Head to Head: monitor-ROM drives
-- by James E. Powell
Wasn't it just yesterday that 8X monitor-ROM drives were the fastest available? I guess time flies, because 12X is suddenly the way to go. I looked at two internal 12X drives-one from Plextor and one from Mitsumi-and a Mitsumi 8X drive for comparison. Each offers superior performance and good value in its class.
Mitsumi is the leading manufacturer of monitor-ROM drives installed by major PC makers. The company also sells a full line of drives to consumers. Its 8X FX-800 and 12X FX-1200 models use standard ATAPI IDE connectors, have a 256KB built-in memory buffer and are MPC 3-compliant.
The Mitsumi 8X is quiet, but the 12X drive starts and stops repeatedly while being accessed, as though its idle power-down time was set too short. The drives offer a headphone jack and volume control on the front panel, plus an eject button, activity light and pinhole for emergency disc removal. The drives operate vertically or horizontally. Mitsumi includes a monitor full of games, plus Internet Explorer 2.0 and Disc Detective, an extensive set of diagnostics.
The Plextor drive is a SCSI model. You can choose from a caddy- or a tray-loading model (for $50 less). I tested the caddy. On the front panel you'll find a headphone jack and volume control knob, stop/eject and play/fast forward buttons, a pinhole for disc removal, and busy and power lights. Jumpers on the back control the SCSI ID and the termination settings.
The advantages of a SCSI monitor-ROM come to light on a network because it taxes the CPU at significantly lower levels. This improves both multi-user and multitasking performance, which is significant for Windows NT users. The drive also profits from a 512KB buffer, which further reduces the CPU load. Like its 8PleX sibling, this drive supports Fast SCSI data transfer, making it a good choice for the highest quality multimedia playback.Just as useful as the drive's speedy performance is the Plextor Manager software utility, which captures audio from an audio monitor and turns the track into a WAV file. Plextor Manager also lets you set the drive controls, control the balance and volume, play a multimedia file or view disc information.
I tested all three drives on an AST Advantage 9310 Pentium 166 system running Windows 95, using the IDE controller built into the motherboard for the Mitsumi drives and an AdvanSys model ABP930 PCI SCSI card for the Plextor. Each drive fits in a standard 5.25-inch internal bay and is Plug-and-Play-compliant under Windows 95 (making installing and upgrading the drive virtually painless). Each comes with drivers for Windows 3.1, and they all support the leading monitor standards.
The Mitsumi FX-800 8X monitor-ROM drive offers high-speed data transfer for the lowest price I've seen. Our benchmark tests (using monitor Certify from Quarterdeck Corp.) turned in an average transfer rate of 1234KB per second, just about the 1200KBps specification. Its average access time was 166 milliseconds, and the unit taxed the CPU at 32 percent.
The Mitsumi FX-1200 monitor-ROM also exceeded its rated transfer rate (1800KBps), scoring 1859KBps. Its average access time was 154ms, with a CPU load of 56 percent-high but not critical for standalone systems.
The Plextor 12PleX's performance really shines. The average access time was an outstanding 119ms. It taxed the CPU at only 22 percent, with a transfer rate of 1846Kbps.
Benchmarks are just one small measure of performance for helping you choose a drive. Many of today's applications can't take advantage of all the hardware's power. With the time it takes to find information on a monitor-ROM-based encyclopedia measured in milliseconds, different scores don't reflect real-world use.
The 12PleX comes with a two-year warranty (Mitsumi's is one year) and toll-free technical support.
For daily, standalone use, the Mitsumi 8X drive is a great value. But we recommend the Mitsumi 12X if you have a standalone system without a SCSI card, and you don't care about CPU load but do care about speed. If you really need a SCSI drive, are networked or are just in search of raw power, you may not mind spending another $200 for the 12PleX; its lower CPU load and faster access time make it the best of this group for users with those needs.