It seems unusual in this day and age to be on the lookout for a decent CD burner. Many enthusiasts have jumped ship to DVD burners, which along with burning DVDs, they can also burn CDs as well. Using such an optical drive, it eliminates the need for multiple drives to do the tasks a modern DVD burner can do now.
By the same token, even an 8x DVD burner cannot match the burn speeds of dedicated CD burners. The specs will vary, but the higher end DVD drives will burn at about 24x. This pales in comparison with dedicated CD burners, but as usual, it's up to the buyer to decide whether the extra time (it'll be minutes) is worth freeing up a 5.25" slot for another drive.
Personally, I prefer having multiple drives in the same machine. I have ditched standard CDROM drives, but my current workstation does have a MSI DVD burner and Plextor 32x CD burner. My reasoning is a DVD burner is rather costly, and I only use it when I need to make large backups. Unless I need to read a piece of DVD media, most of my CD reading and burning needs fall on to the CD burner. Since this drive is about 1/6 the price (depreciation taken into account), the wear and tear I put this drive through doesn't bother me.
The Plextor has always been pretty dependable for me, but 32x is getting to be a little pokey for my tastes. Today, we'll be looking at the AOpen CRW5232, which ups the anteto 52x read, 32x rewrite, and 52x writes.
The AOpen CRW5232
The AOpen CRW5232 is packaged in a fairly standard box that lists the drive's features and specifications 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 (more on that later) with instructions, a small leaflet about enabling 52x speeds, an audio cable, four screws for mounting the drive and a Nero CD.
On the front of the drive, we have some lettering indicating the drive's speed and that it's a rewritable CD burner. 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. No need to straighten out a paper clip either, as AOpen includes the wire to do this. 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 drive is not as long as some other drives we've worked with, namely Plextors, and should have no problems fitting in the majority of SFF PCs.
You can grab the full for the nitty gritty, but there are a few technologies worth going over in detail.
JustLink - This is AOpen's new buffer under run error prevention technology. Buffer under run error prevention is present on most modern drives, and although there are different names and techniques, they all do the same thing and that is to prevent the creation of "coasters" when the PC can't feed the CD burner information quickly enough. On drives without this buffer under run protection, if you're burning a CD, and you decide to do something disk or CPU intensive (or an automated task) the buffer will empty and the laser will burn invalid data, thus rendering the disk useless.
With JustLink, when the amount of data in the buffer memory falls below a certain threshold, writing is suspended to allow the buffer to fill up again. What makes AOpen's JustLink unique is exactly what the name implies... the gap (the link) between the point when writing was paused and the point where writing resumes is extremely small. According to their documentation, competitor's have a gap of about 40 µm while AOpen is at 2 µm. If we get a 40 µm at 12x, this may seem insignificant, but double the speed and the gap widens, thus we can see JustLink's usefulness.
Just Speed - This technology helps to regulate the drive's burning speed based on the media that is inserted. This only kicks in at 16x and up, and the idea behind it is there should be fewer disc errors if the media cannot handle the selected burn speed. By default, Just Speed is enabled, but it can be disabled.
Speed Boost - We mentioned earlier about the leaflet outlining how to enable 52x. By default, the drive actually spins at 40x. AOpen's belief is that for something like playing an audio CD, extreme speeds aren't necessary, which is true. Spinning at slower speeds will create less noise, and put less wear on the drive motor. If your media is old or slightly damaged, spinning at a slower speed will less likely cause more damage than high speed. The drive door isn't reinforced, so this feature is something that I find useful.
Safety be damned, to enable 52x operation, simply hold the Eject button for about five seconds. The activity LED will blink twice which indicates Speed Boost is enabled. Upon the next reboot, the drive will revert to 40x operation.
Finally, definitely more of a feature rather than a technology, is the CRW5232's ability to change faceplates. By default, the drive is vanilla beige, but there are two additional faceplates (silver and black) that you can use instead.
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. Not much to say about it as Nero makes another appearance. Unfortunately, this is the Express version, which isn't as fully featured as the full version. The version included is 5.5.10, which is a few revisions behind the current version. Considering the drive was released after version 6 took to the market, it's a shame AOpen could not bundle it.