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Plextor PlexWriter 8/20 CD Recorder Review

Impressive writing and reading performance, solid construction, wide latitude in blank media selection, and comprehensive format and subcode support propel the PlexWriter 8/20 to the head of its class for uncompromising professional users in premastering, audio, and CD production environments.

Plextor PlexWriter 8/20 CD Recorder

Hugh Bennett
EMedia Professional, March 1999

For the better part of the past decade, Plextor Corporation of Santa Clara, California has developed a well-earned reputation for making some of the finest CD-ROM drives anywhere with equipment coveted by audio engineers, network administrators, the CD duplication community, and dedicated gamers. Unfortunately, Plextor’s CD recording products have never enjoyed such a warm or profitable reception. Success has never translated into its CD recording products. Its first few forays into the CD-R market have yielded capable, but ordinary drives-that is, until now.

Destined to be the production recorder of choice for the foreseeable future, Plextor’s new PlexWriter 8/20 is nothing but state-of-the-art, offering impressive 8X writing speed, 20X max/9X min Partial Constant Angular Velocity (P-CAV) playback, and Digital Audio Extraction (DAE) performance in a solid tray-loading design. Features include a massive 4MB buffer, MultiRead capability, low bandwidth Running Optimum Power Control (Running OPC), Disc-At-Once (DAO) writing and R-W subcode support for CD+G disc reading and creation. As with its major competitor, Sanyo’s CRD-R800S (used in Smart and Friendly’s CD Rocket), eight-speed recording allows the PlexWriter to write a complete 650MB disc in an incredible 9 minutes.

Compared to Smart and Friendly’s CD Rocket, however, the PlexWriter 8/20′s bundle, though adequate, is a little stingy. In addition to the recorder, the $599 internal and $689 external models include an Adaptec AHA-2930C PCI SCSI card, cabling, one blank CD-R disc, Adaptec’s Easy CD Creator and Direct CD, as well as Plextor’s CD Res-Q and Plextor Manager software. However, what the PlexWriter may lack in software comparisons it certainly makes up for in hardware performance.

Two Pair For Software
The PlexWriter’s included Adaptec Direct CD 2.5 packet writing software works just the same as using a floppy disk. Direct CD allows writing to a CD-R disc by dragging and dropping files, over the recorder’s icon on the computer or saving to the recorder’s drive letter from within any application. Like all packet-writing software, Direct CD writes small chunks of data to the disc for as many times as is needed to complete the writing of the user’s files and data may be added incrementally at any time until the disc becomes full.

Direct CD is thus very easy to install and use and packet-writing performance with the PlexWriter is predictably good, but it does have its limitations. When manipulating large files, writing speed approaches 8X, but performance decreases significantly when moving around a lot of small files. This bottleneck results from operating system and software overhead which affects all high-speed recorders, so in this regard it would be unfair to single out the PlexWriter for this common concern.

Traditional premastering and audio disc recording chores are handled by an OEM version of Adaptec’s Easy CD Creator 3.5 Standard Edition recording software for Windows 95/98 and NT 4.0. Easily the most popular consumer recording package in North America, Easy CD Creator authors most disc formats including ISO 9660 with Joliet extensions, bootable CD, multisession, CD-DA, CD Extra and mixed-mode. As well, it can duplicate most disc types using its separate CD copying program. However, users wanting to create photo or video CDs or convert analog audio sources to CD must purchase the $99 upgrade to the Deluxe Edition of the program.

Included as well with the PlexWriter is Plextor Manager software, a set of tools used for controlling and taking advantage of the features of Plextor CD-ROM drives and CD recorders. The software allows users to obtain useful information about the hardware and any inserted disc, set the drive read speed and spindown time, play audio and video files and use Digital Audio Extraction (DAE) to capture audio tracks to WAVE files. Disc-to-disc duplication is also made possible by Disc Dupe, a quick and dirty tool for copying existing CDs.

Another impressive function of Plextor Manager is AudioFS, a unique time saving utility that allows users with Plextor CD-ROM drives to view and use the contents of their audio CDs as standard WAVE files. Each track on an audio CD appears as a sound file to allow it to be dragged and dropped to any location or application and the program will invisibly perform the necessary DAE procedure to convert it into a WAVE file.

One piece of software that does set the PlexWriter bundle apart from most recording packages is Plextor’s CD Res-Q disaster recovery utility, a unique program that writes an image of an entire hard drive (including operating system) onto CD-R media. CD Res-Q is a dream for extreme gamers constantly reverting to clean installations, technical users for bulletproof backup and system administrators for creating standard installations needed by identical systems in an organization. Hard drives of up to 8GB are supported by spanning multiple CD-R discs as are FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS file systems under MS-DOS, plus Windows 3.x, 95 and NT. A backup CD can restore a system from any CD-ROM drive and, if bootable CD-ROM support is available, a PC can be started directly from a backup disc. CD Res-Q uses an MS-DOS interface and requires a basic knowledge of the command line and system drivers so, although it is extremely useful, it is not for the uninitiated.

A Rich 8X Media Mix
In addition to solid hardware, reliable 8X CD recording requires consistently high-quality media that has been specifically designed to operate at high writing speeds. Currently, the PlexWriter officially supports 8X recording on Eastman Kodak, TDK Electronics, Mitsui Advanced Media, Ricoh, Fuji, and Taiyo Yuden 650MB discs (also available under several other brand names including Sony, Imation, Philips, and Hewlett-Packard).

The PlexWriter uses the Disc Identification Code contained in the pregroove signal of most CD-R media to recognize these supported discs and applies preprogrammed write strategies for optimal recording. Unlike the Sanyo CRD-R800S, which will not perform 8X writing on discs from manufacturers it does not recognize, the PlexWriter will attempt to do so. For trouble-free recording it is, however, still advisable to stick with Plextor’s recommendations or be prepared to reduce the PlexWriter’s writing speed to 4X, 2X, or 1X as experience dictates.

Disc Interchange Tested Tip-Top
Reliable eight-speed CD recording is no small technological challenge. To determine if the PlexWriter hasn’t crossed the fine line that separates pushing the state-of-the art from just plain pushing its luck, a number of written discs were put to the test.

Ten full 650MB discs from five media manufacturers (two each of Eastman Kodak, TDK, Mitsui, Taiyo Yuden, and Ricoh) were recorded at 8X and analyzed using Philips JET and Audio Development CD CATS test equipment. Since physical disc analysis tells only part of the story, interchange testing was also undertaken by performing timed byte-level comparisons of the disc’s contents to source data. This was accomplished using a cross-section of 14 SCSI and ATAPI CD-ROM drives consisting of Plextor (32X, 12X, 8X), TEAC (24X, 12X, 6X), LG Electronics (32X), Pioneer (24X, 12X, 4.4X), and Toshiba (15X, 12X, 6.7X, 8X) as well as four DVD-ROM drives consisting of Pioneer (2X/24X), LG Electronics (4X/32X), Hitachi (2X/20X), and Matsushita (2X/20X).

Eight-speed recording may still be in its infancy, but the PlexWriter writes like a seasoned pro. Recorded discs were uniform with no significant low-level problems and all discs were compared on all the CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives at close to their full speed. The PlexWriter uses a low-bandwidth Running OPC system so it is able to compensate for gradual variations on discs (media and hardware manufacturing issues, changes in disc performance, etc.), but not rapid shifts in writing conditions such as those induced by dust and fingerprints. During testing with specially prepared flyspec media (printed with simulated fingerprint patterns), the PlexWriter was unable to manage the changing writing conditions presented by the fingerprints and shut down the recording. Most other high-speed recorders don’t implement any form of Running OPC and thus often fully record discs apparently without errors, even though the finished product is often unreadable. This places the PlexWriter at a distinct advantage over many other recorders in critical data and production environments.

True To Plextor’s Disc-Reading Rep
Over the years, Plextor has developed a formidable reputation by making some of the world’s finest CD-ROM drives. It therefore comes as no surprise that in addition to impressive write performance, the PlexWriter also offers superior read capabilities. A Partial Constant Angular Velocity (P-CAV) reader, the PlexWriter offers data transfer rates of 20X max (3,000KB/sec) at a disc’s outer diameter, 9X min (1,350KB/sec) at a disc’s inner diameter, and a 151ms random access time. Digital Audio Extraction speed is also exceptional and unlike many fast CD-ROM drives and recorders, which are limited to 8X Constant Linear Velocity (CLV) extraction, the PlexWriter offers true full-speed P-CAV capabilities and reads faster as it moves to the outside of the disc.

The Bottom Line
With the prices of both Plextor’s PlexWriter 8/20 and Smart and Friendly’s CD Rocket in the same ballpark, choosing between them is really a matter of what you’re doing. With its massive software bundle and superior documentation, the CD Rocket is a much better value for the average consumer or business user employing the drive for everyday recording chores. Similarly, impressive writing and reading performance, solid construction, wide latitude in blank media selection, and comprehensive format and subcode support propel the PlexWriter 8/20 to the head of its class for uncompromising professional users in premastering, audio, and CD production environments.

Companies Mentioned in This Article

Adaptec, Inc.
691 South Milpitas Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; 800/442-7274, 408/945 -8600; Fax 408/262-2533;

Eastman Kodak Company
343 State Street, Rochester, NY 14650-1181; 800/243-8811, 716/724-2174; Fax 716/724-2342;

Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc.
555 Taxter Road, Elmsford, NY 10523; 914/789-8100; Fax 914/789-8100

Mitsui Advanced Media, Inc.
2500 Westchester Avenue, Suite 110, Purchase, NY 10577; 800/682-2377, 914/253-0777; Fax 914/253-8623;

Ricoh Corporation
1100 Valencia Avenue, Tustin, CA 92780; 714/566-3235; Fax 714/566-2683;

Taiyo Yuden USA, Inc.
Arlington Center, 714 West Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights, IL 60005; 800/368-2496; Fax 847/925-0899;

TDK Electronics Corporation
12 Harbor Park Drive, Port Washington, NY 11050; 800/835-8273, 516/625-0100; Fax 516/625-2940;

About the Author

Hugh Bennett, editor-in-chief of Hugh’s News, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems, a reseller, systems integrator and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is author of The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ and The Authoritative HD DVD FAQ, available on Hugh’s News, as well as Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).

Copyright © Online Inc. / Hugh Bennett