Head to Head: 8X CD-ROM drives
By Marc Spiwak
Even though most software is still optimized for 2X CD-ROM drives, that old 2X just doesn't provide the zippy performance and fast file transfers of the latest 8X models-of which there are plenty. I looked at three different 8X drives: two internal IDE models-a Sony and a TEAC-and an external Philips SCSI-2 drive.
The distinctive design of the Philips PCA80SC external SCSI ($259) will grab your attention-it looks like a subwoofer. You'll either love the design or you'll hate it. On the back of the Philips drive you'll find two traditional SCSI connectors, a power switch, a pair of RCA audio output jacks and a push-button SCSI ID selector switch. If you already have a working SCSI adapter in your system, you simply connect this drive to the chain, making sure it's set to an unused SCSI ID.
Thankfully, the Philips unit does not use a disc caddy-many SCSI drives still do. Other convenient features include a headphone jack and volume control on the front panel, as well as a full set of CD controls. If not used for five minutes, the drive goes into power-save mode.
The Philips drive supports all popular formats and will play both 8- and 12-centimeter discs. The manufacturer claims that the drive will sustain a 1.2MB per second data-transfer rate and has a 195-millisecond average access time. These numbers were mostly substantiated by our tests using Quarterdeck's CD Certify Pro. We measured the transfer rate at 1.22MBps and the access time at 210ms.
Sony's CSD-880E ($139.99) is an 8X internal ATAPI drive for use with the IDE controllers built into most motherboards. It's a good choice if your system doesn't already have a SCSI controller. IDE CD-ROM drives are as fast as SCSI drives, and this Sony drive is actually a bit faster than the Philips SCSI model. Sony claims a data-transfer rate of 1.2MBps and an access time of 160ms; my tests confirmed both.
The 880E has a headphone jack, volume control and eject button on the front panel. It doesn't require a disc caddy. The drive comes with a navigator diskette that examines your system and recommends the best installation procedure. I was advised to connect the drive as a master on the motherboard's secondary IDE controller (an IDE controller card is included in case you need it). For Windows 95, the Plug-and-Play installation could not be easier; the installation procedure for Windows 3.1x was also simple.
TEAC's entry, the CD-58E CD-ROM drive ($149), has the same front-panel configuration as the Sony. It also looks like the Sony, but according to my tests, the TEAC has a much faster access time. TEAC claims a 1.2MBps transfer rate and a 125ms access time. My tests confirmed the transfer rate and clocked the access time at 136ms.
The CD-58E includes drivers for Windows 3.1x and DOS. If your system's IDE controllers are all in use, you'll have to supply your own IDE controller card. I looked for major performance differences among these three drives, but uncovered nothing noteworthy. However, if you do a lot of database searching, fast access time is most desirable.
Different drives utilize varying amounts of CPU power, and CD Certify can determine how much of a CPU's resources are involved. Testing showed the Sony unit imposed an 11 percent load and the TEAC only 2 percent.
The results for the Philips SCSI drive (100 percent, zero percent and 69 percent at various settings) were confusing; CPU load for a SCSI device should be negligible. To test each drive under actual conditions, I copied the Weezer video (31MB) from the Windows 95 CD to the hard drive on a Pentium 200. No matter which drive I used, the file took about 26 seconds to copy.
Next, under multitasking conditions, I ran the Weezer video simultaneously in three separate windows off the hard drive, and copied the same file onto the hard drive from the Windows 95 CD. Surprisingly, the SCSI drive took the longest. The Sony came in first at 32 seconds, followed by TEAC at 34 seconds, while the Philips drive completed the file transfer in 38 seconds.
While none of the three drives appears to be a clear-cut performance leader, adding a CD-ROM drive for Windows 95 is easiest-and costs the least-if you connect via IDE. However, if your system already has a SCSI adapter, you'll find the Philips unit more expensive but far more versatile. TEAC's CD-58E 8X CD-ROM drive has a faster-than-usual access time.