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AOpen COM5232/AAH

The COM5232/AAH model continues the optical combo drive series from AOpen.

The device comes in a retail package, which looks pretty and is very informative, telling you the maximum speeds of the drive with different media types. Even an experienced user will read everything right. Inside the package, beside the drive proper, you find a user manual, a set of fastening screws, a CD with Nero Burning ROM and PowerDVD (two software titles on one CD is rather a rare thing), and an audio cable, which is actually not very useful nowadays. That’s about all – but the model comes under a name of Chameleon. Here’s why:

That’s right – removable front panels! Black and silvery colors. Some manufacturers do care about the user more than others!

  

Now, what about the drive itself? The front panel is rather originally designed with decorative corrugating where the control buttons are. Besides aesthetic purposes, this design solution is also practical – your fingers don’t slide off the buttons (probably, the manufacturer didn’t even give a thought to this, but anyway). Front panels of AOpen’s drives are traditionally overloaded with controls and sockets: two control buttons, a hole for emergency extraction of the disc, a headphones socket, a volume control and a signal LED. The LED looks very curious, peeping as if out of a porthole.

The back panel is standard, without any memorable features. There are icons explaining the purpose of the connectors and the values of their pins – other manufacturers place it on the cover of the drive. That’s a matter of taste. The length of the drive is reduced, so you can easily install it into a system case of any size.

Now, let’s take a look at the drive’s insides:

Earlier combo-drive models from AOpen featured chipsets from Ricoh, but the COM5232/AAH is based on the ALi M5731. However, Ricoh remains here. Its technology called Just Link is employed by the drive to avoid the buffer underrun error. The design of the drive is curious by itself – nearly all the elements on the external side of the printed circuit board have special padding. It takes heat off the chips and stabilizes the temperature of the device since the bottom metal panel is a more effective heat-spreader than the cases of the chips themselves, moreover clamped in the limited space inside the drive’s chassis. The second purpose of the padding is that of damping. It is no secret that modern optical drives produce a strong vibration working at the maximum speeds. Then, when a chip becomes 60-70°C hot, its legs are less steady on the soldering points. Considering that there are unavoidable micro-cavities inside the solders, the chip may shift off the landing place or lose the contact with one of its legs. To avoid this, the manufacturer uses that padding.

This is not a trifle it seems at first sight. It is a well-thought and careful approach of the manufacturer to the product development process. You don’t often see such solutions in design of optical drives. Now, let’s examine the specification of the new model.

The technical characteristics of the AOpen COM5232/AAH follow:

  • CD-R writing: 52x (P-CLV);
  • CD-RW writing: 32x (P-CAV);
  • DVD reading: 16x (CAV);
  • CD-ROM/CD-RW reading: 52x (P-CAV)/40x (P-CAV);
  • Supported CD formats: CD-DA, CD-Extra, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, Photo CD, CD-Text, CD-I, Video-CD, CD-R, CD-RW;
  • Supported DVD formats: DVD-ROM (Single/Dual Layer), DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW;
  • CD burn modes: Track at Once, Track Reservation Disk at Once, Session at Once, Multi-Session Packet Write;
  • Cache buffer: 2MB;
  • Declared average access time: 120msec.

With a blank Verbatim Datalife 52x disc inserted, Nero Burning ROM offers the following burn speeds:

As you see, the list of the available speeds is rather long. Moreover, this model is capable of burning top-quality 48x CD-R discs at 52x speed. Overall, the AOpen COM5232/AAH appears to be a well-made product. If it passes all my tests, it’s going to make another very appealing combo drive (the MSI MS-8452M was the first one).

I also have an opportunity to offer you the results of this drive with two firmware versions (1.05 and 1.09 – the freshest version for today). And here’s what the informational utilities (Nero InfoTool and DVDInfo Pro) have to say about this drive with the two versions of the firmware:

  
Firmware 1.05

  
Firmware 1.09

As you see, the firmware update doesn’t add support of the new formats. For example, DVD+R dual-layer discs are still unsupported. I will return to this subject during the tests, though.

 
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