|Introduction to the Plextor PX-712A|
For years Plextor has set the standard for optical drives in both quality and features, being the first to bring major innovations to market on a number of occasions. These days, the competition fierce, with cheaper offerings available that can compete on the same performance level as slightly more expensive Plextor products. However, what these cheaper models usually lack are unique features that bring new functionality to the forefront, something Plextor has been doing for quite some time.
Today on HotHardware, we're going to take a look at the latest Plextor drive to land our test bench, the Plextor PX-712A. This model boasts 12X DVD recording on DVD+R media and 8X recording with DVD-R media, as well as 48X CD-R recording, which should make it one of the fastest all around burners on the market. In addition, Plextor has added some unique features to the PX-712A that truly make it stand out in the crowd.
From a physical standpoint, Plextor's internal drives do not vary much in appearance from model to model, aside from the recent addition of a stylish black line to the front bezel. The front of the drive is rather clean, with an LED indicator, Eject button and Emergency Eject hole. Plextor has done away with the headphone jack and independent volume control knob, as these items are rarely used. The drive tray seems a bit more solid that the PX-504A which was somewhat more rickety than other Plextor drives we have tested. The eject process was smooth and solid. Like previous Plextor drives, the drive tray is black in color, a key design option for creating reliable burns by absorbing any stray reflected light that may occur during the writing process.
The rear of the drive was typical, sporting a Digital Audio Output, Analog Audio Output, DMA Jumper, Mode Jumper, IDE connection and Power input. Aside from that, the Plextor PX-712A yielded no surprises on the outside. Then again, it's what lies at the heart of the drive that really matters. Next, we'll take a closer look at Plextor's PlexTools Professional software suite to see how it manages some of the PX-712A's more advanced features.
|Plextor's PlexTools Professional v2.12|
When we reflect back over the years and compare the current version of the PlexTools Professional software suite to previous editions, we have to say that Plextor has come a long way. PlexTools has evolved from semi-useful software package to a robust recording, playback and testing suite. The version that accompanied the PX-712A was impressive, offering a wide collection of options, preference settings, and other functions to really get the most out of the PX-712A. For the sake of this review, we're going to focus on the Drive Settings options and how they relate to the drive's features.
The first tab was titled "Basic" and it's here that users have the ability to set the drive's CD/DVD read speeds, control the spin down time and adjust the audio output balance. The Advanced tab gave options to enable or disable a number of drive settings, including Auto Insertion, Buffer Underrun Proof, and DMA to name a few. The VariRec (CD) tab is where users can go and adjust the laser intensity of the drive when burning audio CDs. This can be useful for people with devices that are finicky about playing recorded audio CDs.
One of the more interesting options we found was GigaRec, which let's you record up to 913MB of data on a 700MB CD-R. This is achieved by ignoring the manufacturers information encoded on the blank CD, even overwriting it when possible. What's even more interesting is the playback of the disks are not restricted to the Plextor drive alone, meaning you can take a CD-R with 900MB of data on it and play it in virtually any CD-ROM drive. We tested this with a collection of multimedia files and fit 899MB onto a single CD-R. We saw no degradation in file quality with videos and heard no problems with MP3s. GigaRec worked flawlessly in our tests. The only drawbacks to GigaRec were record speeds, which are limited to 8X maximum, and Buffer Underrun protection is not available, so there is a stronger chance of burning a coaster.
Silent Mode is another interesting option that gives access to various settings for controlling the overall noise level of the drive. Here we can set the maximum read and write speeds independently, as well as the speed at which the drive tray opens and closes, and the load time of the CD. Lastly, was SecureRec which let's you password protect your CDs. Once protected, they can be only accessed on a system that has Plextor's SecureViewer software installed.
You may also notice that on each of these screens was an area in yellow at the lower left. Here Plextor provides a series of benchmarking and troubleshooting utilities for the advanced user. Not only can you test read/write transfer speeds and have the results displayed in a chart, but a number of other utilities let you scan various disks, checking for integrity of burns while reporting any errors found.
|The HotHardware Test Bed, Nero InfoTool and Sandra Tests|
Utilities and Media Used For Testing
Nero InfoTool is a handy utility for exposing a CD/DVD drive's capabilities. Below are screen captures from the PX-712A as well as an Artec Dual DVD drive that we reviewed here. Throughout this review we will reference the Artec Dual DVD drive for the sake of comparison of features and performance, since it has similar features and it too comes with 8MB of cache.
We should note that the Plextor says the CD-ROM drive has a maximum read speed of 48X, as shown in Nero InfoTool. However, by default the actual top speed is 40X. In order to achieve a full 48X read speed, we needed to enable their SpeedRead feature which is only active on a per-session basis. SpeedRead is actually designed to allow users to increase DVD playback speed if so desired, however, it also controls a bit of the CD read speeds as well. Plextor believes that after CDs exceed 40X, problems can occur from vibrations and such. By implementing SpeedRead, this does not limit the user from increasing the drive speed if they so desire. Plextor offers a solid collection of Read/Write capabilities, including support for Mount Rainier, while supporting a comprehensive selection of recording modes too. The biggest advantage to note is the drive's 8MB buffer. This should add to the success of burns, especially with GigaRec which doesn't utilize any kind of Buffer Underrun protection.
An effective synthetic test of CD/DVD-ROM performance is SANDRA 4's CD/DVD Benchmark. The interesting part of this test is that SANDRA 4 will not let the test run without having very large files on the disc. The goal is to ensure that the buffer of the drive being tested is completely saturated, adding to the accuracy of the results.
With the CD module, we loaded a CD with one 677MB AVI file. In the end, both drives performed similarly, with the Plextor drive topping the Artec product by roughly 4.5%.
Next we ran the same test with a DVD inserted that was filled with a of collection of large AVI files. This test aims to flood the buffer during the benchmark as well.
Here we see the Plextor drive trounces the Artec Dual DVD, topping it by about 40% thanks to its higher speed read capability of 16X vs. the Artec's top speed of 12X.
Next, we are going to run some more intensive read and write tests to get a better handle on the PX-712A's performance...
|Benchmarking with Ahead's Nero CD-DVD Speed|
Ahead software, the makers of Nero Burning ROM 6, have an excellent selection of free utilities to test the functionality of various types of optical drives. Each of these small applications perform a number of specific tasks that show us what each drive is capable of. In the next section we ran several of these tests on the Plextor PX-712A DVD +/- R/RW Drive and included the results from the Artec Dual DVD +/- R/RW Drive for comparison where applicable. Please note that in each test, the Green line represents Transfer Rates while the Yellow Line represents the drive's Rotation Speed.
Nero CD-DVD Speed - CD Data Test:
First we are going to take a look at each of the drive's CD-ROM performance. Once again we loaded a CD-ROM with a 677MB AVI file for this test.
The Plextor PX-712A fell slightly short of the 48X mark, topping out at 47.60X CD read speed. When it came to the Seek tests, the Plextor PX-712A managed better overall performance as well as more efficient CPU utilization than the Artec drive. The lopsided part of the test was the burst rate test where the Plextor peaked at 22MB where the Artec topped out at 1X.
Next, we are going to focus on DVD performance. This part is a two-fold test since a Movie DVD and Data DVD will perform quite differently. First up we loaded Underworld a let the test run.
When it comes to movie DVD playback, there are two schools of thought. One is to have the drive run at a constant speed and let the buffer control the flow of data. The other is to have the drive mechanism manage the flow of data and throttle rotation speeds accordingly. The latter appears to be a more efficient design, and the one that Plextor adopts with their DVD capable drives. This can be seen in the CPU utilization test where the Artec peaks at 40%. To better prove the point, look at how the PX-712A has a steady green transfer rate while the yellow line shows the drive starting at 2X, dipping below 1X and completing around 1.5X. This results in the drive averaging a steady 2X speed and peak CPU usage of 19%. When we enabled SpeedRead, which is designed to increase the playback of CSS protected DVDs, we saw no discernable difference in the results.
With Data DVDs the picture is totally different from that of the Movie test. Here we see each drive attempting to perform at the fastest rate possible.
The Plextor PX-712A managed a top speed of almost 12X, averaging 8X overall. The average seek tests were comparable to the Artec Dual DVD drive but, once again, CPU utilization and burst rate was a strong point for the Plextor PX-712A.
Next we'll do some recording tests and assess each drives recording prowess. Then we'll follow that up with DAE testing and our final thoughts.
|DAE, CD/DVD Write Testing and The Verdict|
To round out the transfer tests, we set up a couple of recording tests using CD-R, DVD-R and DVD+R media. There are two things we should note here. The first is that while Plextor is capable of writing at 8X speeds with 4X media, 12X burning requires approved 8X or higher rated media (see this page for the complete list of compatible media). Also note the excessive burn times in the 4X DVD-R tests with the Artec Drive. As we noted in its review, the drive has an issue with the Memorex media we used for testing.
Burning a CD at 48X resulted in 703MBs being recorded to the disk in under 3 minutes with the PX-712A. Compared to the Artec drive's 24X speed, we shaved 1:16 off the completion time. With the DVD tests, even though the PX-712A is rated for 8X DVD-R, we were only able to run at 4X, resulting in 4.36GB completing in 15 minutes. With the DVD+R we recorded a full DVD in almost half the time of the DVD-R, completing 4.36GB in 7:35. 12X burning completed the test in 6:11, shaving 1:24 off of the 8X results. Currently there is no 12X media available on the market, but Plextor does have a list of approved 8X media that will run at 12X. In the end, with 12X DVD+R write capability and 48X CD-R write speeds, the Plextor 712A is just about the fastest all around burner you're going to find at the present time.
The last test we ran was Digital Audio Extraction, recording how quickly each drive can extract a full audio CD to the hard drive.
Each drive completed the task at under two minutes, with the better score being posted by the PX-712A. The drive peaked at 25.5X, allowing it to complete the process in a snappy 1:43.
As we bring this review to a close, we can't help but feel a sense of deja-vu. Once again we have reviewed the latest Plextor CD/DVD burner, and once again we've come away completely impressed. The PX-712A did have stiff competition from the cheaper Artec Dual DVD, but when it comes to overall features and performance, the PX-712A wins hands down.
Along with its excellent performance, we were impressed with the GigaRec feature that managed to squeeze almost 900MB onto a standard 700MB disc. It's innovative ideas like this that help keep Plextor ahead of the pack, amidst ever increasing competition. The inclusion of PlexTools Professional was a nice touch as well, giving the avid enthusiast a robust recording package, as well as the ability to take complete control over how the drive behaves in their system.
The Plextor PX-712A is a top notch product, with a solid feature set and premium performance. If you are looking to upgrade your current drive or have been waiting for the right one to come along, you'd be hard pressed finding a better product than the Plextor PX-712A.
We'll give the Plextor PX-712A a HotHardware Heat Meter Rating of a 9 and our Editors Choice Award for Being a "Best of Class" DVD +/-R/RW Drive.