Five DVD-ROM Drives Roundup

If you have limited budget for your computer system and would like to save some by getting a regular DVD-ROM drive instead of a burner, then this roundup is for you. Five solutions from ASUS, Sony, Toshiba and Plextor under X-bit’s magnifying glass!

by Andrey Kuznetcov
09/03/2005 | 10:09 AM

Does it make sense at all to write a review about DVD-ROM drives today when most users have long been purchasing devices capable of reading DVDs and burning CD media at least?

 

You may have also noticed that more and more software, application suites and games, are coming on DVD discs, thus making a DVD drive an indispensable component of any modern computer.

But DVD-recorders are still more expensive than ordinary DVD-ROM drives, and besides people who want to write to optical media, there still remain a category of users who want to save as much money as they can, building their computer system. It is for them that this review was written for.

Let’s take a closer look at our testing participants.

Testing Participants

ASUS DVD-E616P3

The first thing you notice about this drive is the shortened length of its case. It allows installing this drive into small-size system cases where a normal optical drive would hang over the mainboard’s expansion slots. Our sample of this model had a black front panel. The name of the manufacturer, the supported speed and type of the device, and a QuieTrack series logo are located on the tray. There are only an Eject button and a LED indicator on the front panel. At the rear panel, there are analog and digital audio outputs, power and interface connectors, a jumper with pins for setting the status of the drive on an IDE channel, and a jumper for factory testing.

The drive’s belonging to the QuieTrack series means that it supports DDSS II and AFFM technologies. The Double Dynamic Suspension System that stabilizes the optical head in both horizontal and vertical planes minimizes vibration and noise, controls the resonance frequency, and improves readability of discs. Airflow Field Modification technology normalizes the air pressure inside the case of the drive to ensure quite and stable operation.

The ASUS DVD-E616P3 can read DVD media at up to 16x speed and CD media at up to 48x speed. The average access time with both media types is 120 milliseconds. The cache buffer size is 512KB. The drive supports the ATAPI interface and can perform data transfers in UltraDMA/100 mode. The following media formats are supported: DVD-5, DVD-9, DVD-10, DVD-18, DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, DVD-Video, DVD+R/RW, Audio CD, CD-ROM/XA, Video CD, CD-I, Multi-session Photo CD, Karaoke CD, CD-Extra, and CD-Text. The dimensions of the device are 42.6x148.5x173mm; its weight is 0.8kg.

The average retail price of the drive is $27.

Plextor PX-130A

The appearance of the front panel is somewhat enlivened with the manufacturer’s and model’s names and the device type symbol. You can also see a small rectangular Eject button there with a LED indicator of the operational mode. Large areas are pressed out in the top panel. A few vent holes were made in the right side of the drive for better cooling. Analog and digital audio outputs, power and interface connectors, and a jumper with pins are located on the drive’s rear panel.

The Plextor PX-130A can read DVDs at up to 16x speed and CDs at up to 50x speed. The average access time is 90ms with CDs and 100ms with DVDs. The size of the buffer is 512KB. The drive supports the following media formats: CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, Photo-CD, Video-CD, CD-Extra (CD Plus), CD Text, DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW. The dimensions of the drive are 48x42.2x177.5mm; its weight is 0.8kg.

The average retail price of the device is $35.

Sony DDU1615

The traditionally shortened design of the case of Sony’s optical drives makes it easier to install them into small system cases. The deep grooves on the top panel add robustness to the device. The drive’s front panel is made of silvery plastic, matching currently fashionable system cases of the same color. The device type symbols can be seen on the tray under which an Eject button and a LED indicator are located. The rear panel of the drive carries analog and digital audio outputs, power and interface connectors, a jumper for setting the drive’s status on an IDE channel and another jumper for factory testing.

The Sony DDU1615 can read DVDs at 16x and CDs at 48x speed. By default, however, it reads CDs at up to 40x speed only due to Sony’s Turbo Boost technology that is intended to minimize the drive’s noise when you don’t need the highest CD-reading speed. In case you do require the maximum possible speed, you should insert a disc and press and hold the Eject button for about five seconds until the LED indicator blinks two times, thus telling you that the 48x mode is enabled. The average access time is 165ms for CDs and 220ms for DVDs. The buffer size is 512KB. The following media formats are supported: DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD-Video (DVD-5, DVD-9, DVD-10), Audio CD, CD-ROM (mode 1, mode 2), Photo CD Multi Session, CD-I, Video CD, CD-DA, CD-R, CD-RW, CD Extra, and Mixed Mode. The dimensions of the device are 41.4x146x171mm; its weight is 0.8kg.

The average retail price of the drive is $24.

Sony DDU1622

The DDU1622 differs from the above-described DDU1615 in having a white-colored front panel and an audio output with a volume control under the tray, next to the Eject button. And there are also no deep grooves in the top panel. The rear view is slightly different, too. We’ve got the same analog and digital audio outputs, power and interface connectors, and two jumpers there, but the factory testing jumper is placed on the right rather than on the left, as usual.

The technical characteristics of the Sony DDU1622 are overall similar to those of the DDU1615 model. The drive can read DVDs at 16x and CDs at 48x speed. Like in the previous case, you have to press and hold the Eject button for a few seconds with a disc inserted to use the maximum CD reading speed. By default, CD media are read at up to 40x speeds. The average access time is 85 milliseconds for CDs and 100 milliseconds for DVDs. The buffer is 512 kilobytes big. The drive supports the following media formats: DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD-Video (DVD-5, DVD-9, DVD-10), Audio CD, CD-ROM (mode 1, mode 2), CD-ROM/XA (mode 1, mode 2), Video CD, CD Extra, CD-R, CD-RW. The dimensions of the device are 41.4x146x176mm; its weight is 0.8kg.

The average retail price of the drive is $24.

Toshiba SD-M2012

An unassuming appearance is a distinguishing feature of optical drives from Toshiba – the front panel of the SD-M2012 is very plain-looking. The tray carries a device type symbol, under which a rectangular Eject button and a LED indicator are located. Analog and digital audio connectors, power and interface connectors, and a jumper with pins are located on the rear panel of the case.

As for technical characteristics, the drive supports DVD read speeds up to 16x. The manufacturer details this information: 2x with DVD-RAM, 6x with recordable and rewritable DVDs. The maximum CD read speed is 48x. The average access time is 100ms with CDs and 110ms with DVDs. The cache buffer is 512 kilobytes big. The drive supports the following media formats: DVD-ROM, DVD-Video, DVD-R, DVD-R, DVD+R (Version 1.0), DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD+R (DL), CD-DA (Red Book), CD-TEXT, CD-ROM (Yellow Book Mode 1 & 2), CD-ROM XA (Mode 2 Form 1 & 2), Photo CD, CD-I /FMV (Green Book, Mode 2 Form 1 & 2, Ready, Bridge), CD-Extra/CD-Plus (Blue Book), and Video-CD (White Book). The dimensions of the drive are 42x148.2x184mm; its weight is 0.7kg.

The average retail price of this device is $22.

Testbed and Methods

We used the following programs and utilities to explore the operational parameters of the DVD-ROM drives:

The testbed was configured like follows:

The tested drives were attached to the mainboard’s second IDE channel as “Master”. Sony’s drives worked at their maximum 48x speed when reading CD media. We tested the drives in the same state as we had received them (or as you would have them right after the purchase).

Performance

Nero Info Tool and DVDINFOPro

These two utilities can give us detailed info on the technical characteristics of the drives.


ASUS DVD-E616P3


Plextor PX-130A


Sony DDU1615


Sony DDU1622


Toshiba SD-M2012

Some curious facts can be noticed here: only 254KB of cache memory is reported for the Sony DDU1615 instead of 512 kilobytes. The Sony DDU1622 doesn’t report its ability to work with DVD+R DL media and C2 errors. According to the information extracted from the Toshiba SD-M2012, this drive supports DVD-RW discs and C2 errors (the last thing is very doubtful as you will see in the tests below).

CD WinBench 99

As usual, we tested the drives in CD WinBench 99 using a molded CD-ROM and its copies made on a CD-R and a CD-RW.

Model Name

CD-ROM

CD-R

CD-RW

ASUS DVD-E616P3

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Plextor PX-130A

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Sony DDU1615

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Sony DDU1622

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Toshiba SD-M2012

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As you can see on the data-transfer diagrams, the Plextor PX-130A is the only drive to have problems reading the final section of the CD-ROM. Moreover, this drive is also very slow with the CD-R while the other drives deliver their maximum performance with that disc. This is all reflected in the overall performance score – the Plextor has the lowest score in the CD-R test. The best performance with all three discs is provided by the Sony DDU1622 which is a little faster than the Sony DDU1615.

The drives met their specified access time parameters, excepting the Plextor PX-130A which has a higher access time than the specified 90 milliseconds with CD-ROM and CD-RW media, but it must be due to the troubles the drive experiences as it tries to read our particular discs.

Nero CD-DVD Speed: Basic CD Tests

We used five CD media to perform these tests: a molded CD-ROM enclosed with a computer magazine, 700MB data CD-R and CD-RW discs recorded by Nero CD-DVD Speed itself, a likewise prepared 800MB CD-R, and an Audio CD.

Model Name

CD-ROM

CD-R

CD-R 800 MB

CD-RW

CD-DA

ASUS DVD-E616P3

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Plextor PX-130A

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Sony DDU1615

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Sony DDU1622

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Toshiba SD-M2012

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We won’t comment much on the results of the CD-related tests since none of the participating drives had any problems with the CD media. You can just look up the particular info you are interested in the tables and diagrams above.

Nero CD-DVD Speed: Basic DVD Tests

The second group of tests is about DVD formats. We used six discs to get a full picture: a DVD-ROM with a video movie and its copies made on DVD-R (Digitex), DVD-RW (TDK), DVD+R (Fujifilm), and DVD+RW (Verbatim) discs. We also used a dual-layer DVD+R from RIDATA with movie files.

Two notes about the following diagrams: some drives couldn’t process the DVD-R disc from the beginning and two drives read the top layer of the DVD+R DL disc normally but could not complete the test when they transitioned to the other layer.

Model Name

DVD-ROM

DVD-R

DVD-RW

DVD+R

DVD+RW

DVD+R DL

ASUS DVD-E616P3

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Plextor PX-130A

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Sony DDU1615

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Sony DDU1622

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Toshiba SD-M2012

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You can see that the ASUS DVD-E616P3 has processed our standard pack of DVD discs worse than the rest of the drives. It has had problems with two discs. The Plextor PX-130A and the Sony DDU1622 have each failed on one disc. The Sony DDU1622 has had a rather low speed when reading the DVD-ROM disc, suffering an unexpected and unexplainable speed slump in the middle of the disc surface.

Nero CD-DVD Speed: Advanced DAE Quality Test

Using the Advanced DAE Quality Test we will determine hardware characteristics of the drives pertaining to the process of getting accurate audio copies from CD-DA media. Two CD-R discs prepared by Nero CD-DVD Speed are used in this test. One audio disc is normal; the other has defects of the surface, imitating your trying to make a copy from a long-used, bad-quality audio compact-disc.


ASUS DVD-E616P3


Plextor PX-130A


Sony DDU1615


Sony DDU1622


Toshiba SD-M2012

The first group of screenshots shows the results of the drives with the high-quality disc. The ASUS DVD-E616P3 passed the test but it had a big offset and could not read the lead-out zone. The latter factors may make it hard to get an accurate copy of the audio CD. The Plextor PX-130A also got a 100% quality score at a high average speed, but its offset is big, too, and it cannot read the lead-out zone and CD Text. Having no problems with quality, the Sony DDU1615 worked at a high average speed and had a small offset, but found it difficult to perform “on-the-fly” copying; it can only read data from the sub-channel, too. The Sony DDU1622 is overall similar to the other Sony drive in this test, but it can read CD Text, has a slightly higher offset and performs “on-the-fly” copying even worse than the DDU1615. The Toshiba SD-M2012 got a 100% quality score, even though its speed was not very high. Its offset is small, but it cannot read data from the lead-in and lead-out zones.


ASUS DVD-E616P3


Plextor PX-130A


Sony DDU1615


Sony DDU1622


Toshiba SD-M2012

And this is how the drives process the bad audio CD. The average speed of the ASUS DVD-E616P3 becomes smaller, but its quality score is quite satisfactory. The Plextor PX-130A slowed down, too, but its quality score is far from 100%. The Sony DDU1615 didn’t drop its speed at all and thus got a worse quality score than the ASUS’s but better than the Plextor’s. The Sony DDU1622 was reading the bad audio CD at a high average speed and achieved a rather high quality score. Strangely enough, the Toshiba SD-M2012 processed the scratched disc at a higher speed than the normal one. Its quality score is acceptable, being only 1% below the possible maximum.

Nero CD-DVD Speed: Advanced DAE Error Correction Test

We ran the Advanced DAE Error Correction test with the bad audio CD prepared in Nero CD-DVD Speed to check the drives’ ability to process errors that occur during the audio ripping process. The program determines how many C2 errors should be found by the drive and how many errors the drive actually finds and produces C2 Accuracy and Quality Score parameters which reflect the efficiency of the hardware error-correction logic in the optical drive. Unlike the previous test, this one not only tells how many errors occur as the drive is reading an audio CD, but also evaluates the drive’s ability to find such errors.


ASUS DVD-E616P3


Plextor PX-130A


Sony DDU1615


Sony DDU1622


Toshiba SD-M2012

The number of missed C2 errors is quite high with the ASUS DVD-E616P3, and the drive’s accuracy at finding such errors as the program calculates it, is rather dubious if you examine the numbers carefully. The Plextor PX-130A looks even worse than the ASUS in this test. Its calculated C2 Accuracy is less than 1%, but it’s not quite clear how the program arrives at this value with the given number of missed and found errors. The Sony DDU1615 shows good skills at finding C2 errors, even though it doesn’t reach a 100% quality score. The other drive from Sony, DDU1622, performs no worse than the DDU1615 in this test. The Toshiba SD-M2012 fails this test completely as it can find not a single C2 error at all.

Nero CD DAE

Using this rather old, yet very simple utility, we measure the speed of the drives when they extract audio tracks from a normal audio CD and convert them into WAV-files.


ASUS DVD-E616P3


Plextor PX-130A


Sony DDU1615


Sony DDU1622


Toshiba SD-M2012

The Plextor PX-130A and the Sony DDU1615 are the fastest in this test, while the Toshiba SD-M2012 is the slowest drive. Note also that the Sony DDU1622 was the only drive to have errors during the ripping process.

Exact Audio Copy

The second audio-extraction program we use in our tests differs from Nero CD DAE in allowing the user to enable specific hardware features of the optical drive to achieve the maximum possible quality.

Before extracting audio tracks we used the Drive Options menu to determine the hardware characteristics of the drives. Besides the general report about the drive’s properties, we used the bad audio CD prepared in Nero CD-DVD Speed to determine the drive’s ability to process C2 errors. Then we switched the most effective Secure Mode on and extracted audio tracks from the same disc as in the Nero CD DAE test, converting them into WAV-files.


ASUS DVD-E616P3


Plextor PX-130A


Sony DDU1615


Sony DDU1622


Toshiba SD-M2012

The screenshots tell us that the Sony DDU1622 and the Toshiba SD-M2012 do not support caching. The latter drive doesn’t also report C2 errors. The ASUS DVD-E616P3 is considerably slower than the other optical drives at ripping the test disc. The Plextor and the Sony DDU1622 are the fastest here, differing little between each other.

Conclusion

It’s always difficult to choose the best product from several similar ones, like in the present case. Yet we will try to give you the pros and cons of each tested drive in this conclusion.

The Toshiba SD-M2012 has got good results in all the trials, including the advanced audio extraction test. One thing, however, spoils that overall positive impression from this product – we mean its ability to process C2 errors. The drive reported this ability to Nero Info Tool, but couldn’t prove it in practical tests. It means that you may get poor results with long-used audio discs of low quality.

The Plextor PX-130A is very fast in all the tests, but has some drawbacks, too. Particularly, it has a big offset and problems with low-quality discs, and its accuracy of finding C2 errors is rather low, too. It means that this drive doesn’t suit for making precise copies of audio compact-discs. Next, the drive could not read our DVD-R disc. Another problem with the Plextor we met during our tests was its “vanishing” from the system from time to time. That is, the computer would stop to “see” the drive after we had inserted a disc, and we had to reboot the system for the drive to reappear. We don’t want to put all blame on the drive alone since the cause of the problem may be in incompatibility with the particular mainboard, but we don’t think an optical drive with that lot of problems and at the high price peculiar to all products from Plextor may be an appealing purchase.

The ASUS DVD-E616P3 was overall fast and worked well with C2 errors, promising high quality with bad media. This drive, however, is not perfect, either. It has a big offset and was very slow at extracting audio tracks in EAC (the latter thing may be due to its careful processing of C2 errors, though). It also could not read our DVD-R and DVD+R DL discs.

The Sony DDU1622 has a small offset and works well with bad media, but it couldn’t read our DVD+R DL disc and processed the DVD-ROM at a considerably lower speed than the other participating drives. It was also the only drive to have errors when extracting audio tracks in Nero CD DAE.

The Sony DDU1615 may also have its skeleton in the cupboard, but we couldn’t find it. So, this optical drive was overall the best in our tests, reveling no obvious weaknesses or problems. Considering its reasonable price, we recommend this drive for purchase.

You should be aware that our opinion about these devices is based only on the results of our own tests and it is very probable that some or most problems mentioned in this review can and will be solved in future firmware updates.