Date Posted: November 29, 2001
There really isn't much point buying a dedicated CDROM drive these days. Most new CD burners are 3-in-1 drives (CD reader, CD recorder, and CD rewriter), so you can save some space by buying just one drive. This will make things slower, in terms of productivity, in the long run though. Let's say you want to install a program from a CD, and burn a backup CD during this time (not suggested by the way, unless you got a burn-proof drive), you obviosly can't do this if you only got one drive. Another issue with these "combo" drives is that they're not as fast as dedicated drives performing the same functions.
It's always handy to have a second optical drive, but, rather than getting a vanilla CD drive, a DVD drive may be a better alternative. I'm well aware there are combo DVD/CDRW/DVD Writers available, but for everyday computer use, I don't think it's important now. Unless you have a multimedia shop, or are into warezing (how's that for Engrish?) DVD movies, you can probably still get by with a regular CDRW. Plus, those DVD combo drives are quite a bit more expensive.
Anyhow, we're not focussing on the pros and cons of combo drives. For this review, we're going to look at the AOpen DVD-1640 Pro. It reads CDs at speeds up to 40X, which is plenty fast, as well as read DVDs at 16X. Now, keep in mind that for DVD movies, 1X is all that's required, but the 16X will speed up the seek times when selecting various chapters on a DVD, and it also, in part, contributes to the 40X CD speeds. This will come in handy for those DVD games, whenever those come out. And no! Myst is not a game :P
Interface: E-IDE / ATAPI (SFF-8090, SFF8020)/Ultra-DMA Mode-2 (33.3 MB/sec)/
MW-DMA Mode-2 (16.6 MB/sec)
Speed: DVD-ROM: 16X, CD-ROM: 40X
Sustained Data Transfer Rate: DVD-ROM: 22160 KBytes/sec (10X) /CD-ROM: 6000 KBytes/sec (40X)
DVD family: DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-Video
CD family: CD-DA, CD-ROM/XA, CD-R, CD-RW, CD-I, Video CD, Photo-CD, CD-Extra
Disc Storage Capacity:
DVD-ROM: 4.7 GB (Single Layer), 8.5 GB (Dual Layer)
CD-ROM: 656 MB (Mode 1), 748 MB (Mode 2)
Data Buffer Size: 512 KB
MTBF: 100,000 POH (20% duty)
Line Output : 0.7 Vrms Typ. (RL = 10k W)
Headphones : 0.45 Vrms Typ. (RL = 32 W) SPDIF digital audio output supported
Power Requirement: 5V, 12V ( 5%)
Temperature: 5 ~ 45 oC (operating)
Humidity: 15 ~ 85 % RH (operating)
Dimensions: 5.83"(W) * 1.67"(H) * 8.17"(D) / (148 mm * 42.3 mm * 207.5 mm)
Weight: Less than 2.2 lbs (1.0 kg)
Mount Position: Both Horizontal and Vertical
EMI Requirement: FCC-B,CE,C-tick
Safety Requirement: UL, CUL, DHHS, TUV
One nice thing about the AOpen 1640 is the slot face plate. For one thing, it looks a lot nicer than a tray loading drive, and because it omits the tray, there is also one less thing to break.
Because it doubles as a 40X CDROM drive, I should warn you that CDs can get pretty toasty. I haven't had one die yet, but the DVD drive does spin awfully loud. This may not be a problem while watching an action flick, but any dialogue driven story will need to be turned up volume wise. Granted, it's really only the initial spin up that's noisy, and in most cases, the general spinning isn't too bad.
Um, I'm guessing that most of you know how to install a CDROM drive, so there isn't much point going into too much detail. I'll list what you do need:
1) An available 5 1/4" external drive bay. For those of you with mini towers, or if simply have no room, you may as well chuck that CDROM in the trash.
2) An available 4 pin feed from your power supply. Some cheap power supplies don't have too many of these, and AOpen doesn't include any Y-splitter.
3) Phillips head screwdriver. The DVD drive includes the necessary mounting screws.
I should point out that AOpen includes all you need to install the drive (minus the screw driver), but FYI, all you get is the drive for DVD playback, and PowerDVD software. There isn't any hardware DVD decoder included, and although it isn't pointed out on their website, you're going to need a half decent PC to playback DVD movies efficiently. I'd suggest at least a 400mhz PC, with faster being better. You can certainly add an after market DVD decoder if you'd like.
I tested a variety of DVD movies I have lying around. Let me say that you haven't experienced "Legends of the Fall" in all its glory until you've seen it on DVD. Meet Joe Black, Shakespeare in Love, You've Got Mail, and Pretty Woman all played without a hitch. For anyone who cares, since I know the majority of you are softies like me, The Die Hard Trilogy, Braveheart, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, and the Jet Li Collection all played flawlessly.
I installed a few games and apps, and copied MP3s over from a recordable CD burned at 24X, and everything worked fine.
On a side note, the PowerDVD software is version 2.5. Although there's a newer version out, this one isn't too bad. It's pretty stable, and what I like about it, more than WinDVD, is that the menu system is more extensive and the general application performance is better.
I'm guessing there will be some of you who will want to watch DVD movies on your computer. Think about it, the image quality of your monitor is likely a lot better than your television. I don't know about you, but my sound card/speaker setup is also a lot better than my home stereo. Go figure...
I'm here to whup your ass...
FU h0m0! We'll kill ya dead...
Having used a Creative Encore solution a while ago, I did find that software based DVD decoding is obviously more CPU intensive. It's not terrible, but I wouldn't defrag and run virus scanners while watching a DVD. Image quality is also noticably grainier than the Encore DXr3 Decoder, but the AOpen/PowerDVD setup didn't have any problems with displaying fast action on the screen.
I wasn't too sure how to go about testing this, but I figure what's most important for the majority of you is CPU usage during DVD playback, and drive benchmarking. The test bed consists of:
AMD Athlon XP 1800+ (1.75v)
512 Kingston DDR
Tests were done in Windows XP, with no 3rd party background apps running. All the necessary drivers were updated, and DMA was enabled on the AOpen drive.
I took a reading after about 1 minute after Windows XP finished booting. The value actually fluctuated between 0% - 5%, but for the most part, it was 0%. On the right, you'll see CPU Usage at about 16%. Again, there was some fluctuation where it went as low as 8%, and as high as 30%. The big spike of 100% you see there is on the initial spin up of the DVD. Conclusion? I'd say that you can expect about 20% CPU Usage when watching a movie. This is ok I guess, since there's still quite a bit of CPU time left for other tasks, but it's a far cry from the 5% - 10% max I used to get from my hardware DVD decoder.
SiSoft Sandra 2001 DVD Benchmark
I ran a benchmark using a DVD and a CD to test the claimed 16x/40x speeds of the AOpen 1640 drive. I must say that I was extremely disappointed with the results. I ran the tests several times, and double checked my DMA settings, but everything was in order. Granted, SiSoft is merely a synthetic test, but I wasn't too pleased. Let's try some real-world testing...
Time to Copy Quake 3 CD to hard drive....
AOpen 1640: 5 minutes, 8 seconds
Plextor 16/10/40A: 3 minutes, 53 seconds
You can probably find this drive for well under 100$ right now. For the money, it isn't a bad deal. It does it's job well, reading DVDs and CDs, but it's performance leaves a lot to be desired. I'm still at a loss at why the performance sucked so hard. I checked the firmware revision, and it's up to date. Maybe I got a bum drive. Also, the jet engine whine on spin up is a bit annoying, but I'm sure most of you have case and CPU fans that'll drown it out.
It does come with PowerDVD, which isn't a bad piece of software. Whether or not you'll need it is up to you. I think it's better than WinDVD, but I'm sure others think otherwise. Considering decent DVD software can run you 50$, give or take, it's a nice inclusion if you need it.
I think that for anyone who is considering a new optical drive should consider a DVD drive, especially if the money is tight. My preference is for slot loading drives, and the Pioneer version wasn't available when I picked the AOpen up. Despite my gripes about the benchmarking performance, I really only use it for DVD playback purposes. It's cheap and comes with good software, so I'd definently recommend it if your demands aren't too intensive.
Pros: Reliable with all media during testing. Excellent DVD software, slot faceplate is nice.
Cons: Very loud, CDs and DVDs get very hot, meagre benchmark performance.