Joe's Equipment FAQ

Enough people have asked me why I bought my Plextors that I thought I'd collect all of the most common questions together into a FAQ. It'll save me from having to re-write the same email response every time I get asked.

What equipment do you use? How much did it cost?
I am currently using a Plextor PX-32TSi source, a PX-R820TS burner, and an AdvanSys SCSI card (I'll post the exact model next time I reboot :) Total package cost was around $610. I'm running this on an NT 4.0 box.

Where did you get it?
I got it all mail-order at buy.com. The best thing to do, though, is to use a service like Shopper.com to do the price searching for you. (I'm not affiliated with either place.)

Is this the first burner you had?
Why no, it isn't. I originally bought an Acer 6206a IDE burner for just under $200. There were a couple of things that I liked about it, and many things I did not. On the positive side, the price was nice, and I needed no additional hardware (i.e. I did not need to buy a SCSI card).

On the negative side, it was slow (2x), and I had to be very conscious of letting my machine do anything at the same time as I was burning, for fear of coasterizing™ the CD. It eventually got to the point where I would only burn CDs while watching TV, running upstairs to check the burn during commercials. In addition, I could not read CDs created with this model burner on many machines at work, either data or audio CDs. I say this model because we use the same model at work to create data CDs, and the same machines that could not read my audio CDs could not read the data CDs. Because of this, a few traders had trouble reading/ripping from them.

All of that is applicable to most low-end IDE drives, not just the Acers (except for the reading/ripping problem). What really set Acer apart was trying to get their Tech Support to help me with the problem of not being able to read the CDs. After many, many hours on the phone with them, they finally refused to say anything other than "Buy a new player". Yeah right. I bought a new burner.....

Why did you decide on Plextor in general, and these Plextor models in particular?
Well, I've got to say that this was all made possible by an unexpected bonus from work. What better way to squander new-found money than on computer toys?

Starting out I had a target amount in mind on what I was willing to spend, somewhere around $500-600. So I read thru a whole bunch of FAQs and postings and found that folks generally regarded Plextor as one of the best manufacturers (if not the absolute best manufacturer). So, I trundled off to Plextor's Web Page to see what they had to offer. They had just recently come out with their 8x burner. Having targeted a 4x burner, I wanted to find out if the 8x was really worth the difference, and was the hardware stable. So I poured thru countless Deja News articles on the subject and could not find one bad word about the burner. And I guess I was sucked in by the ads ("Burn 650 Meg of audio or data in only 9 minutes!").

So I knew that I was going to go for the 8x burner. That meant that I needed a SCSI card, which in my mind meant an Adaptec card. And if I was going to bother going the SCSI route, I may as well get a SCSI source CD-Rom so that I could do direct CD->CD burns.

If you wanted an Adaptec card, why did you get an AdvanSys card?
Plextor had a CD-Rom/SCSI card bundle, which came with either an Adaptec card or an AdvanSys card. I asked the folks at Plextor several times if there was any way to ensure that I got an Adaptec card, and they assured me there was not. They also told me that Adaptec made the AdvanSys cards, or they used the same chipset, or something like that. And when I priced things out, it was actually cheaper to buy the Plextor bundle than it was to buy either of the two SCSI cards by themselves! Go figure.

Was the SCSI card hard to setup? Was it Plug-n-Play?
I was very leery of setting up the SCSI card, as I haven't done it in almost a decade, and it used to be a real bitch to do. And I'm running NT, so there is no Plug-n-Play. But, it was painless, completely painless! Basically, I installed the card and the equipment, booted up, added the SCSI card in the Control Panel, and then rebooted. The SCSI card itself Plug-n-Play-ed the SCSI equipment and NT recognized both devices! This type of Plug-n-Play is a feature of most modern SCSI equipment and cards, called SCAM (kinda scary acronym, eh?). It stands for SCSI Configuration Auto Magically. Quite nice!!

Why didn't you get the 40x source?
Well, I checked around and most places recommended that your source be twice as fast as your burner. So, I really only needed a 16x source. But the 32x & 40x Plextor models feature flawless DAE (Digital Audio Extraction), which is something I was interested in. The price difference between the two was not that much, but I didn't see a need for anything more than the 32x model, so I figured that I would save a few bucks. I was already pushing the high end of what I was willing to spend.

Does the source drive really do flawless DAE?
Yes, the source really does flawless DAE. But, that's not good enough according to some folks. In order to ensure flawless DAE, you still have to use software like EAC. That's fine for the archivists, but I am not willing to spend 20 minutes to 12 hours to extract audio. I try to be very up front about it, so that those who wish to can avoid trading with me. If you make the same decision, I suggest that you too be very up front about it.

Why go on and on about the source drive?
Well, poor components and/or poor techniques can significantly degrade the sound quality to the point of a CD being unlistenable, introducing such things as jitter, pops and glitches (see the CD-R FAQ below for definitions of these phenomena). Most if not all of these things are introduced during the audio extraction phase of the process. Generally speaking (and I may be over-simplifying things a bit), once you extract the data, the burner will write the bits accurately. That ACER drive produced accurate copies of the extracted audio; there was just something in how it got formatted that made it flaky.

So, the source CD is the one that is primarily responsible for the quality of your burns! Therefore, the burner features that I was most interested in were compatibility and speed. Both of which I got in the 8x Plextor burner.

Do you have any trouble finding blanks that can take an 8x burn?
Not at all. There are many CD blanks that can take the 8x burn no problem. In general, I stick with brands and part numbers on Plextor's Recommended Media list. In particular, I use Mitsuis, 6x and 8x Certified Plus TDKs, and an occasional Verbatim. I do not use Kodaks, as not all of the ones that say they are 8x compatible really are. Also, I do not recommend the $1-a-piece no-name blanks.

Would you do it again?
In a heartbeat. No doubts about it!

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Joe's Equipment FAQ / 31 December 2000 / headlight@northbound-train.com
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