technology) and Mitsubishi (coating material), CMC has some advantage over other Taiwanese companies, and taking the opportunity, it purchases the required equipment.

Ritek is also planning on around 1,000,000 DVD-R discs in 2001 and 10 million in 2002. Ritek has also some advantage as its equipment needs only slight redesigning for production of DVD-R media. Prodisc has already two production lines for DVD-R discs for 1 million a year. But they say that the current lines meant for CD-R can also be redesigned for DVD-R of the total capacity of 10 million discs a year. Gigastorage has already started one DVD-R line and is also planning on changing their CD-R lines for production of DVD-R media.

Infodisc has already tried its equipment suitable for production of DVD-14 and DVD-18 compatible discs, but it is not going to unveil its further plans before 2002.

Well, today the bottleneck is prices for DVD recorders. As soon as prices for DVD-R drives go down, the demand for the discs will increase, and their prices will also get lower. You should also account for the competing standards - DVD-RAM and DVD+RW. This competition will do no good for price cuts. But we should remember that, according to the DVD+RW alliance, the DVD-R format will be compatible with DVD+RW drives. Nevertheless, the year 2002 will be the first year of such a wide popularity of recordable DVDs.

The review is based on materials from the following sites:

and from the sites of the following manufacturers:

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