Back in mid-June we took a look at the latest offering from Plextor, the PX-712A. This drive boasted 12X DVD+R write speeds and maintained the same level of quality we've come to expect from Plextor. For years, Plextor has been in the optical drive business and for most of that time they've been the one company all others can be gauged against. This is because Plextor makes drives for the professional and the serious enthusiast looking for advanced features and the ability to control drive performance. Sometimes, they are not the first to reach the market with the fastest speed or the newest features, but when they do, you can be certain Plextor has done their homework before the drive makes it into your machine.
With the release of the PX-712A, Plextor also released the PX-712SA, which is the same drive with a SATA connection rather than IDE. Unlike the obvious benefits SATA brings to standard hard drives, this will not result in any performance gains since an optical drive is not capable of reaching the throughput needed to saturate the SATA channel. All this does is offer another option for connecting the drive to a system, reducing cable clutter and leaving the IDE ports open for other devices. The only requirement is your mainboard must have SATA support native to the chipset, meaning an add-on or secondary RAID controller will not work.
Here is a listing of the product specifications, after which we'll take a closer look at the drive and its performance.
When we lined up the drive with the Plextor PX-712A we reviewed in June, we found they are virtually identical on the surface. On the front side the only variation is the bezel with the "SA" in the model number. Notice how Plextor has changed with the times, eliminating the independent volume control and headphone jack typically found on older and less expensive drives. With the advent of MP3s and a wide range of powerful players available, it's safe to say most people are not using their CD-ROM drive to listen to audio CDs on their computer.
The rear of the SATA DVD drive is a completely different picture from what we are used to seeing. With SATA, there are no "master" and "slave" issues, as with IDE drives, so the only thing required is power and a SATA interface. Interestingly, we found Plextor simply used an adapter underneath the skin of the drive to change the interface from IDE to SATA, further proving it is ultimately the same drive as the PX-712A. Just like the IDE version, the PX-712SA comes with an 8MB cache for added buffering and a black tray to help absorb stray light during the burn process.
Overall, there is not much new to report here, but we're still going to run it through a fresh set of tests on our Intel 875P test bed to see how the drive performs. For a frame of reference, we've also included an Artec Dual format drive, which we used to compare benchmark results as well.
|HH Test System and Drive Capabilities|
Utilities and Media Used For Testing
Before we start running our tests, we should take a minute to assess the drive's underlying feature set. To do this we used Nero InfoTool.
The PX-712SA covers the spectrum of capabilities nicely. The only features not supported are DVD-RAM or DVD+R DL (Dual Layer). Other than that, the drive sports a wide array of features for maximum flexibility and compatibility. You may notice that the drive reported a top CD speed of 48X, however, Plextor sets the drive to run at 40X by default, the top speed they recommend CD media run at without incurring any errors. This is achieved by implementing their SpeedRead Technology which locks CD reads to 40X and DVD movie playback to 2X. For testing CD-R performance we set the drive to run at the top speed for CDs. We will show the differences with DVD movie playback further on.
|Performance Testing with 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-712SA 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 Rotation Speed while the Yellow Line represents the drive's progress. CD performance is viewed on a scale of 80 minutes and DVD in Gigabytes.
Nero CD-DVD Speed - CD Data Test:
To start things off, we disabled the SpeedRead feature so the PX-712SA could read at its maximum rate. We then inserted a CD-R with a single AVI file and let the test ride.
The PX-712SA managed to run very close to its maximum, topping out at a 47.55X. Utilizing P-CAV (Partial Constant Angular Velocity) allowed the drive to reach its maximum speed faster than with CAV (Constant Angular Velocity) as used by the Artec drive. This can be seen when compared to the Artec drive, where the rotation slope is more gradual. On average, the PX-712SA ran at 36X, maintaining a stead flow of data until the last second. The seek and access times were all very good, as was the CPU utilization, which is a Plextor strongpoint.
Nero CD-DVD Speed - DVD Data Test:
In our next segment we'll focus on DVD data read performance. For this test we used a DVD+R full of MP3 files.
The Plextor 712SA reached a top speed of 11.5X and averaged 8.28X from start to finish. Again, the Plextor drive sported the best overall stats compared to the budget-minded Artec Drive. We did see some erratic drop off toward the end of the Plextor cycle, but, overall this did not affect its performance. The drive maintained the best seek and access times while boasting a 22MB/s burst rate.
|Movie Playback Testing|
Nero CD-DVD Speed - Movie Playback Test:
Next, we are going to focus on DVD movie playback performance. This part is a two-fold test since a Movie DVD and Data DVD will perform quite differently. To start off, we used a commercial copy of Underworld. Initially, we ran the test with SpeedRead enabled and then with it disabled to show the differences with both options. After that, we ran a comparison test with the Artec Drive.
With SpeedRead enabled on the PX-712SA, the drive utilized CLV (Constant Linear Velocity), maintaining a steady, quiet 2X throughout the playback of the disk. This is a good way to maintain a steady throughput without winding up the drive unnecessarily. The end result is a quieter drive, which is important when watching a movie. When we disabled SpeedRead, however, the drive shifted to CAV (Constant Angular Velocity), aiming to reach its maximum achievable throughput. The main advantage of being able to enable this option is when you are looking to rip a DVD to a hard disk at the fastest possible rate. By default, the Artec uses CAV regardless, throttling the drive during movie playback.
|CD-R and DVD-R Write Testing|
In the next phase of testing we're going to focus on disc writing performance. For this we used NERO CD-DVD Speed as well. Our first test measured CD-R write performance with the two drives.
Nero CD-DVD Speed - CD Write Test:
While Nero CD-DVD Speed reported the Plextor 712SA to be using CAV writing method, the drive actually uses PCAV from 24X-48X. Again, we can see the drive's acceleration slope climbed smoothly and steadily. At the maximum, the PX-712SA reached a top rotation of 47.75X while averaging over 36X. This resulted in a total CD-R recording time of 2:45 for a complete disk. As a comparison, the Artec drive topped 4 minutes to complete the same test at 24X.
Nero CD-DVD Speed - DVD-R Write Test:
Next, we ran the same test with DVD-R media in each drive.
Using 4X media, the Plextor completed writing a full 4.38GBs in 14:24. Although the drive is rated for 8X, we were only able to achieve 4X with our media. This is most likely a media issue as the Artec drive was only able to peak at 2.4X with the same 4X media. Either way you slice it, though, burning 4.38GBs in less than 15 minutes is nothing to complain about. But as you'll see with our DVD+R testing, it gets a lot better.
|DVD+R Write Testing|
Nero CD-DVD Speed - DVD+R Write Test:
In our last round of testing we'll focus on DVD+R write performance. For this test we ran the Plextor drive with our 8X media and again with 12X rated media provided by Plextor. The Artec drive was used as a comparison for 8X recording.
With DVD+R write testing, the Plextor PX-712SA really shined. Using the same P-CAV method, the drive completed the 8X test in 7:44 at a top speed of 8.07X. Using the same writing method, the Artec drive reached a maximum speed of 8.02X, completing the test in 8:31. The Artec had a much more erratic performance scale that limited the average speed to 7:36X, compared to the PX-712SA's 7.89X average. While this doesn't look like a wide margin, this resulted in the Artec taking nearly a minute longer to complete the test.
Next, we inserted 12X media into the PX-712SA and ran the test once again. This time the drive peaked at 12.18X with an average rotation of 10.32X. This resulted in a complete burn in 6:15, shaving an additional 1:29 off the 8X results. To put this in perspective, burning 4.38GB in 6:15 equates to burning a full CD-R in about one minute.
|Digital Audio Extraction and Conclusion|
The final test in this review is assessing each drive's Digital Audio Extraction capability. For this we inserted a commercially pressed audio CD and extracted all of its tracks.
Overall, both drives were quite capable in Digital Audio Extraction, each returning very similar results. In the end, the Plextor PX-712SA returned a slightly better time, completing the process in 5:42. This was 3 seconds faster than the Artec drive who completed the process in 5:45.
As we wrap up this showcase, there isn't a whole lot to say that's new about the PX-712SA. Just like the PX-712A we reviewed earlier, the drive excelled in all areas of read and write testing. The drive truly delivered in the performance arena, often exceeding its top rated speeds in most tests. Having the added option to support SATA is attractive, but the drive will only function with chipsets that have SATA integrated, such as the Intel 875P. Even then, there are potential pitfalls. In testing this drive, we had a bit of trouble getting it to work on two separate test machines. Ultimately, the first being the Intel Test machine used for this review, which was resolved by updating the BIOS. The second was a K8T800 board that simply would not recognize the drive at all. Plextor is actively investigating this with us in an effort to figure out what the problem is and we will update this review with the outcome. But overall, we do not expect there will be too many issues for users, as long as they meet the baseline requirements for the drive.
There's no arguing that burning a DVD at 12X is a great feature, but with rapid increases in drive speeds from competitors and limited 12X media availability, weighing that value can be difficult. The drive clearly delivers on its promise of top-end performance and backs that with the very capable PlexTools Professional. Still, since the market is rapidly changing and as affordable Dual-Layer drives are becoming more widely available, it will be a bit harder to justify the $150 price tag for this drive. Nevertheless, as a high-end enthusiast/professional drive, the Plextor PX-712SA offers a solid feature set and the tools to control its every move. While not the cheapest drive available, it can be argued that the PX-712SA is the only drive in its class.
We'll give the Plextor PX-712SA a HotHardware Heat Meter Rating of 9.