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AOpen COM5232 AOpen COM5232: We have a spin with an AOpen CD burner that burns up to 52x for CDR, 32x for CDRW and reads DVDs at 16x.
Date: August 8, 2004
Manufacturer:
Written By:
Price:
 

Small Form Factor PCs are getting to be very popular these days. Although you can put together some very fast boxes, the inherent problem with such small enclosures is the total number of expansion options. In most cases, there is only one AGP slot, one PCI slot and one 5.25" slot. Since some form of optical drive is likely needed, it comes down to choice.

A DVD burner is probably on the top of many people's lists, but the cost may be too prohibitive if you've already spent a lot of money on the other components. A CD burner is probably the most common choice, though users building a Home Theater PC (HTPC) will likely opt for a DVD drive. Unless you get a DVD burner, we can see the problem now... if you get a DVD reader, you're unable to burn media. If you get a CD burner, you're unable to read DVDs.

Enter the AOpen CRW5232 Combo. Although it cannot burn DVDs, it can read them, as well as burn CDs at 52x and CDRWs at 32x. It may not be the ideal solution for HTPC needs, but it will get the job done for a fraction of what a DVD burner would cost.

The AOpen COM5232

The AOpen COM5232 is packaged in a fairly standard box that lists the drive's very clearly. Inside, the drive is neatly wrapped in a cellophane bag and anchored by cardboard supports. Other than the drive, you'll find a couple of faceplates, much like those found in their CRW5232 CD burner, an audio cable, four screws for mounting the drive and a Nero/PowerDVD CD.

On the front of the drive, we have some lettering indicating the drive's 52x speed and that it's a rewritable CD burner and DVD reader. There is a small manual eject hole for opening the tray door, which is useful when you forget a CD and don't want to power on your computer just to take it out. For audio CD purposes, from left to right we have a headphone jack, volume dial, activity LED (for audio and data CDs) a play/skip button and a stop/eject button.

Moving to the rear, everything we've come to expect from an ATAPI drive is present. We have the 40-pin IDE connection, molex power connection, a jumper for Master/Slave/Cable Select operation and an audio cable connection.

The COM5232 has buffer under run protection, but not the Just Link technology (AOpen's proprietary under run protection). The drive does not feature Just Speed, which means you'll need to be careful in selecting the proper media for the appropriate burn speed to avoid creating coasters. By default, the drive is already set at 52x, which is in contrast to the CRW5232 which has the Speed Boost function.

The COM5232's has the ability to change faceplates to match the colour of the case you're using. By default, the drive is vanilla beige, but there are two additional faceplates (silver and black) that you can use instead.

Step 1
Step 2
Step 3

The provided instructions are pretty clear, but in summary:

Step 1: With the drive off, eject the tray using the included eject pin.

Step 2: Remove the tray and the drive's faceplate. These have retention tabs that you can squeeze and slide off.

Step 3: Reverse the de-installation instructions with the new faceplate.

Rounding things off is the software. The drive comes packaged with decent, albeit outdated software in the form of Nero Express 5.5.10 and PowerDVD 4.0. Both programs are my personal choice as well, but newer versions would have been appreciated.

Test Setup

MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R: Athlon 64 3200+ (10x200: 2GHz), 2 x 512MB Kingston HyperX PC4000, AIW Radeon 9600 XT, 120GB Western Digital SE 8MB Cache, Windows XP SP1, VIA Hyperion 4in1 drivers 4.51, ATI Catalyst 4.6

We'll be using a combination of synthetic and real world benchmarks for our review. Synthetic tests will be done with Nero's CD Speed, and for real-world performance, we'll be timing burn times in Nero 5.5 and digital audio extraction using CDeX.

Nero CD Speed

For our CD Speed tests, we'll be using a commercially pressed Windows XP CD, a CDR of a slipstreamed Windows XP CD with extra drivers and utilities, a Terminator Special Edition DVD, and an audio CD of Barenaked Ladies' Stunt.

WinXP 52x
CDR 52x
Music CD 52x
DVD 16x

For the AOpen COM5232 to reach its maximum read speed (as is the case with most optical drives), the disc needs to be near full capacity as most drive's maximum speeds are only reached at the outer edge. Therefore, since the commercially pressed CDs (Windows XP and Barenaked Ladies) are only about 3/4 full, we're seeing read speeds max out at less than 41x. The CDR, which is almost full, peaks at about 51x, slightly below the default. The average read times are also slightly higher as well. DVD performance is about on par with our AOpen 1640 DVD reader, which is also a 16x drive.

Digital Audio Extraction - CDeX

We used CDeX to rip the contents of the Barenaked Ladies: Stunt to our hard drive. This was done at 52x, and we'll be comparing it against the CRW5232 52x mode. Remember that lower times are better.

Time (Minutes: Seconds)
Errors
CRW5232
7:57
6
COM5232
5:10
3

As we've seen in our CRW5232 review, we've had 52x issues with DAE. Looks like things are much improved with the COM5232, but it is not perfect. Times are better than what we've seen with 40x drives, but there are three errors during the rip process. Individually ripping the problem tracks was error free, but not when trying to rip the whole album as it kept struggling at track #8 and #9.

We also did a ISO creation test using Nero, and with our commercially pressed Windows XP CD, at 52x it took 2:14. I used a larger CD (Morrowind), and there was little change, taking 2:25.

Burn Times - Nero

I collected a number of media files, ranging from 4MB to as much as 150MB and burned them on to a CD. In total, there was 645.9MB across eight files. We used Sony 52x CDR media, and a TDK 32x CDRW CD for our CDRW tests (which were done at 32x).

Time (Minutes: Seconds)
52x
2:16
32x (CDRW)
3:18

These numbers are on par with what we've seen at 52x and 32x.

Using the right speed rated media, we encountered no errors burning and playing back the CDs on a number of players. I did have problems playing a compilation music CD burned at 52x in my car stereo, but this is normally the case at anything higher than 32x burn speeds. The only drive that did not accept any CD burned faster than 32x was a Teac 4x CDROM on an old Toshiba notebook we have kicking around.

We attempted to burn at 32x using some Sony 16x media, and although we were able to burn at 32x, the CD did not work on some of our drives. It only worked on the AOpen COM5232, CRW5232 and two Plextors we have in the labs. The other drives either locked up or reported no media.

Final Words

The AOpen COM5232 is not a bad drive, though it is fairly vanilla. Some of AOpen's advanced CDRW technology did not make it to this drive which is a shame because those features would have rounded out the combo drive much better. It certainly could have used the Just Speed feature for sure.

Although Just Link wasn't present, the buffer under run protection worked well. While burning files on to a CD at 52x, I defragged the folder it was copying from, and ran a virus scan on that drive. The burn times increased by about 30 seconds longer than when the PC was left alone. The burn worked just fine, save for the Teac drive being unable to read the disc.

There are some slight 52x audio extraction issues, and this occurred on a number of audio CDs. They are not as severe as they were on the CRW5232, but they are still present. I will have to say that this drive can get pretty noisy at full speed and it's a shame the Speed Boost function could not make its way to this drive.

Although I did not display them, the speeds compared to the AOpen CRW5232 numbers (which is a similar dive in terms of raw speed) were quite close. Overall, the CRW5232 had a slight edge, but only by a second or two. DVD playback was unspectacular, meaning it just worked, which is all I could really ask. , the price is definitely right as it has the ability to burn CDs and read DVDs as well.

Pros: Good performance, and reliable burns. DVD reader as well.

Cons: 52x DAE and noise issues, Nero Express 5.5 and PowerDVD 4.0 are outdated.

Bottom Line: The AOpen COM5232 is a solid drive with some DAE issues and weak software bundle. I would have liked to have seen some of AOpen's CDRW technology here as it could have made a difference with some of the issues we've encountered.

If you have any comments, be sure to hit us up in our forums.

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