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Appeared on: Friday, July 05, 2002
PleXWriter PX-W4012U CD-RW

1. Introduction

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- Introduction

Plextor's latest model with the codename PX-W4012A was the first recorder that supported 40x writing, leading the writing race. The external USB version of this drive is the PleXWriter PX-W4012U v1.02. The USB 2.0 interface allows manufacturers to develop external drives based to ATAPI ones, with not any performance limitations and additionally, with plug&play features. The firmware of PX-W4012A is new and there will be possible performance variations between this drive and its internal brother.

- Features

We have already met the various technologies behind Plextor PX-W4012A family ("BurnProof", "PoweRec II" and "VariRec") in our PX-W4012A review. The PX-W4012U offers users an extra troubleshooting diagnostic tool. The Selftest function determines whether a possible writing problem is related to the drive or media.

On the rear panel of the drive you can see the Selftest switch. To start the diagnostic test you should firstly turn the power off and unplug the USB cable. Slide back the Selftest cover at the back of the drive and hold the eject button while you turn the power back on. The disc tray will open and you should insert a blank CD. Close the tray and the diagnostic test will start automatically and will take a couple of minutes.

If the disc is ejected automatically after the test, no problem with the device has been detected. In case the indicator produces series of orange blinks, the inserted disc is not blank or it is scratched or dirty. If the CD is not ejected, and the CD indicator produces series of 2 green blinks, an initialization error has occurred. Lastly, if the CD is not ejected and the indicator produces single green blinks, a read or write error has occurred.

- 40x writing speed

PleXWriter PX-W4012U supports the 40x writing speed with the use of the Z-CLV writing technology.

The drive starts writing at 20x, shifts up to 24x at 8mins, up to 32x at 28mins and lastly up to 40x at 54mins. The average theoretical speed is 30.58X, which is improved compared to the initial v1.00 firmware (29.91X).

Plextor PX-W4012U uses a black tray to reduce the jitter and to increase the quality of the burned CD. In addition an optimized PCB (power circuit board) circuit being used to reduce noise to get a higher quality of CD. Both those systems are found in Plextor's PLEXMASTER-01 recorder that costs over $10.000 ,and used for PS2 mastering proposes.

Let's now pass over the recording specifications. The drive supports the following writing modes: Track-at-Once, Disc-at-Once, Session-at-Once, Multisession, and variable/fixed packet writing.

Plextor PX-W4012A drive supports: 4X, 8X, 16X, 20x (CLV) and 20-24X, 20-32X and 20-40X (Zone-CLV) writing speeds, as PlexTools v1.14 reports. The re-writing speeds are 4X, 10X and 12X (CLV):

Plextor no more reduces maximum writing speed when AudioCD format is selected. In the internal PX-W4012A mode, this speed was reduced at 16x-24x, while with the external model it doesn't. The"Seek Time" of the drive is aproximately120ms.

Although Plextor had announced the drive would support Mt. Rainier, with current firmware it doesn't. As our tests have shown, proper Mt. Rainier implementation is difficult for most manufacturers, and Plextor wants to offer the best results. It is not yet known when the drive is expected to support the Mt. Rainier (CD-MRW) format but as soon the format is finalized, new Plextor firmware upgrades will support it.

2. Package - Installation

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- The package

We got the European retail package which contains: PlexWriter 40/12/40U, 5 blank Plextor 80min 40x CD-R disks (made from Hitachi Maxell), 1 blank Plextor 4-10x HS-RW disk, CD-Recording software Nero + InCD (OEM version), Plextor Utility software (PlexTools), manual in 16 languages, 1 USB cable and the AC power adapter. The drive has 2 years of warranty (only valid in Europe, Middle-East and Africa) and Plextor's unique On-Site Collect and return Service (EU countries + Norway and Switzerland).

The PleXWriter PX-W4012U is placed in a well designed silver case. The front panel is black and contains the PleXWriter 40/12/40U logos, indication led, the eject button and the headphone jack.

In the rear panel of the drive you will find the power supply, the USB cable connector, the power switch, the audio connector and the SelfTest switch.

- Installation

The Plextor PX-W4012U was installed through the USB 2.0 interface. The drive was identified as a "PLEXTOR CD-R PX-W4012A". WinXP activated DMA without our interference.

The drive was a June 2002 model with firmware revision v1.02 and TLA#0102 hardware revision. We used Nero v5.5.8.4 CloneCD v3.3.4.1 and Ahead InCD v3.31 for the recording tests.

3. Data Tests
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Data Tests

- Pressed CD results: (Click to see the CD Speed Graph)

At the Nero CD Speed test with PlexTools pressed disc, the PX-W4012U showed the same performance as the PX-W4012A, reading the disc at 31.78x average speed.

In the Seek times test, PX-W4012U seems to be slightly faster than its internal brother, but it still does not take the lead among the other drives.

- CDR Media: (Click to see the CD Speed Graph)

With CDR media, the Plextor external drive shows the same behavior as in the previous test.

For one more time the situation is the same, not much to add.

- HS-RW media: (Click to see the CD Speed Graph)

For the RW tests we used the attached a Mitsubishi Chemical media written at maximum speed. The drive is faster than the PX-W4012A, but cannot take the lead in the test and stays in the third best performance position.

4. CloneCD Tests

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CloneCD Tests

- Procedure

We used CloneCD (v4.0.1.6) and 4 original CDs - Serious Sam 2 (SafeDisc 2), Desperados (LaserLock 2), V-Rally 2 Expert (SecuROM 2) and NBA Jam Extreme (PSX) - in order to test the reading time of the drives. We also tested the reading performance with backups of the original CDs, since the reading speed varies between original and backup media. The following pictures show the drive reading/writing capabilities as CloneCD reports:

- PSX Pressed Media

For this test we used the PSX game 'NBA Jam Extreme' and we ripped the image to the HD with CloneCD. Both Plextor drives and Teac CD-W540E finished the task in just 54 seconds.

- SafeDisc v.2 Results

Unlike to the PX-W4012A, the external drive did not manage to keep the highest performance and gets the second place in both original and backup CD tests.

- LaserLock v.2 Results

With the LaserLock2 protected disc, the PX-W4012U is slightly faster than the PX-W4012A, but cannot lead the original CD test. In the backup CD test the drive improves its speed and gets the third position.

- SecuROM Results

All tested drives can read SubChannel data from Data/Audio tracks. CyberDrive CW078D is the fastest drive and the PX-W4012U gets the last position with a similar behavior to PX-W4012A.

5. DAE Tests

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DAE Tests

DAE features

EAC reports that the drive supports the "caching" feature, provides accurate stream and C2 error info.


Pressed AudioCD results

PlexWriter PX-W4012A ripped the audio files at 28.3x average speed. The drive is slower than the PX-W4021A and CyberDrive CW078D holds the first position with 34.6x.

CDR AudioCD results

Ripping a copy of the pressed audio CD was a little harder for PX-W4012U, and the drive lowered the average speed to 27.7x.

EAC Secure Extract Ripping mode

For each drive we used the build-in detection function:

Tested Drives
Average DAE Speed (X)
CyberDrive CW-078D
Teac CD-W540E
CyQve 4048
Plextor PX-W4012A
Plextor PX-W4012U

Advanced DAE Quality

All tested drives got a 100 score (best) in the Nero CD Speed Advanced DAE test. None of the five drives produced any errors and the PX-W4012U gave a 29.9x average speed, and can read CD-text, subchannel data and leadin/leadout data.

CD-Check Audio Test Disc

Error Level
Plextor PX-W4012U

The PX-W4012U fulfilled the forth level requirement of CD-Check test disc. The drive didn't produce any pops during the playback process until that level.

Bad CDR Media results

The disc has fingerprints and includes light scratches, enough in order cause problems to most of the tested drives. We used CD DAE v0.3beta software to rip the whole disc (756539616 sectors) and the results are posted in the following table:

Average Speed (X)
Errors Of Total Disc (%)
CyberDrive CW-078D
Teac CD-W540E
CyQve 4048
PleXWriter PX-W4012A
Plextor PX-W4012U

The best reader for this test comes from Teac. The drive lowered its reading speed down to 4.5x and managed to produce no reading errors at this roundup. The CyberDrive CW058D comes second a low overall error rate. PlexWriter PX-W4012U was fast but gave a 18.23% error rate.

Ripping 90 and 99mins AudioCDs

Tested Drives
Ripping up to
PlecWriter PX-W4012U
Ripping up to 93min

Reading/Ripping Protected AudioCDs

For the test procedure we used 2 protected AudioCDs, which we tested in both recognition and ripping (with EAC) processes:

* Pressed AudioCD with Sony Key2Audio (Celine Dion - New Day Has Come)
* Pressed AudioCD with Cactus Data Shield 200 (Natalie Imbruglia - White Lilies Island)

Plextor PX-W4012A
Rips entire disc without problems
Rips entire disc without problems under special settings
CyberDrive CW-078D
Rips entire disc without problems
Teac CD-W540E
Rips entire disc without problems
Rips entire disc without problems under special settings
CyQve 4048
Cannot recognize disc contents
Can rip disc contents without any issues
Plextor PX-W4012U
Rips entire disc without problems

As the test results showed, Plextor PX-W4012U can "handle" protected AudioCDs without any issues..

6. CDR Tests

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CDR Tests

- Procedure

We tested the drive with latest version of Nero/CloneCD. We used various media for our tests. For a complete supported media list visit Plextor Europe website. We burned CDs at almost all recording speeds from 20x up to 40x using the SAME amount of data for all drives. The drive will not warn you if a media cannot be burned at 40x or 32x recording speed. Other manufacturers automatically drop recording speed when media cannot handle maximum recording speed. The good in that case is that user can understand which media can be used in each recording speed. With PX-W4012U you just select 40x recording speed, and drive chooses automatically, through PoweRec II system, the appropriate burning speed.

The posted recording times are the best we had from our test results. Using other media can increase the final burning time.

- Recording Tests

For all the recording tests, we used slightly more than 80min data (80:01:47).

At 20x, Plextor external drive gave the same results with its internal brother.

At 24x, the PX-W4012U is just one second faster than the PX-W4012A. The fastest writer in this test is CyberDrive CW078D with 229 seconds.

At 32x, the PX-W4012U gave the third best recording time with 208 seconds, while CyberDrive still holds the first place with 196 seconds.

At the maximum supported writing speed, the PX-W4012U is 8 seconds faster than the Plextor ATAPI drive, and gave the third lower recording time.

- Overburning Tests

Tested Drive
Writing up to
PlexWriter PX-W4012U

- CD-Text Results

The drive can read/write CD-Text without any problems.

- CloneCD Writing Tests

The CloneCD v4.0.1.6 reports that all drives support the DAO-RAW feature. For the EFM correction (SD2 test) we used 'Serious Sam - The Second Encounter" and "Medal Of Honor" game titles. We performed both software/hardware EFM corrections test. The drive supports only software EFM correction. The drive doesn't limit its recording speed under DAO-RAW mode and writes up to 40x, with of course the proper media.

Tested Drives
DAO-RAW writing speed
Software EFM Correction
Hardware EFM Correction
Yes ( v2.50.021+)

7. Writing Quality Tests

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Writing Quality Tests

We used Nero as the CDR software. The produced CDs, were measured from DigitalDrives and results are illustrated in the following tables:

- 32x writing speed

Average Burning Time (mins)
Taiyo Yuden 80min (40x)
Plasmon 80min (24x)
Ritek 80min (24x)

The best quality results for PleXWriter PX-W4012U at 32x come with Plasmon 80min 24x media. Taiyo Yuden 80min 40x discs gave the best writing time but the C1 error rate is higher.

- 40x writing speed

Average Burning Time (mins)
Plextor 80min (40x)
Mitsubishi Chemicals 80min (48x)
Prodisc 80min (32x)
SmartBuy 80min (32x)
Mitsui SG Ultra 80min (40x)

At 40x, the Mitsui SG Ultra 80min 40x media gave a very low error rate. Very good results were also presented with Plextor (Hitachi-Maxell) 80min 40x media, which are bulked with the drive. The overall writing quality of the drive in the supported media is high. With un-supported media, the overall writing time is a higher (up to 10secs), and the writing quality is not as good as you might expected. Lastly, the drive doesn't seem to behave correctly with the new Mitsubishi Chemicals 48x media. Even it gave the best results, the produced quality is not as with other media.

- AudioCD writing quality

We measured the quality of some audio CDs recorded in the maximum 40x speed, at 24x, at 4x and again at 4x with the VariREC feature set to "0". The media we used for all the tests was Mitsubishi Chemicals 80min 48x. You can see the results in the table below.

Speed recorded
Recording time
4x VariREC set to "0"

The graph below comes from the CD we wrote at 40x, and the second one from the 4x recording with the VariREC feature enabled and set to "0"

Notice that the vertical axis is valued in logarithmic scale. The quality in the 4x recording speed is higher than in 40x, even if the difference is not easily recognized. However, the media we used is high quality and in a different case the role of the VariRec feature would be more efficient.

8. RW-Packet Writing Tests

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RW-Packet Writing Tests

The PleXWriter PX-W4012U drive supports 12x re-writing speed with specific media (bulked media). The test results are better than with other drives since the drive finished the task at 6:38mins. The CyberDrive CW078D is the faster drive since it supports 16x re-writing:

- Packet Writing Tests

We used Ahead InCD v3.31 for the packet writing tests with the the bulked HS-RW media. 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 Windows Explorer (we dragged and dropped) and we completed the test twice to eliminate any possible time measurement faults and user errors:

The drive didn't performed as we expected. Even its performance is the same the PX-W4012A, it far away from the TEAC and CyQve drives. Again the CyberDrive CW078D performed higher, due to its 16x re-writing speed.

9. Conclusion

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Positive (+)

Negative (-)

- "BURN-Proof" anti-coaster technology
- "PoweRec II" quality monitor system
- "VariRec" recording mode
- "SelfTest" diagnostic feature
- Plextor promises Mt. Rainier support with firmware upgrade
- 4MB of Buffer
- Good DAE ripping speed
- Good writing quality
- Supports DAO-RAW writing mode
- Can read/write SubChannel Data from Audio/Data tracks
- Supports CD-Text (read/write)
- Supports Overburning (up to 93mins)
- More than complete retail package - Nero 5.5x, 5 pieces of 40x CDR media and PlexTools
- European retail package offers 2 years of warrantee
- Quiet operation

- Maximum reading speed is only 40x
- Doesn't support hardware EFM correction
- Limited media support for 40x writing speed
- Limited support of 12x HS-RW media
- DAE ripping quality needs improvement with scratched media

The PleXWriter PX-W4012U is a new external recorder from Plextor, continuing a tradition of solid and un-problematic operation recorders. The drive is based upon the internal PX-W4012A, but with several enchaments. The drive writes at 40x faster than its twin brother, due to new firmware, and AudioCD authoring is permitted up to 40x. The "PowerRec II" system is again present and in general the writing quality stays in high levels with proper media. No changes found at the VariRec function and a new tool is present called "SelfTest" diagnostics. The retail package is complete and the offered 2 years of warranty (for European users) gives a big motive to possible buyers. Lastly we must note the drives quiet operation, compared to other drives of the same category.

On the negative side, the drive is slower than competition, in reading speeds, due to its lower maximum speed (40X), while the supported media list for 40X is still limited. The DAE performance was a bit lower than what we had measured with the PX-W4012A, and Mt. Rainier is not present, even Plextor claims that it is on the way.

The suggested retail price in Europe is 239 Euro (excl. VAT), but probably the price in shops will be lower. If you are looking for a quality external.recorder, PX-W4012U can cover your needs.

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