Shuttle 56x CD-ROM

Introduction

Having taken a job as a technician in a local PC repair shop, I can tell you - All CD-ROMs are not created equal! Frankly I was amazed at how many I had to replace in the first month alone; these from a variety of manufacturers.

Reviewing a CD-Rom drive should be simplicity itself.  They're easy to install and there are any number of benchmark applications available to test them with. 

The first thing we ought to do however, is make clear that the speed rating, whether 36x, 40x, 50x et. al. are, to my way of thinking, a bit fishy.  While the speed ratings are meant to denote the  "burst speed"   of 150K/sec. per (x) I have yet to test a drive that came anywhere near to functioning at its rated speed.  Data bursts are so fast as to be difficult to measure and so are averaged in to the overall normal operating read/transfer data rate from the beginning, middle and end of the track and this is how it should be.  The innocuous 45x, 56x, or now even as high as 72x seem more a marketing appellation than a description of the true nature of the device.  Don't get me wrong, data transfer bursts are relevant if you play CD-ROM games at near peak performance.  On the other hand, since I am incapable of such furious game play, I would prefer a drive that is reliable, quiet, and exhibits a low level of distortion from vibration while playing audio CDs.

Features

Setup

Installing or replacing a CD-ROM is a fairly simple task and the included documentation covers all the necessities. I recommend the use of small plastic washers when mounting the drive into the case to reduce noise and vibration but these aren't included or required.  Just make sure that the screws are fairly snug.  Once the drive is in place its only a matter of hooking up the power supply and IDE cable and the analog audio cable to the sound card and you're ready to close up the case and turn on your PC.  If you are using Windows 9x, you needn't worry about configuration as it is handled by the operating system.

Performance

I was interested to see if the Shuttle 56x would perform any better than the current line of 40-50x CD-ROMs I'd been in contact with lately (AOpen, ASUS, Toshiba, etc.) which tend to operate at a sustained transfer rate ranging fro 13x-18x.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Shuttle 56x seems to maintain a sustained transfer rate between 21x and 22x and although the access times were a bit slower - 113ms (full-stroke) as opposed to the advertised 80ms, CPU utilization was an extremely low 2.5-3%

Testbed For Shuttle 56x CD-ROM

Mainboard EPoX EP-MVP3G2
Processor AMD K6-2 450MHz
Memory 64MB PC133
Hard Drive Western Digital 6AA 6.4G
UltraATA/66
Graphics Card  Matrox Millennium G400
Operating System Windows 98 SE

I first tested the drive with a demo version of TestaCD Labs CDTach 98 with the following results...

Then I put it throu several passes of Sisoft's Sandra 99 CD-ROM Benchmark...

As you can see the Shuttle 56x offers excellent performance marks.

Conclusion

   Probably the most impressive of all of the Shuttle 56x's attributes is it very quiet operation.  Where many of the newer high speed CD-ROM drive sound like a vacuum cleaner, the Shuttle drive is reasonably low-noise. The other thing I was impressed with with the feel of and reliability of the motorized load/eject mechanism.  The analog out device of the Shuttle drive also seems to be of excellent quality as audio CDs played clean with great response at both ends of the sound spectrum and no evidence of distortion from vibration.

At a suggested retail price of $70.00 USD the Shuttle 56x can probably be found on the web for around $55.00 and this seems a very good value for money.  While the long term reliability of the drive is something I can't yet verify, the mbtf rating on the box, it seems wholly reasonable to expect the drive to perform satisfactorily for 2 or more years. 

To find out more about this and other quality components check out Shuttle's web site at http://www.spacewalker.com  

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