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Appeared on: Tuesday, February 19, 2002
TDK Vortex 121032 CD-RW

1. Installation

TDK Vortex 121032 IDE CDR-W - Page 1

In March 2001 TDK decided to reach the 12X recording market with a new CD-RW drive proposal: The TDK Vortex 121032A. The company developed a new CD-RW drive product line, trying to approach the average consumer with a reliable and affordable solution. The TDK Vortex 121032 supports the exact specifications its brother drives do and additional adopts the "JustLink" technology, which helps users eliminate buffer underrun errors during the recording process. The question is whether the new drive can stand the competition. Do we have here an alternative solution for our burning needs? Continue reading...

Supplied Package:
TDK Vortex Retail PackageThe package supplied was the retail Europe version and included: The drive itself, an operation manual, a quick installation guide, an emergency eject tool, 1 CD-R 74min blank, 1 High Speed RW Blank, Audio cables, an IDE cable, mounting screws and a very useful CD-R pen. The software supplied was Nero Burning ROM v5.0.3.0, Ahead InCD v1.8 (for packet writing use) and TDK Digital MixMaster v3.5.

TDK Digital MixMaster is an all around solution, which contains:

-Audio player supporting Wav, Audio CDs, MP3 and VQF files
-Built-in audio equalizer
-Ripping of AudioCDs to WAV files and direct burn to CD capability. Direct conversion of MP3, VQF audio files to WAV files and straight CD burning.
-CD-to-CD copy for both data and Audio CDs.
-Recording from analog sources capability.
-CD cover editing.

Let's take a look at the drive itself. At first look you see a typically coloured drive, except from the tray's front door, which fades to silver-grey. The TDK logo is placed in the middle, as usually. You will also see a led, the eject button and the headphone input jack/volume selector. TDK surprises the beginner user as he presses the eject button: The front of the tray is not what he sees but it comes out straight ahead, totally black and slightly see-through, after bending down the outer silver-grey door. The real tray has a white TDK and a 12/10/32A logo on its front. Here is how the drive looks at first sight:

At the back of the drive we will find the usual connectors (IDE interface, power), the jumpers for setting the drive to Master/Slave option, the analogue and the digital audio output connectors and 3 jumpers which are not used (factory reserved).


ATAPI CDR-W drives are simple to install. Just decide what the drive should be, master or slave, set the appropriate jumper and start! After booting, the CDR-W identified itself as the "TDK CDRW121032A". We unchecked the Auto Insert notification, checked DMA and rebooted. The drive was a March 2001 model with firmware revision v1.00. For most of our tests we used the latest Nero v5.5.1.1 among with Ahead InCD v2.11.

Test Machine:
WinMe OS
Soyo 7VCA
Celeron II 566 over clocked to 850 MHz
128MB SDRAM PC 133
Quantum Fireball EX 6.4 GB UDMA 33
DAWI 2975 - PCI (ULTRA) SCSI Host Adapter
PlexWriter PX-W1210A firmware v1.07 (TLA#000)
Ricoh MP7125A firmware v1.00
Acer 1208 firmware v9.GB
TDK Vortex 121032 firmware v1.00

2. Data Tests

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Data Tests

Test Method:
- SCSI Mechanic v3.0 & CD Speed 99 v0.80 Tests: With these tests we attempted to compare the I/O performance of TDK's Vortex 121032 to other various CDR-W drives (see charts) and we also checked the drive performance. In all of our following tests we used a pressed CD containing PlexTools v1.08 original CD.

- SCSI Mechanic v3.0 results:

The graph above gives TDK Vortex 121032 good chances against the competition since the drive performed well in most of the tests. The Average Random I/O performance (738) places the drive in the second position behind the Acer 1208 (798). At the Average Sequential I/O test all of the drives have almost the same behaviour with a slight leading to the Plexwriter PX-W1210A. Lastly, at the Same Sector I/O test TDK Vortex 121032 did not manage to reach the remarkable Plexwriter PX-W1210A performance (13150) but it came up with better results against the three remaining drives. You could also notice that Ricoh MP7125A performed in an almost identical way to the TDK Vortex 121032.

- CD Speed 99 v0.80 results: (click here to see the CD Speed 99 graph)

At the CDspeed 0.80 reading performance test all the drives tried to reach the 25X average speed. All the drives started their reading session at approximately 14,5X and ended at almost 32X, as expected. TDK Vortex 121032 performed adequately in the above tests delivering a smooth operating behaviour.

Seeking time results of TDK Vortex 121032 are not so good compared to the other drives. Acer 1208 holds the first place since it gave some very good times when was tested. TDK could calibrate the drive's mechanism a little better.

3. RW reading tests
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RW reading tests

For the RW tests we used the Verbatim HS RW media written at 10x speed. The TDK Vortex 121032 performed better than any other of the tested drives since it gave back a 24.77X average reading speed. Vortex also appeared to have the best "Speed start" and Speed End performance. Notice the really small differences between the TDK's and Ricoh's results...

CloneCD Tests

- Procedure:
We used CloneCD (v3.0.0.9) and 3 original CDs (Rally Masters, Euro2000 and Vrally 2 Expert) in order to test the reading time of TDK Vortex 121032. We also tested the reading performance with backups of the original CDs since the reading speed varies among original and backup media. For comparison reasons we added the results of the already tested PleXWriter PX-W1610A, Acer 1208 and Ricoh MP7125A.The following picture is showing the TDK's Vortex 121032 device capabilities:

- Results:

a) SafeDisc Results: Euro 2000 (Total: 257982 sectors - 10141 bad sectors) - Reading Speed: Max

As you can easily see theTDK drive managed to overcome PleXWriter's results in making an image of the Euro 2000 pressed CD. The drives had the exact reverse behaviour concerning the backup CD testing. PleXWriter takes the advantage with 42,4 more reading sectors/sec. The other two drives should probably work more on increasing their error skipping capabilities...

b) LaserLock Results: Rally Masters (Total: 321528 sectors - 6317 bad sectors) - Reading Speed: Max

TDK Vortex 121032 gave some great reading results with the Laserlock protected CDs. The TDK's reading performance from the original CD is good but it is even better as the drive accesses the Backup CD. In this part of the test, Vortex reported almost 406 (Bad sectors/sec) more compared to the second best performance from the PleXWriter.

c) SecuROM Results: Vrally2 Expert - 343767 sectors

Still very good performing, the TDK Vortex 121032 is better in the OriginalCD reading. As for the Backup CD testing, the 1364,15 sectors/sec reported, places the drive to the second position behind the PleXWriter PX-W1210A drive.

4. DAE Tests
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DAE Tests

- Test Method:
We used CD DAE 99 v0.21 beta and EAC v0.9 prebeta 9 software in order to check the DAE performance of TDK Vortex 121032 with various AudioCDs. We brought EAC back to the testing arena since many of you requested it. Note that the posted DAE results are the average of both applications, but the CPU usage is only taken from CD DAE 99. EAC seems to occupy the system much more. As a last note, we used the "BURST" reading mode of EAC. We made a full CD Rip starting from the first to the last track of the CD. The Average DAE reported speed along with the CPU Usage is displayed in the test graphs.

- DAE features:
We used EAC v0.9 prebeta 9 to examine the drive's features. As the program reported, the drive isn't "Caching" data and supports "Accurate Stream" and "C2" error info.


- Pressed AudioCD results: (click here to see the graph)
All tested drives supports 32x DAE (max) according to their specifications. Our tests showed that the PX-W1210A still holds the fastest DAE performance in this category with 24x average ripping speed. TDK Vortex 121032 comes second with 23.4x. You should also consider the fact that TDK occupied the highest CPU utilization (33%) among the other drives had done.

- CDR AudioCD results:
As it seems theTDK Vortex 121032 works slightly better with CDR media and gave faster ripping speed (23.5x) reducing the gap with the first PX-W1210A:

- Advanced DAE Quality:

We can see that all drives got 100 (perfect) score in the Advanced DAE Quality tests. The TDK Vortex 121032 gave a good performance almost equal to the PlexWriter's. The Advanced test confirmed that the drive supports reading of CD-Text and SubChannel data:

- Ripping 90 and 95mins AudioCDs
The Ricoh MP7125A doesn't seem to like reading anything further than 86minutes.. From our tests with both 90 and 99minutes CDs the drive stopped reading at around 86minutes and returned an error message.. :(

Reading 90minutes CD >> Reading 95minutes CD

5. CDR Tests
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CDR Tests

The TDK Vortex 121032 drive supports 12x writing among with the "JustLink" anti-coaster technology. We used the CD Speed 99 build-in writing speed test which confimed the 12x writing speed (12.02x average):

PadusDJ  writing features screen- Procedure: We tested TDK Vortex 121032 with Nero v5.5.1.1, CloneCD v3.0.0.9, Padus DJ v3.00.780 software and with the following media: Verbatim 74min (16x) & 80min (16x), Mitsui 74min (16x), Prodisc 80min (16x) (red bottom) and with TDK/Plextor/Verbatim 74min HS RW. We didn't saw any particular problems with the various tested CD-R.

- CD-R Tests:
We created "DataCD" job with data slight higher than 74mins (74:03:65). We burned the same job with all 4 CDR-W drives:

As you can see, there are differences between the four (4) tested drives. TDK Vortex 121032 holds the lowest writing time as the following drive Ricoh MP7125A is about 5 secs slower. In this test PX-W1210A is surprisingly out of the race (with 416secs). The CPU Usage is very good although it is 0.5% lower than the second best performer, Ricoh MP7125A.

- 80min CDs:
As with the previous test, we created a DataCD (80:02:16) and used the same media for all burns:

TDK Vortex 121032 and Ricoh MP7125A drives gave the lower burning time in this test. Plexwriter and Acer are 6 to 9 secs slower.

- Overburning Tests:
We used 90 and 99min CDs (from Medea International and Copy4All) and using Nero we were able to write up to 89minutes. The TDK Vortex 121032v however doesn't seem to like 99min CDs at all since all overburning tests with CD Speed 99 and Feurio failed (even if we tried max time 89mins). The 90min media could be written entirely.

- AudioCD Tests:
We created several Audio CDs (including CD-Text). All of the CDs we created were tested with the Plextor PX-40TS and Plextor's CD-Text compatible CD player. From what we saw, everything worked just fine.

- CloneCD Tests:
The TDK Vortex 121032 supports both DAO and SAO-RAW writing modes according to the CloneCD v3.0.0.9. Our tests results confirmed that the drive works with DAO- RAW.

Something noticeable is that the CloneCD doesn't recognize that the drive supports simulation writing. We guess that CloneCD author will support the new Vortex model soon...

SD2 Support:
For the SD2 test we used the "No One Lives For Ever" CD title. We used TDK Vortex 121032 both as reader/writer. The produced backup didn't play using the same driver or any drive we tried to test so we could say that TDK Vortex 121032 cannot support SafeDisk 2 protected media.

- Buffer Underrun tests:
The TDK Vortex 121032 supports "JustLink" anti-coaster technology. During our tests "JustLink" worked very good even if while the testing computer worked at full CPU/HD load. The gap lenght of the JustLink technology is under 2micro meters, which is lower than the BURN-Proof technology in terms of absolute numbers.

Verdict of CDR Results:
The TDK Vortex 121032 worked very well in our writing tests. The drive burned without any complaints all the inserted media. The recording times are the best in the internal competition and very close to those the Ricoh MP7125A has given. The drive supports overburning up to 89minutes and doesn't work at all with 99min CDs.The "JustLink" technology is there and works very well against buffer underrun problems. Finally, the CloneCD users will find the adoption of DAO-RAW writing feature very useful for the backup of their CDs. :)

6. RW Writing Tests
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RW Writing Tests

We used Nero for writing CDs at the maximum RW speed for all the tested drives. All other drives wrote at 10x RW writing speed (Acer 1208 supports only 8x HS-RS):

It took 481 sec for TDK Vortex 121032 to write fully a HS-RW CD, which is a quite good performance just 2 sec below PlexWriter's (479 sec). The procedure occupied the 8,8% of the CPU, percentage close enough to the one the Ricoh MP7125A gave.As for the quick erasing time it was still in acceptable levels giving a 49 sec performance.

- Packet Writing Tests:
We used Ahead InCD v2.11 for all Packet Writing tests. The drive is packaged with v1.80 and we suggest upgrading to the latest one. We used Verbatim HS-RW media and we formatted it. The formatting of the media takes around 7min. After formatting, we tested all four drives for their packet writing performance.

The formatted disc had 534mbs of free space. We copied a 403 MB file (403.147 kbs) from a Hard Disk (on the same PC as the writers) to the formatted RW media-using explorer (we dragged and dropped) we completed the test twice to eliminate possible time measurement faults and user errors:

The results show that TDK Vortex 121032 has a very good packet reading/writing performance. The drive managed to give around 7.09x writing speed and around 15.9x reading speed. Both results are again very close to those Ricoh MP7125A had given according to our previous review.

7. Conclusion
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Positive (+):

Negative (-):

- Supports "JustLink" anti-coaster technology
- Good DATA reading performance
- Good DAE ripping performance
- Very good performance with various CDR media
-Very good CloneCD reading performance
-Supports HS RW standard (10x re-write)
-Supports DAO-RAW
-Supports CD-Text
-Supports Overburning (write up to 89mins)
-Supports reading of SubChannel data
-Very good packet writing performance
-Very good retail package/software

- Doesn't support 99min CDs
- High price ($232+V.A.T)
- Doesn't backup SD2 protected CDs

TDK Vortex 121032 is the first TDK drive that supports "JustLink" anti-coaster technology. The drive's general performance was very good as far as it concerns the Data/DAE various tests. The drive tends to be an alternative solution for the 12x CD-RW drive category. Does it manage it? We could say yes having in mind the good results TDK gave against the Ricoh. Our main objection is the TDK 's high price although the company officially claims that the drive is an affordable solution. Maybe prices drop down due to competition…

However if you decide to buy the drive, it will keep you satisfied in most of your daily tasks. The CloneCD users will be pleased from the drive's high reading performance but will be disappointed from the drive's ability to produce partial working SD2. In general the drive doesn't have any major drawbacks that could stand in your way heading to the nearest store :)

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