10x DVD-ROM drives: speed to spare

With the new 10x DVD-ROM drives, the practical benefits of the higher speed rating are minimal when you're using DVD media - movies won't play better, and most of the content available on DVD-ROMs today simply can't take advantage of the added speed. Still, that doesn't mean you shouldn't plan on buying a 10x drive if you're looking to add DVD to your system. Eventually, someone will think up a way to use the full 13.85MBps sustained transfer rate offered by 10x DVD-ROM drives. In the meantime, you should get faster performance with the CD-ROMs you'll be using in the drive.

We looked at two of the first 10x DVD-ROM drives available: AOpen's DVD-1040 Pro ($279), and a pre-production Pioneer DVD-104. The Pioneer drive is sold in two retail packs: the DVD-A04SDXE ($399), which comes bundled with Encyclopedia Britannica on DVD; and the $599 DVD-A04SKIT, which includes a DVD decoder card.

Next-generation upgrades

Both the AOpen DVD-1040 Pro and the Pioneer DVD-104 are internal ATAPI drives that offer software DVD decoding. In each case, good documentation paves the way for a smooth installation process.

One unusual characteristic of the drives is that each features a tray-less, slot-fed disk-loading mechanism. That design proves simpler and quieter than the more common tray-based mechanism, and seems less prone to damage, as well. However, if something does go wrong, you'll be in trouble: no emergency eject mechanism is apparent, which means you'll have to disassemble the drive to retrieve the disk - voiding the warranty in the process.

We tested the drives on a 400MHz Celeron system with 64MB of SDRAM. AOpen bundles Cyberlink Software's PowerDVD movie player, which we used to test the movie playback performance of both drives, since our pre-production Pioneer unit did not include any software (it now ships with DVDExpress). Speed was determined by Testa Labs' DVD Tach 2.52 test suite.

According to DVD Tach 2.52, the drives are virtual twins when reading DVD-ROMs, posting identical 6.4x read ratings and 94ms random access times. The AOpen was a statistically insignificant 2ms faster at full stroke access (moving the read head across the entire disc), logging 186ms compared with the Pioneer's 188ms.

However, despite both drives being rated at 40x for CD-ROMs, the Pioneer was clearly the superior CD-ROM reader. It rattled off a 23.7x CD Tach rating, versus the AOpen's lacklustre 18.4x. (The latter mark is within the lower range we commonly see with 32x-rated CD-ROM drives; the former is a little lower than marks posted by typical 40x CD-ROM drives.) Both drives recognised all five DVD movie titles we fed in, and played them smoothly with no hesitation between chapters.

Price a non-issue

Should you pop for a 10x DVD-ROM drive instead of a 6x model? Price will be an issue only if you're really on a tight budget. The DVD-A03SDXP, Pioneer's 6x equivalent to the $399 DVD-A04SDXE, is just $100 cheaper. AOpen's 6x DVD-ROM drive is no longer available, says its Australian distributors.

Of course, if you already have a fast CD-ROM drive, you won't miss anything by sticking with a 6x DVD-ROM drive - few applications today can take advantage of the added speed (although the boost will help application installations go more quickly). However, if you're looking to replace your current CD-ROM drive with a DVD-ROM drive, the superior CD-ROM reading performance of the Pioneer DVD-104 makes it the better choice.

AOpen DVD-1040 Pro

Price: $280

Distributor: Servex

Phone: (02) 8762 3500

URL: www.servex.com.au

Pioneer DVD-104

Price: $399 DVD-A04SDXE; $599 DVD-A04SKITDistributor: Pioneer Electronics AustraliaPhone: 1800 060 852URL:

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