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TR reviews Plextor’s 16/10/40A CD-RW drive

Scott Wasson Former Editor-in-Chief Author expertise
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Manufacturer Plextor
Model 16/10/40A
Price (street) US$209.00
Availability Now

Enter the Plextor 16/10/40, featuring a 16X (2.4MB/s) CD-R burn speed for a 4X improvement over the 12/10/32A. RW burn speed is the same, but the read capabilities have been improved by an additional 8X in the new model, or 40X (6MB/s). Plextor was kind enough to let me take a look at their new beastie, and I decided to compare it directly to their 12X drive.

My reasoning on this front was that, with the 12X still out there for less cash, some might be interested in what separates the two models. I’ve made the comparison test between the two drives as comprehensive as possible, so consider this a good start if you’re trying to determine whether the 16X is worth that extra little bit of cash over the 12X.

I’ve also included a 52X CD-ROM drive in the read tests, to provide a point of reference. The results are eye-opening, and show that when it comes to optical storage, the number before the X isn’t always as important (or as accurate) as you think it is. But more on that later.

I should also point out that both of the Plextor drives feature BURN-proof, a Sanyo technology designed to prevent buffer underruns. I covered the BURN-proof feature in detail in my Plextor 12/10/32A review, so I won’t rehash it here. I suggest checking that review if you are unfamiliar with the purpose of the BURN-proof feature.

In the box
The drive tested was a retail unit that included plenty of goodies. Included in the kit was a fold-out installation sheet, a hardware operations manual, and a software users’ guide. Also included was a software installation CD, a piece of 10X CD-RW media, and a piece of 16X CD-R media. Rounding out the package was a 40-pin IDE cable and a small baggie containing mounting screws, an extra jumper, and an emergency eject tool. The installation CD included Adaptec Easy CD Creator Standard Edition, Adaptec Direct CD, and PlextorManager.


Old drive and new, front and back

As you can see from the photos, about the only thing that separates the two drives on the outside is the label on the drive tray. One notable difference is the addition of a small fan in the back of the 16X model; I can’t comment on the fan except to say that I didn’t notice it over all the other fans in the test system.

One thing I did notice (I’ll mention it now for lack of a better place to discuss it) is that the 16X drive’s tray opens and closes more slowly than that of the 12X. According to CD Speed 99 (which actually measures such things, if you can believe that) the 12X tray operates about .4 seconds faster than the 16X tray. I found the slower tray annoying when testing them side by side, anyway. On to the tests…

 


Benchmarking methodology
Tests were conducted on an Athlon system running at 700MHz, using a Gigabyte GA-7IX motherboard with 192MB of RAM. A Deskstar 34GXP with a 20.5GB capacity was attached as the primary master, while a Quantum Fireball KX with a 27.3GB capacity was attached as the primary slave. All tests which required writing to a hard drive used the 34GXP. When testing a CD-ROM/RW drive, that drive was hooked up as the secondary master; there was no secondary slave. Each drive was updated to the latest firmware revision available at the time the testing commenced.

I wish I could say I used Windows 2000 for the benchmarks, as in my opinion the Win9X operating systems rate somewhere between filth and slime. However, much searching failed to find a way to disable the CD-ROM read-ahead cache in Windows 2000; consequently, all tests were run in Windows 98 SE. As you may have guessed, the CD-ROM read-ahead cache was disabled for all tests.

With the exception of the CD Speed 99 tests, each test was run at least twice, and the results averaged. The CD Speed 99 results shown are a representative test run chosen from at least two test runs. If multiple test runs varied significantly, it will be noted when that test result is presented.

File copy
The file copy test involved copying approximately 626MB of data from CD to hard drive. For each drive, the test was performed with three different types of media; a pressed CD, a CD-R and a CD-RW. The CD-R and CD-RW discs were recorded using the Plextor, and were a disc to disc copy of the pressed CD.

The results are informative, to say the least. Although the Samsung is rated at 52X to the new Plextor’s 40X, the Samsung wins the pressed CD file copy test by only eight seconds. The 12X Plextor, meanwhile, lags far behind, taking over a minute longer to complete the file copy. Of the three drives, the new Plextor and the Samsung were markedly inconsistent between trials, as multiple trials were separated by up to forty seconds on this test. The 12X Plextor varied by only a second or two between trials.

Both Plextor drives were more consistent on the CD-R test, as all trials on those drives were within a second of each other on this test. They also consistently beat the Samsung, in spite of its 52X rating. The Samsung varied by over thirty seconds between trials, but even at its best was slower than both Plextor drives.

The RW tests show the Plextor drives extending their lead over the Samsung. Interestingly, the only drive not yet affected by inconsistent results (the 12X Plextor) shows them here, with approximately 23 seconds separating multiple trials. The Samsung really takes a beating here, but just as notable is the spectacular performance of the new Plextor drive, which bests its predecessor by over a minute.

The inconsistencies witnessed here imply that real-world performance of optical storage can vary greatly, even when the drive and media remain constant. Inconsistencies in the pressed CD could be explained by varying levels of success in dealing with minor scratches on the disc, but the CD-R and CD-RW tests discount this explanation. Both of the latter discs had no visible scratches, yet all drives exhibited inconsistent performance with at least one of these types of media.

 


CD Speed 99 – Pressed CD
CD Speed 99 was also used to test the drives’ ability to read a data disc. The same three discs (pressed CD, CD-R, CD-RW) from the file copy test were used in the following tests. First, the pressed CD:


Plextor 12/10/32A reading pressed disc

The CD Speed tests are always interesting because they show how modern CAV drives actually work. CAV drives have a range of speeds, depending on whether the data is being read from the inside or outside of the disc. Transfer rates start low at the inside of the disc and peak at the outside of the disc. Marketing being what it is, the peak speed is the speed at which the drive is typically rated. CD Speed shows the true story, which is that a drive will rarely hit its advertised speed in real-world use.

The 12X Plextor presents a classic CAV curve on the pressed disc, steadily climbing in speed as it works its way to the outside of the disc. By the end of the disc it’s actually peaking at slightly higher than its rated 32X, topping out at 33.07X, with an average speed of 25.14X.


Plextor 16/10/40A reading pressed disc

The 16X Plextor displays a similar curve, but it starts higher and has a greater slope. Like its 12X cousin, the 16X Plextor winds up scoring slightly higher than its 40X rating, and turns in an impressive average of 31.38X. Interestingly, however, the 16X drive’s access times are notably higher (worse) than the 12X drive. Additionally, the 16X drive was somewhat inconsistent on this test. In one trial, it exhibited a dropoff in performance at the end of the disc, similar to that of the Samsung below.


Samsung 52X reading pressed disc

For whatever reason, the Samsung did not do very well with the pressed CD. Obviously things started out OK, but soured by the end. This may explain why the Samsung failed to win by a larger margin in the file copy test, though in both that test and this one, its average speed is higher than either of the Plextor drives, and access times are very impressive.

 


CD Speed 99 – CD-R
Next up is the CD-R read tests:


Plextor 12/10/32A reading CD-R

The 12X Plextor’s CD-R scores are virtually identical to its pressed CD scores. Random access times are somewhat better, possibly due to fewer scratches on the CD-R.


Plextor 16/10/40A reading CD-R

Like the 12X Plextor, the 16X’s CD-R scores are very close to its pressed CD scores. Access times are quite a bit better across the board, however.


Samsung 52X reading CD-R

The Samsung does better with the CD-R than with the pressed disc, though that’s not saying much. Interestingly, the 52X has a higher starting speed (23.57X vs. 21.89X) on the CD-R, implying its problems with the pressed disc didn’t just come at the end. The Samsung extends its lead in average speed here, though it still doesn’t manage to hit its rated speed, while the Plextors continue to exceed theirs.

 


CD Speed 99 – CD-RW
Finally, the CD-RW tests:


Plextor 12/10/32A reading CD-RW

Drives typically take a performance hit when reading CD-RW media due to its lower reflectivity. The 12X Plextor continues this trend, dropping to an average speed of 16.89X. Less typical is the obvious trouble the drive has towards the end of the disc, interesting since the RW disc had few if any scratches. Access times are still better than the pressed disc, however.


Plextor 16/10/40A reading CD-RW

The 16X Plextor also takes a hit, with its average speed dropping to 24.88X. These are still respectable RW scores, however; RW media typically causes a more substantial performance drop, and access times are actually slightly lower.


Samsung 52X reading CD-RW

This is what I meant by “typically causes a more substantial performance drop,” as the Samsung just falls apart on the RW test. The 52X drive manages an average speed of only 13.64X, and the end speed of 17.92X is a far cry from the drive’s rated 52X.

The previous tests demonstrate how deceptive it can be to judge a drive solely by its rated speed. One would expect the 52X drive to walk away with wins in every category, but it barely eked out one victory of three in the file copy tests, and it was decimated in the CD Speed RW test. Plextor has a reputation for going the extra mile in engineering, and these results bear that out.

 


CD Speed 99 – New Audio Disc
Now for the CD Speed audio tests. As with the Plextor 12/10/32A review, audio tests consisted of two pressed CD’s: one new and devoid of visible scratches, and another with many scratches (although none that rendered the disc unplayable in a CD player). First, the results when reading the new disc:


Plextor 12/10/32A reading new disc

DAE (digital audio extraction) is typically a whole different ball game than data reads. Many drives will do fine on data but not produce very accurate DAE results, or will perform DAE much slower than their data speeds. Plextor drives have always been known for fast, accurate DAE, and the 12X drive continues that tradition. The drive actually comes fairly close to hitting its rated data speed on DAE; this is not at all typical.

Note also that the “Accurate Stream” box is checked. Per the FAQ at the CD Speed website:

If you get a 10 on the DAE quality test but accurate stream is not supported it means you will get perfect DAE in perfect conditions but not under difficult conditions. If accurate stream is not supported you may hear pops and clicks in the extracted audio tracks when the extraction process is delayed, for example when you’re making a disc to disc audio copy or when creating MP3 files.

Obviously passing the accurate stream test is very desirable.


Plextor 16/10/40A reading new disc

The 16X drive also turns in some impressive DAE scores. The top speed of 38.74X is within a stone’s throw of the drive’s rated 40X, and the accurate stream box is checked.


Samsung 52X reading new disc

The Samsung’s performance is similar to the typical results described earlier. The drive’s top DAE speed is less than half its rated data speed. Note also that the accurate stream box is unchecked; the ramifications of this will become clear in the EAC tests to follow.

 


CD Speed 99 – Scratched Audio Disc
Extracting audio from a brand new disc is the ideal, but what about all of those, old scratched up CD’s in your collection that you’d like to encode to MP3? The scrtached disc test presents more of a worst-case DAE scenario:


Plextor 12/10/32A reading scratched disc

The average extraction speed for the 12X is actually slightly higher with the scratched disc, because the longer length of the scratched disc enables the drive to reach higher read speeds. The drive does run into trouble at the end of the disc, judging from the sharp drop in the graph and the extremely low 3.73X end speed. In reality this is a good thing. It means the drive recognizes it’s having trouble with the disc, and is slowing down to attempt a more accurate read. The accurate stream box remains checked.


Plextor 16/10/40A reading scratched disc

The 16X Plextor results echo those from the 12X drive; the speed drops down to single-digit levels at the end of the disc as the drive attempts to correct errors in the data it’s reading.


Samsung 52X reading scratched disc

Although the unblemished curve on the Samsung’s graph looks good, it isn’t. It, and the fact the accurate stream box was unchecked on both discs, indicates the Samsung is reading the audio data “blind” without making any attempt to check for or correct errors. This can lead to pops and clicks in extracted audio files.

 


Exact Audio Copy
Exact Audio Copy is a freeware digital audio extraction program with many useful features. One of its best features, however, is its CRC ability. The program actually extracts the audio track twice; the first time, no data is saved, but a CRC is generated from the extracted audio file. The second time, the audio file is extracted to disk, and another CRC is generated from the extracted audio. If the two CRC’s match, it means that the exact same data was read both times—a good indicator that there were no errors in the extracted audio. If the CRC’s don’t match, it means the track is being read inconsistently, and the extracted audio file might contain errors (i.e. pops and clicks).

This feature makes EAC a good test program. In the following tests, each drive was used to extract all the tracks on both the new disc and the scratched disk to WAV files on the hard drive. The time required to perform the operations was recorded, as was the number of tracks with matching CRC’s. We’ll start with the extraction speed:

On the new disc, the 16X Plextor wins handily, beating its nearest competitor (the 12X Plextor) by nearly a full minute. The Samsung lags well behind, over a minute slower than the 12X Plextor and two minutes slower than the 16X.

The scratched disc paints a different picture, with the Samsung beating the pair of Plextors by two minutes or more. This lends further credence to the theory that the Samsung isn’t attempting to detect or correct errors in the audio data being read.

The 12X Plextor displayed some inconsistencies when reading the scratched disc; times varied anywhere from 587 seconds to 658 seconds between trials.

Now, on to the accuracy test:

The results on the new disc provide direct evidence of the Samsung’s “blind read” tendencies. It reads less than 80% (average of 9.5 out of 12) of the tracks on the new disc correctly. The “bad” tracks are probably due to minor errors that the Samsung failed to detect or correct. The Plextors, on the other hand, turn in a perfect score on the clean disc, returning good CRC’s on all the tracks.

The scratched disc shows a more varied picture. The first thing to note is Plextor has apparently improved the DAE accuracy of the 12X drive with newer firmware revisions, as it turns in a perfect score (27/27 tracks) that it failed to achieve in its last test with the same disc. The second interesting point is that the 16X drive gets beaten by its older sibling, extracting an average of 26 of 27 tracks correctly. The Samsung comes in third with 25 of 27 tracks showing good CRC’s. It’s somewhat surprising that the number is this high given the Samsung’s relatively poor performance on the new disc.

 


Write speeds
Finally, we have the write speed test. Each Plextor drive was used to burn approximately 683MB of data files to a 700MB CD-R at that drive’s maximum recording speed.

The 12X drive isn’t slow by any means, but the 16X drive manages to beat the 12X by over a minute and a half—a good improvement. Those who remember the days of 2X burners that took over a half hour per disc might scoff at a 1.5 minute drop in record time, but on a percentage basis, it’s substantial.

Conclusion
Plextor has taken an already blazingly fast CD-RW drive and made it even faster. Arguably even more impressive than the improved write speeds are the great strides in read speeds; if a consumer is running low on drive bays or doesn’t need to do many disc to disc copies, the 16/10/40A will make a better CD reader than most CD-ROM drives. While the top speed has changed with this new model, Plextor’s commitment to fast, accurate DAE and consistent performance across various media types obviously hasn’t changed at all.

So is the 16/10/40A worth the extra cash over the 12/10/32A? If you already own a 12/10/32A, I can’t recommend shelling out the cash to upgrade to the 16/10/40A unless you burn a lot of CDs. If, on the other hand, you’re shopping for a new CD-RW drive and want to know if the 16/10/40A is worth the extra cash, the answer is most definitely yes. A quick trip to Pricewatch reveals that the retail 16/10/40A is selling for a mere $25 premium over the 12/10/32A. Shelling out an extra 25 bucks to get the improvements revealed here is a no-brainer.

When I reviewed the Plextor 12/10/32A, it cost $248 and I gave it a 9. Now the 16/10/40A is available for $209; let’s just hope that Plextor doesn’t keep this up, or I’m going to run out of numbers. 

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Scott Wasson Former Editor-in-Chief

Scott Wasson Former Editor-in-Chief

Scott Wasson is a veteran in the tech industry and the former Editor-in-Chief at Tech Report. With a laser focus on tech product reviews, Wasson's expertise shines in evaluating CPUs and graphics cards, and much more.

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