AOpen, one of the most famous motherboard manufacturers in the world, has  often been accredited with producing some of the most stable and reliable products ever introduced to the hardware world.  Their AP5T/AX5T series of motherboards are virtually unstoppable by any of their competitors.   In recent times AOpen has migrated to manufacturing other products ranging from sound and video cards to system cases.  Navigating into uncharted waters AOpen entered the CDROM market and took the world by storm.


24X 924E - CDROM Specifications

Interface: ATAPI (EIDE)
Disc Data Capacity: Mode 1 - 656MB
Mode 2 - 748MB
Max. Playing Time: 74 minutes 42 seconds
Data Transfer Rate (KB/s)
Mode 1 (Normal Speed): 150
Mode 1 (X Speed): 1800 - 3600
Mode 2 (Normal Speed): 171
Mode 2 (X Speed): 2052 - 4104
Data Buffer Size: 128KB
Drive Mean Time Between Failures: 50,000 POH (25% duty cycle at room temp)
Disc Data Formats Supported: CD-Audio, CD-ROM (modes 1 & 2), CD-ROM/XA
CD-EXTRA, CD-I, Photo-CD, CD-WO, I-Trax CD
CD-RW
Digital Audio Output Port: Two-pin line out connector
Analog Audio Output Port: Headphone jack; Line-out connector

 

36X 936E - CDROM Specifications

Interface: ATAPI (EIDE)
Disc Data Capacity: Mode 1 - 656MB
Mode 2 - 748MB
Max. Playing Time: 74 minutes 42 seconds
Data Transfer Rate (KB/s)
Mode 1 (Normal Speed): 150
Mode 1 (X Speed): 150 * X
Mode 2 (Normal Speed): 171
Mode 2 (X Speed): 171 * X
Data Buffer Size: 128KB
Drive Mean Time Between Failures: 50,000 POH (25% duty cycle at room temp)
Disc Data Formats Supported: CD-Audio, CD-ROM (modes 1 & 2), CD-ROM/XA
CD-EXTRA, CD-I, Photo-CD, CD-WO, I-Trax CD,
CD-RW
Digital Audio Output Port: Two-pin line out connector
Analog Audio Output Port: Headphone jack; Line-out connector

 


The Good

No one would've expected a motherboard manufacturer to be able to produce such a reliable and high quality product, especially a CDROM drive.   AOpen managed to prove the world wrong by releasing a high performance, reliable, and efficient product, without having much experience in the field.  By focusing on reliability, compatibility, performance, and ease of use instead of fancy packaging, and useless shareware programs AOpen managed to keep costs down to a minimum while keeping sight of the important aspects. 

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Unpacking and installing the AOpen 24X is a breeze, included with the drive itself is a 3.5" floppy containing DOS Real-Mode drivers as well as a trademark AOpen manual which completely describes the installation process.   Sometimes manufacturers overlook the obvious when marketing a product, such as including an installation CD with a CDROM drive.  Fortunately AOpen didn't curse us with these oversights when they went about designing their line of CDROM drives.  The fairly detailed AOpen manual included with the drive covers the basic installation of the drive itself, and goes as far as to include a small FAQ section which even includes explanations of sometimes improperly used and confusing buzzwords such as CAV and CLV.

Jumpering the 24X to either the Master, or Slave setting the manual isn't really necessary.  The easy to read markings on the back of the sleek drive casing indicate the Master and Slave settings with a M and a S respectively.  The jumper included is easy to remove and re-install and isn't cramped by any other connectors on the back panel of the drive.  To the left of the cable selection jumpers are 2 audio connectors, a 2 pin digital in connector and a 4 pin analog input connector for greater versatility.  Then to the right of the cable selection jumpers is the actual 40-pin EIDE Host Interface and next to it is the standard 5-pin AT PS connector. 

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Upon booting up the test system, the AOpen motherboard used automatically detected and configured the 24X as a Master on the Secondary EIDE channel, and just to remove any possibility of AOpen having a bias towards their own motherboards I ran all of the tests on an ASUS motherboard afterwards to ensure full compatibility with non-AOpen products.  Windows 95 correctly identified the newly installed CDROM drive and installed the default 95 driver for it without even asking for a manufacturer provided drivers disk.  After a quick reboot for the settings to completely take effect Winbench 97 was used as the testing suite for the AOpen 24X.   However, before we get to the test, let's take a look at the 24X's faults    

The Bad

Although simplicity in a product is something to be commended, there is a limit at which you must really consider whether saving a few bucks is really worth losing a nice software bundle over.  The AOpen CDROM package includes the bare minimum, the drive, the manual, a drivers disk and an audio cable.  By going with the AOpen 24X over a Creative Labs drive for example, you could possibly save a bit of money, however you lose the support, and most of all the bundle that comes with a Creative Labs drive.  Now if you're simply looking for a replacement drive, the AOpen may be the answer to your prayers...otherwise you may want to reconsider the purchase and look towards a more mainstream manufacturer of CDROM drives.

Performance is not much of a problem with the AOpen 24X, however there are a few things the end user should be aware of which aren't incredibly prominent in the included in AOpen's FAQ on CDROM drive terminology.   First of all, the AOpen 24X is not a true 24X CDROM drive (if one even existed), in all actuality it is what the market likes to call a Variable Speed CDROM drive.   Meaning that the speed at which the CDROM drive's motor operates at varies from the inner to outer tracks on the disc itself.  This translates into the innermost tracks of the disc being read at a slower overall rate than the outermost tracks.   Therefore, the AOpen 24X should really be called a 24X-max drive with its max data throughput rate equivalent to that of a true 24X CDROM drive...when reading from the outermost tracks of a disc.  When reading the innermost tracks of a CD the AOpen 24X acts much less like a true 24X and more like a 12X.  It is for this very reason that the performance jump from a standard 8X drive to a Variable Speed CDROM drive isn't very noticeable by most users. 

The quality of the AOpen 24X is fairly decent, however it could be better.  During the tests the CDROM never skipped a track, however the sequential read accesses from the disc itself were quite noisy and caused some minor vibration in the mid-tower the drive was installed in.  This may be a problem if the operating environment calls for an extremely quiet drive, however it shouldn't effect most users greatly.  Now let's get to the performance...

 


Drivers & Bundled Software

The Real Mode DOS Drivers aren't necessary if you are running a properly configured copy of Windows 95, however if you happen to be installing the CD-924E on a DOS only machine then you will need to use the supplied 3.5" floppy.  

No software Bundle Included

 


Incompatibilities

  • No known incompatibilities, the CD-924E worked perfectly with both motherboards it was tested on: AOpen AX6L and ASUS P2L97

 


The Test

Test Configuration

Processor(s): Intel Pentium II 300 (512KB ECC)
Motherboard: AOpen AX6L & ASUS P2L97 LX Based Pentium II Motherboards
RAM: 2 - 32MB Advanced Megatrends SDRAM DIMMs
Hard Drive(s): Western Digital Caviar AC21600H
CDROM Drives(s): AOpen 24X CD-924E; Goldstar 8X (base system)

 

WinBench 97 Version 1.1 CD-ROM Winmark Results
CDROM Drive AOpen 36X CD-936E AOpen 24X CD-924E Goldstar 8X
Test
CD-ROM Winmark 97 1620 1300 556
CD-ROM Playback (KB/s) 1620 1300 556
CD-ROM Access Time (ms - lower is better) 95 95.5 174
CD-ROM CPU Utilization (% - lower is better) 26 14 8.89
CD-ROM Playback Random, 16384 bytes (KB/s) 164 164 72.8
CD-ROM Playback Random, 200 bytes (KB/s) 2.06 2.16 0.941
CD-ROM Playback Random, 2048 bytes (KB/s) 21.1 22.2 9.57
CD-ROM Playback Random, 32768 bytes (KB/s) 309 306 101
CD-ROM Playback Random, 4096 bytes (KB/s) 41.3 43.5 17.1
CD-ROM Playback Random, 512 bytes (KB/s) 5.21 5.53 2.15
CD-ROM Playback Random, 8192 bytes (KB/s) 83.4 85 26.4
CD-ROM Playback Sequential, 16384 bytes (KB/s) 2450 1840 1220
CD-ROM Playback Sequential, 200 bytes (KB/s) 2940 1860 1240
CD-ROM Playback Sequential, 2048 bytes (KB/s) 2970 1870 1250
CD-ROM Playback Sequential, 32768 bytes (KB/s) 2930 1830 1230
CD-ROM Playback Sequential, 4096 bytes (KB/s) 2900 1850 1220
CD-ROM Playback Sequential, 512 bytes (KB/s) 2950 1870 1240
CD-ROM Playback Sequential, 8192 bytes (KB/s) 2930 1850 1230

The AOpen CD-924E seems to rule the board here over the Goldstar 8X it was compared against...however the 14% CPU Utilization of the CD-924E is a very scary figure especially compared to the excellent 8.89% used by the "inferior" Goldstar drive.  If you have an 8X drive and are wondering if you should upgrade, compare your scores to these and see if you notice any significant improvements.  Be sure to look at the access time and CPU Utilization of a CDROM drive before making any purchase.

 


The Final Decision

Looking for an upgrade to your ancient 2X or 4X CDROM drive?  Is your speedy 6X just not cutting it anymore?  If you are constantly using your CDROM drive and find that you just need that extra umph, give the AOpen CD-924E a try...but buyer beware...you won't get all that you may want out of this neatly wrapped puppy. 

 

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