UPDATE on my hand picked drive & IMPORTANT NEWS
Based on this, it might be an idea to postpone your PX712 review until the end of August ...
Ok so let's take it step by step.
First, Plextor contacted me today and told me that they have shipped my hand picked unit (also known as the 3rd unit ). Unfortunately I'll only get it on Monday, so I can't test it over the weekend. Nothing extraordinary about this, as it was expected to happen ...
But the e-mail from Plextor was quite comprehensive, and very interesting indeed. They have worked quite hard in the past week to hand pick a good unit for me and according to them, they have found one which works well with most media. This wasn't an easy task it appears...
They have also acknowledged that there are some units out there, which do not perform as expected on some media, while working great on other media. They have worked hard to find out why this happens and how can it be fixed, and they have finally found an answer. There are two answers in fact:
1. There are some media manufacturers behaving badly; in other words, they use the same media codes as high quality media, but the quality of the discs is not as good (poor quality control I suspect, or even worse).
From their email, my understanding is that currently the drive determines its writing strategy only based on the media ID code ... and when the media quality is not as good as expected, the results are pretty bad, because this strategy is not adapted to take into account the differences in quality to start with ... this would explain why some other drives like NEC seem to deal way better with cheaper media, in spite of the fact that usually the quality of cheaper media varies quite a lot. Probably NEC is taking this into account. But there are good news in store for us ... Plextor is currently working hard on a new firmware release which will adapt the writing strategy to the quality of the media.
I expect this new firmware will be a significant improvement over current firmwares and it will even bring back the King's "lost" crown
Right, this will cater for low quality media you'll say, but what about all those drives which do not work properly with high quality media either? Good point! 2. Well, there is a technical reason behind all these units exhibiting "selective" defects (e.g. they work OK with some media but don't like other media at all, in spite of being high quality media and sometimes even on the recommended media list) ... and they have found the reason for this strange behaviour. It seems that the problem lies with the circuitry which determines the laser writing power required to write certain media, particularly with the tolerance of the electronic components which are part of this circuit ...
Now, for those of you who do not know what the tolerance of an electronic component is, I'll give you a short explanation. When manufacturers produce electronic components of a certain value X, they mark that component as having value X. However, the manufacturing process is not ideal, so if one measures the actual value of the component, it will find that the measured value is not X but rather X+/- a certain percentage T. This percentage is the tolerance (T) of the component. The manufacturers will guarantee that the value of a certain component which belongs to a tolerance class T, will be inside of the [X-T, X+T] interval. Hence each component will be marked with both its value X and its tolerance class T. A typical tolerance value is 5%. However the manufacturers can also produce precision components, with tolerances of 0.5% or even lower, but obviously these components are more difficult to manufacture and hence more expensive. Besides this, the parameters of an electronic component (like the value), will also change function of the parameters of the environment in which that component works. The ambient temperature is usually the worse factor. Manufacturing components which do not change their value with the temperature is usually a very difficult task.
OK, let's come back to our problem. The important thing is that Plextor said that they will be able to fix this problem too, via a firmware update. This will cure all these "sick" drives. However, they pointed out that this is not an easy task which can be done in a week, but they are working hard to release a firmware fix as soon as possible (by the end of August). This firmware fix will also sort out the writing strategies as described at point one. They also asked me not to recommend people to RMA their drives anymore, as at the moment there is no 100% solution to this problem. This means that the drive you receive can suffer of the same symptoms (like it happened in my case) ... these symptoms could manifest themselves with the same media or with different media... Their advice is to hold on to our units until the end of August when they'll release the firmware fix, and meanwhile to write media only at its advertised speed (e.g. 4x) rather than at the maximum available speed (e.g. 8x). They haven't mentioned what we should do in case we can't write 8x media at 8x ... but I guess we'll have to write it at 4x until we get the firmware fix.
As a pure speculation, it seems to me that each drive is affected more or less ... with some drives crossing the threshold sometimes and behaving badly. It might be that there is quite a significant number of misbehaving drives around, and probably this is why many people regard this drive as being very picky. This would also explain why it took them a week to find a good drive for me... or maybe they were just busy with other things or users
It seems to me that this upcoming firmware fix has the potential of finally transforming this drive into a winner and make us happy! Let's hope so!
Now probably Plextor won't like very much that I've posted this information, but I really think that all the users affected of this "bug" have the right to know what's happening ... It is also in Plextor's interest to come clean on this one, if they care about their existing and new customers, and that's what they did in my case, which deserves to be saluted !!! In the light of what Plextor is saying now, it should be probably better to hang on with your unit until they'll release the firmware fix ... especially for non-EU people who will actually have to pay to have their drive sent to Plextor. Until the fix comes, write only media which you've found to work well with your unit, or stick with 4x ...
Overall I have to say that their technical support was very good, for which they deserve a big thanks! To be honest, this is the only reason for which I'm still a Plextor customer after all these problems
That's why I've only mildly criticised them in this post ... although as an electronics engineering professional I think that the engineer who designed that particular piece of circuitry should be shot
Ups I've said it
Finally, sorry for the length of this post, which I hope it will help quite few people ... there's still hope for the King