by Andrey Kuznetcov
05/21/2003 | 12:31 PM
Life and death. Joy and sorrow. Good and evil. Such dyads constitute all our life. Computer technologies offer one more example: the two coexistent, but incompatible DVD media standards. DVD+R/+RW and DVD-R/-RW shouldn’t be judged by the plus and minus in their names. It’s all more complex and each standard has its own highs and lows. It’s more important that this division spoils all fun for ordinary users. Did you ever curse the manufacturer because your DVD-ROM didn’t recognize the movie you had borrowed from friends? And is this problem really so hard to solve? Wouldn’t it be better to offer users more flexibility when working with their DVD-drives?
People at Sony must have encountered this situation too often and decided to pack the two standards under the same cover. Their DRU-500A drive is a unique thing as it supports both competing media types. This solution looks logical and interesting. At the same time, Sony itself belongs to DVD+RW Alliance that has fewer members than DVD Forum with its DVD-RW. But Microsoft recently entering DVD+RW Alliance may change the balance to the contrary. Still, this is a question of the future. At present, let’s turn to the hero of this review.
SONY DRU-500A Specifications
Maximum data transfer rate
Average access time
The design of this drive is easy to recognize. If you see it once, you will never forget it. This is mostly due to the false panel of the tray made of transparent pale-blue plastic. The symbols on the panel are mirrored on the inner surface creating a certain doubling effect. The rest of the front panel is made of common white plastic.
Under the tray there is a narrow and long eject button and one status LED. You will not be able to listen to music via headphones, as there is no audio socket. At the backside there is nothing outstanding: power and interface connectors, analog and digital outputs, and pins with a jumper that sets work mode.
The drive works via the traditional ATAPI (E-IDE) interface with a maximum data throughput of 33MB/s. The device is equipped with a rather large buffer – 8MB. This solution ensures stable and fast data transfer from the drive. Two technologies, Power-Burn and Lossless Linking, are used to provide high-quality and safe data burning. The first technology works with CD-R and CD-RW disks, the second one is enabled when burning variable bit-rate (VBR) video onto DVD+RW media. If the writing is done at a constant bit-rate, it can be halted and then resumes from time to time. This may lead to data-links losses, and such disk won’t work in DVD players and DVD-ROM drives. Lossless Linking helps to avoid this and even allows replacing any 32KB data block with a new one without losing data links.
The drive supports the whole list of disk types, associated with modern CD-ROMs, as well as the both DVD standards. It can read ordinary compact disks at up to 32x speed in constant angular velocity mode, audio CDs – at 4x speed, with track extraction time of up to 32x. DVD-ROM disks are read at up to 8x speed, DVD-Video, DVD-R and DVD-RW – at 2x; DVD+R and DVD+RW – at 2.4x.
Burning time varies more: the drive burns DVD+R and DVD+RW at 2.4x, DVD-R at 4x, DVD-RW at 2x. CD-R disks can be burned at up to 24x speed in constant linear velocity zone mode. CD-RW disks can be burned at two speeds: 10x or 4x.
As you see from these numbers, the device is no record-breaker in speed if we compare it to some best specimens of CD-ROM, CD-RW or DVD-ROM drives. But the main advantage of Sony DRU-500A is its versatility, but not extraordinary speed parameters. Taking this into account, we could say that the specified speeds are quite adequate to their purpose.
The access time is 200ms for DVD and 160ms for CD disks. This is no exceptional time, but again we don’t wait for anything outstanding here.
Now, let’s say a few words about the retail version of the drive. The package covered by extensive technical info holds the drive itself and a number of accessories: mounting screws, an UDMA/33 cable, “quick start” software guide, “quick start” drive guide, user’s manual, warranty card, a blank DVD-RW disk, and a CD with the software bundle.
The CD included into the package contains the following programs:
VERITAS RecordNow serves to burn data and produce disks of various types, also to produce multiple copies.
VERITAS Simple Backup saves a backup copy of the whole system or selected files and folders.
Sonic MyDVD. This program stores DVD image files on the hard disk or burns them onto a DVD-disk.
ArcSoft ShowBiz. The program captures video, provides video-editing and video-production tools and can also exchange data with Sonic MyDVD.
MusicMatch Jukebox. This program can create and play audio files and also produce audio CD disks.
CyberLink PowerDVD 4.0 XP: a popular utility for DVD playback.
As Sony DRU-500A combines the feature of several devices, we tried to review all its features as a whole.
We used the following software to test numerous feature of the today’s hero:
Besides, we copied a DVD-movie disk on different types of media and burned backup information by means of VERITAS RecordNow and VERITAS Simple Backup and measured the time spent on this. The benchmarked drive was connected to the second IDE channel as “Master” and worked in UDMA/33 mode.
We used the following testbed:
This informational utility shows all the features of the drive it could find. Among them, the support of nearly all DVD media types. The only exception, DVD-RAM, is rather an obsolete thing today. Music lovers will surely appreciate the support of CD Text, CD+G, C2 Errors that allow creating quality copies of audio disks. An empty buffer is not a crucial thing anymore: Buffer Underrun Protection will take care of it. The new standard, Mount Rainier, is not supported, but you can somewhat make up for the lack of this feature with the help of a special utility that allows working with a DVD disk like with a big diskette. You can find a link to this program on the CD with the software bundle. The last thing to be mentioned is that the drive has regional protection. The model we had at our disposal was intended for use in the fifth zone.
We ran this classical benchmark testing the drive performance with the CD media three times. First, we used a CD-ROM disk itself, and then the copies of this disk made on CD-R and CD-RW disks. The read graphs of the three disks look similar except a significant drop at the end, which you can see on the graph for the licensed CD-ROM. Maybe, not very high-quality mounting told on the drive’s ability to read data from the media. Anyway, this didn’t allow the drive to work as fast with this disk as it did with the other two disks. All in all, the final score of the CD-ROM Winmark benchmark appeared about three times lower.
We needn’t comment too much on these diagrams showing the data read speed from the basic disk and its copied made on CD-R and CD-RW disks. The read speed graphs of the three disks were close to ideal and the drive stands up to its specified read speed everywhere. One more positive thing is that the read speeds are practically identical for all the medium types.
These were the graphs and now a few diagrams with numerical results:
This benchmark was run with the three disks from the previous test and with a licensed audio CD. The graphs above indicate that Sony DRU-500A fully complies with its specs. Again, it works well with any medium type. The only point of difference among the disks used is the recognition time. The drive recognizes CD-ROM and audio CD twice as fast as CD-RW or CD-R.
The detailed sound-track extraction test gives out acceptable results. The “Quality Score” is maximum possible: 100%. The whole test was passed at a rather good average speed of 23x. The maximum “on-the-fly” copy speed was 12x. We guess a more powerful processor might have helped to achieve the maximum of 16x. The offset parameter equals 504Bytes, which is not the minimum, but average. The test also shows that the drive coped with the leadin zone and failed to read the data from the leadout area. The CD Text info hasn’t been read as well, while Subchannel data were extracted without any problems.
This test allows checking how well the drive can work with physically damaged or scratched CD-disks. For this test we used a CD-disk with damaged surface and the drive passed through the whole CD, but at a slow speed and with a few errors. Overall, it’s an average result.
A program for checking the drive’s ability to rip audio tracks from CDs says it’s all right. Eighteen tracks were extracted with an average 22.5x speed and without a single error in six minutes and thirty nine seconds. This is how the drive is going to work in real life: quite well, to our opinion.
We used VERITAS RecordNow program to copy a DVD-movie to three rewritable media: TDK DVD-RW 4.7GB, Fujifilm DVD+RW 4.7GB and Verbatim DVD+RW 4.7GB certified for 2.4x. The DVD-RW disk required most time to accommodate the DVD image: 57 minutes 4 seconds. DVD+RW disks were faster: we burned the Fujifilm in 22 minutes 35 sec and the Verbatim – in 23 minutes 9 seconds. The difference is striking. Even accounting for a higher nominal burn speed of DVD+RW media, it seems like Sony DRU500A favors them more.
Write time during disk copy,
Here, we used the backup utility to copy a few folders (total weight equaled 4.493GB) from the hard disk to the three media mentioned in the previous test. Before the actual data transfer, the utility took some time to format the disks. As the table above shows, DVD-RW required less time for this preparation step. As for the backup itself, this medium proved to be the worst choice, again. DVD+RWs were burned twice as fast.
"Air Speed" DVD
Again, here are some diagrams with actual scores:
How does the tested drive read the data from a DVD-disk? Nero DVD Speed gives us the answer to this question. The disk with “Air Speed” movie was read at 2x constant speed, just like the CD-RW with a copy of the movie. Both CD+RW disks with copies of the movie were read at 2.47x. If you look at the read graphs of these two disks you will see that their transfer lines, unlike those of the original DVD and its DVD-RW copy, go beyond the nominal 4.19GB volume mark to stop on 4.38GB. The transfer speed on this last “dead” stretch is close to minimum - 0.1x and it’s not quite clear what this zone is for.
Our last benchmark is going to show us overall performance rating after working with various medium types. The results suggest that the maximum performance was on a printed CD (which was included with a magazine). The rating is one third lower on “Air Speed” DVD. Lastly, this rating fell 1.5 times down on a standard CD with an MPEG4 movie.
SONY developed a really interesting product. The main and evident advantage of this drive is the support of both competing writable and re-writable DVD standards. The owner of DRU-500A can work with both types of disks, without worrying which of them to choose and without waiting for the two developer groups to find the winner. The main problem for every DVD-RW drive buyer is to pick up the right model, which would continue living if one of the two standards dies. Here this problem is eliminated completely.
The multi-functionality of Sony’s drive is its strong point, just like in all other similar products. It can replace a CD-ROM, CD-RW and DVD-ROM together. So, you can free 5”-bays for other devices because usually you buy optical drives one by one for financial or any other reasons, so that in the end they duplicate some of each other’s features.
The retail version of the product doesn’t cause any installation, connection or usage problems. You won’t need any additional accessories or special software.
As for the speed, the drive proved true to its specs. It showed stable read speed on every CD type. Some drives perform slower with CD-RW, but we didn’t see that by Sony DRU500A. It also works well with audio CDs.
Now, let’s add a fly into the ointment. The price of this model is a little less than $400. Just think if you really need this drive that much now :)
As for not really negative, but not very positive issues, we could mention some problems revealed when reading a CD-ROM with CD WinBench 99 and when trying to read damaged disks. The new standard, Mount Rainier, is not supported. As for the noise, the drive was quite silent – it is not much of a sprinter after all. But there was perceptible vibration, when it stood on the desk, at least.
Anyway, all these drawbacks shouldn’t really confuse you, though. The overall impression left by the device is highly positive: there is no alternative to this model today.