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Plextor PleXCombo 20/10/4012A Review
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Date: Jul 10, 2002
Section:Storage
Author: HH Editor
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The Plextor PleXCombo 20/10/4012A Review - Page 1

 

The Plextor PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A Review
Covering All of the Bases With a Single Drive

By, Jeff Bouton
July 10, 2002


As CD-Writers have matured, so has the technology that is integrated into their design.  Back when the first CD-R drives were introduced, users were routinely plagued by "buffer underruns."  Initially, manufacturers began incorporating new processes, like larger on-board memory buffers, into their drives to help combat this problem, but the results were mixed.  Fortunately, there were a select few manufacturers who made the "buffer underrun" problem their top priority, looking to put an end to the problem once and for all.  One of the first manufacturers to take this initiative to the next level was Plextor.

Over the years, Plextor has built themselves a reputation for designing premium quality CD drives that incorporate the latest technologies available.  By following this practice, Plextor has been able to remain ahead of the pack, delivering some of the best drives available today.  Remaining a leader in any technology industry is no small feat, yet Plextor has been in the upper tier for a number of years now and we see no signs of them letting up.

Today we will be taking a look at the latest addition to the Plextor family, the PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A.  This is their first attempt at designing a drive that supports DVD/CD/CD-R/CD-RW in a single drive.
 

Specifications of the PlexCombo 20/10/40-12A
A Little Bit of Everything...


 

Total Solution features

Part # (retail kit): PX-320A (internal)
E-IDE (ATAPI-4) interface
4-in-1 drive: 20X CD-R, 10X CD-RW, 40X max CD-ROM, 12X DVD-ROM
Windows 98/2000/ME/XP Compatible, MAC OS (MAC software not included)
* prevents buffer underrun errors
PoweRec-II ensures high quality stable recording
Dark colored CD tray minimizes jitters
Industry's first self-diagnostic function
100ms Average CD Random Access
150ms Average DVD Random Access
2 MB Buffer
Capable of Digital Audio Extraction at 40X max
Supports CD-DA; CD-ROM (Mode 1); CD-ROM (Mixed Mode); CD-ROM XA (Mode 2, Form 1 and Form 2 and Mixed Form; CD-I; Photo CD; Video CD; CD-Extra; CD+G; CD Text
Flash ROM allows for easy upgrade over the Internet

Supports Disc-at-Once, Track-at-Once, Session-at-Once, Variable & Fixed packet writing modes Create a 650MB disc for work in less than 4 minutes, writing at 20X. Rewrite a disc at a remarkable 10X. Or browse through a disc at a speed-reading 40X. Then, take a break and watch a DVD movie or play a game.
 
Minimum Systems Requirements

CPU: Pentium II 350MHz or equivalent
RAM: 64MB
ATAPI interface: DMA must be set to ON in every OS. IDE controller must be set to PIO Mode 4 or Auto (Auto will select DMA Mode 2).
How to enable DMA inside operating system. Refer to your motherboard manual on how to set PIO Mode or DMA Mode.
Sound Card: For audio playback
Graphics: 800x600 display, 16-bit color


   

   

Aside from the PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A drive, the retail package we received for review contained the following:

  • 1 - 40-pin ribbon cables

  • 4 - mounting screws

  • 1 - eject tool

  • 1 - extra jumper

  • 1 - 4x-10x Verbatim CD-RW

  • 1 - CD-R

  • 1 - CD with Easy CD Creator, CyberLink PowerDVD 4, SimpliCD and more.

In the past, Plextor provided its own CD burning utility and not much else in the way of extra software.  Now it seems they've partnered up with a few well known companies to help produce a more complete and well-balanced product.  We were thrilled to see a full version of CyberLink's PowerDVD software included in the package.  When it comes to DVD software, PowerDVD ranks as one of the best in this reviewer's opinion.  On the flip-side, it was a little odd to see that Plextor chose to partner with Roxio to use their Easy CD Creator software.  It's common knowledge that Roxio has had some compatibility issues several versions of Microsoft Windows and Easy CD Creator, particularly Windows 2000 & XP.  In addition, their software is not fully capable of supporting all of the features that the PleXCombo or PleXWriter drives have to offer.  We'll touch on this in a little more detail later on, but we would think that a pairing with Ahead Software would be a more fitting choice since their Nero Burning ROM software can utilize all of the features found on a Plextor drive.

Aside from PowerDVD, there were a couple of other software products on the CD that were surprisingly useful.  The first was a small yet powerful program called SimpliCD.  SimpliCD is a basic CD writer application that runs discreetly in the taskbar and can be accessed with a single click.  It has the more common abilities of the other popular burning programs, including CD copying, burning audio CDs as well as ripping MP3s up to 320 Kbps quality.  Although it may lack in advanced features, SimpliCD is an excellent CD writer program for common everyday use.  The other program was LiquidAudio, which is essentially an MP3 package that allows for cataloging as well as MP3 recording and playback.  We found it to be a decent alternative to Windows Media Player, with less overhead and simpler interface.

Next we'll take a closer look at the PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A drive as well as some of its more important features. 

Quality, Features and Nero

 

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The Plextor PleXCombo 20/10/4012A Review - Page 2

 

The Plextor PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A Review
Covering All of the Bases With a Single Drive

By, Jeff Bouton
July 10, 2002


Setup and Software of the PlexCombo 20/10/40-12A
Looking Good...


When you first look at the PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A, it really doesn't look all that different from any other CD drive.  The unit comes with a standard Headphone jack and volume control as well as two indicator lights.  On the backside we find the usual configuration with IDE cable connector, Power Connector, Mode Jumper and Audio Outputs.  Where the PleXCombo varies in comparison to other drives is on the inside.

     

One of the newest changes that Plextor has begun implementing on all of their CD-R drives is the black CD tray.  By utilizing a black tray, accuracy of the writing process is increased by absorbing any excess laser light.  The end result is a more precise burn with increased reliability and compatibility.  But when it comes to reliability, a colored CD tray is just the beginning, complimenting three key technologies that help the PleXCombo to be one of the best CD writers on the market.

BURN Proof:

When CD writers first arrived on the scene, one of the most common problems was the infamous "Buffer Underrun."  OK, so some of you may not know what that exactly means, but the result was all to familiar: a "coaster."  The reason this would occur was because a steady stream of data was not able to be maintained throughout the burning process, therefore, the buffer would run out of data and the burn process would fail.  This was most likely because while the CD was being recorded, the user tried to run another program.  To help combat this, buffers were added to help the drive compensate for momentary interruptions in data flow, but as drives increased in speed, the buffer became less effective, unable to keep up with the faster transfer rates.  Plextor took the prevention of Buffer Underruns one step further by implementing BURN-Proof into every one of their CD-R drives.  BURN-Proof gives the drive the added ability to remember the point at which the buffer runs out of data and the drive stopped writing.  Once the buffer is filled with data, the burning process resumes.  Just how effective is BURN-Proof?  On the next page we've put together a little stress test of our own to demonstrate how well this technology really worked.

PoweRec II:

Plextor drives are known not only for their ability to prevent buffer underruns, but also for compatibility with a wide range of media.  Back when I was shopping around for my first CD writer, a colleague recommended the purchase of a Plextor.  He joked that "Plextors could burn on dirt", and although I took his statement as a joke, it was soon clear exactly what he meant.  Whether using high-end media or the cheapest discs you can find, Plextor drives usually provide consistent results every time.  This is achieved through the implementation of Plextor Optimized Writing Error Reduction Control, or PoweRec II circuitry.  This feature allows the drive to detect the type of media installed and adjust the laser's power automatically to best suit the media in the drive.  This is accomplished by integrating an internal database of CD-R media into the BIOS.  This database contains a large list of media that has been rigorously tested for compatibility and instructs the drive to adjust itself to best perform with that media.  It is one of the key features that gives the Plextor PleXCombo and PleXWriter drives an edge over the competition. 

VariRec:

Another problem that often plagues users is Audio CD compatibility with other equipment.  All too often people buy a CD-R drive planning to create their own mixed CDs to play in their car, only to find out that the car stereo has trouble reading the disk.  Through the use of VariRec (Variable Recording) Technology, the strength of the laser can be increased or decreased up to 2 degrees with software that supports this feature.  Remember when we were discussing our disappointment that Easy CD Creator was included with the PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A?  That is because it doesn't support VariRec.  If this is a feature that you think you would like to explore, it would be best to pick up another program such as Nero Burning ROM.

Now that we've covered some of the advanced features of the PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A, what do you say we run a few benchmarks and see how this drive performs?

 

HotHardware Test Systems
I'll Have and AthlonXP with Some Plextor on the side!!

 

MSI KT3 Ultra-ARU  KT333 Motherboard
AMD AthlonXP 1900+.

512MB Corsair XMS2400 (2-2-2-5-2)

2 IBM ATA100 7200RPM 82GB HD (RAID-0)

ATi All-In-Wonder 8500

Plextor 40/12/40A

Plextor PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A

Pioneer DVD-115

Standard Floppy Drive

Windows XP Professional

DirectX 8.1

ATi Catalyst Drivers

VIA 4-in-1s 4.40v(a)P3

Utilities and Media Used For Testing
Nero Burning ROM 5.5.8.2
Nero InfoTool
Nero CD Speed
Nero CD DAE
Nero DVD Speed
MusicMatch 7.2 for MP3 Encoding
An audio CD 65:33 in Length was used in all non-DVD tests
A 7.87GB DVD was used for the DVD testing.
A CD with 700MB of MP3s was used for Disc-Copy Test.



 

CD-ROM Performance Tests - PlexCombo 20/10/40-12A
Did Somebody Say NERO?

To help give a comparison to the PleXCombo's performance, we ran each test compared to a Pioneer DVD-115 DVD drive.  Each drive was set to "master" and was the only drive on the channel.  Although it is not a burner, the Pioneer is a very popular 16x DVD drive that also supports 40x CD-ROM speeds and many of the same PleXCombo features as a CD-ROM and DVD drive.

You will see the word "Nero" appear in the following pages quite often.  The reason is that Ahead software makes one of the most complete CD software packages on the market, Nero Burning ROM, as well as the utilities to benchmark various functions of CD drives.  We simply feel that we were using the best tools for the job.


Nero InfoTool:

The first utility we used to show the details of the two drives is Ahead Software's Nero InfoTool.  This utility lists a drive's capabilities in a neat and concise screen.  The Plextor PleXCombo is a fully featured drive with the ability to do a number of tasks.  Not only does it come with a 2MB buffer, it also supports a wide range of modes such as Packet, DAO, SAO, TAO, and RAW to name a few.  What does all this mean to you as a user?  This variety of modes ensures compatibility when trying to make backups of your copy protected CDs. 

Plextor PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A

Pioneer DVD-115

One of the biggest complaints of the legitimate software buyer is that copy protection prevents them from creating a backup of their CD, even though most license agreements permit a single copy.  With the PleXCombo, or any other Plextor drive for that matter, CD duplication is much more effective with the various modes available.  Such programs as Nero Burning ROM, Blind Read/Blind Write, and CloneCD all give the user the ability to select these modes during the duplication process, giving the user access to all of the drive's advanced features.

Now let's go ahead and get started with the benchmarks and see how the PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A performs.


Nero CD Speed:

We'll start off our tests with the first of the Nero benchmarks we'll be using, Nero CD Speed. This utility has the ability to benchmark some of the more important CD-ROM functions such as peak speed ratings, burst rates, seek times, and CPU utilization.

Plextor PleXCombo 20/10/40-12A
Pioneer DVD-115

Initially, the PleXCombo started out running just over 17X and rounded out the test peaking at the expected 40X.  This is natural behavior as the laser progresses from the innermost part of the CD to the outer edge.  On average the PleXCombo ran at 29.53X, while the Pioneer was closer to 16X.  The PleXcombo also had the ability to burst data at 16MBs a second, double the rate of the Pioneer DVD-115.  The next thing you'll notice is how the PleXCombo uses significantly less CPU time than the Pioneer drive.  The maximum CPU usage throughout the test was 7% at 8X speed, while the Pioneer drive clocked in with 15% at 8X.  Clearly the PleXCombo handled all aspects of the test with more finesse and less overhead than the Pioneer DVD-115.

We should note that the Pioneer didn't come close to the peak rating of 40X in this test and it exhibited a stepping pattern where the speed dropped mid way through the test.  We ran the test several times and the same pattern occurred repeatedly.  Each manufacturer rates the peak performance of their drives in their own way and we may be seeing the results of the different methods here.  The other possibility is that the Pioneer had more issues with the production audio CD that we used for testing. 

More Nero, MP3 Encoding and Stress Testing BURN-Proof

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The Plextor PleXCombo 20/10/4012A Review - Page 3
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