New hybrid drives that combine DVD playback and CD recording have been slowly trickling out to the marketplace, and the first one we got our hands on was the Ricoh MP9120A. With speeds of 12/10/32x (12x write, 10x rewrite and 32x read), plus an 8x DVD reader, the drive rates are up there with the offerings from Plextor and TDK. The Ricoh drive also includes a proprietary technology called JustLink, which is supposed to prevent buffer underruns. In our testing, we only made one coaster, but that coaster was caused by the CD creation software crashing; we’re not sure what went wrong. Overall, though, we were happy with both the speed and the quality of the drive.
Installation of the drive was as easy as possible. We uninstalled our existing CD-ROM drive, turned the computer off, installed the Ricoh drive and turned the computer back on. It was immediately recognized by both the BIOS and Windows. Putting in the driver CD loaded the customized drivers as well as Prassi abCD and a full version of WinDVD 2000. This took all of three or four minutes, including hardware installation, and that was a welcome surprise.
Of course, we were most interested in seeing how well the burner worked, especially with its high speed ratings. For our testing, we used a normal game CD and a lengthy (64 minute) music CD. Since we only had one CD drive, everything was going to have to go to the hard drive first and then to the CD-Writer. The first time we tried to copy the data CD, the software crashed and produced a shiny new coaster. However, we were not able to reproduce the error and the next attempt produced a perfect copy. The music CD took all of 14 minutes to copy, including first copying the entire CD to the hard drive (which is automatic). Considering everything involved in the copy, we were quite impressed with the speed.
When we put the drive on “Test and Record,” the testing phase produced a buffer underrun error but did not ruin the CD-R. Instead, the copy stopped and an error message told us what had happened. Switching the Ricoh drive to be an IDE master instead of an IDE slave fixed this problem. We wanted it as a slave, though, and the only way we were able to get it to work as the slave was to slow the speed of the writing down to 10x from 12x. Considering the speed at which it was writing, this was acceptable, although a mention in the manual about requiring the IDE master setting would’ve been nice.
DVD playback was smooth and without a hitch, although we suspect that the 64MB ATi Radeon video card was partially responsible for that. Even when switching between layers, there was hardly a noticeable stutter, and the video quality was quite nice. The software controls allow most of the controls of a standard DVD player, with chapter skipping, different viewing angles, etc. The 8x speed seemed to be plenty for the DVD movies we tested. The drive ships with a blank CD-R and a CD-RW as well as an SPDIF cable for connecting the CD audio digitally to a capable sound card. One thing we wish they had included is a printed manual. It does come with an install poster, but the manual itself is a PDF file on the CD. Note to manufacturers: We like printed manuals. Also questionable was the flimsy, cellophane-like CD sleeve that holds the driver/abCD disk. Is a jewel case too much to ask for? It makes storing and protecting the CDs much easier (although we could probably just make a copy of the CD now).
Except for the one crash that we couldn’t get to happen again, the drive worked exactly as advertised. It’s awfully convenient to have both a high speed CD-RW and a DVD drive taking up only one IDE channel. Although copying to the hard drive first takes a little more time, the speed of the drive more than makes up for this. Those looking for both a DVD drive and a CD-RW should take the time to investigate this hybrid.