Ever since S-ATA standard first came to market in 2003, we've been talking to many manufacturers of optical media and most of the guys took the defensive stance ranging from "lack of demand" to "S-ATA is more complicated than IDE". At the same time, there are millions of S-ATA drives being shipped annually, albeit in gaming consoles. Even the latest Blu-ray and HD-DVD drives are coming to market in parallel ATA variants, which is a worrying trend. Intel and other chipset manufacturers are eager to kill P-ATA support ASAP, by the end of 2007 at worst (965 chipset does not come with P-ATA support). Given the fact that S-ATA actually yields cheaper devices than P-ATA, one must wonder why in the world didn't everyone switch to the new standard sooner, but we won't go into that.
Besides the black mask (available in PC Dirty-WhiteTM as well), it looks just like every other burner...
Luckily, Samsung has come out of the dark and showed us the way. We're reviewing a product that comes from the joint-venture marriage of Toshiba and Samsung named TSST SH-W163A, a multi-format, multi-layer DVD burner which has one significant advantage over numerous competitors in the sector, S-ATA 150 interface.
...however, taking a look at the back shows the way it should be done. P-ATA device is Sony BWU-100A.
We got the device in a bog-plain bulk (aka OEM) package, so we didn't receive any of the goodies hidden inside all those retail boxes. The SH-W163A was packed in anti-static protection bag, equipped with a single CD that contained the manual, link to manufacturer's web-site and that was pretty much that.
Installation of the device was pretty much same as installing a hard drive, unlike CD/DVD/BD/HD-DVD readers and writers of today, the backside features only two connectors, 15 line S-ATA power and 7 line S-ATA data. No over-tight Molex connector fits, master/slave/cable select jumper, no digital or analogue audio in connector, this device will certainly keep the bowels of your PC clean and tidy. We can pretty much imagine that this device could become a standard in all boutique machines with acrylic windows, so that owners can have full and complete look in the inside of their 'puters.
We also discovered one pretty interesting thing, the top of the device features a red LED hidden under the label, just under the marking "Ver. A". This LED lights only when tray operation is happening and during boot time.
The mysterious LED
After booting Windows, zero drivers were necessary, it works just as any other drive. Oddly enough, on a borrowed EVGA nForce 680i motherboard, it will be even available for hot-plug function (W163A appears under Removable Devices). We have tried and unplugged the device during Windows operation, zero problems. But plugging in the device didn't make any progress, so we can preclude that this device is not entirely a hot-swappable.
Info tool shows supported formats. Sadly, Samsung does not support Mount Rainier format, and you're out of luck with DVD-RAM media.
In our table, we have compared the Samsung versus a Plextor PX-760A, a heavy weight burner with an upper-class price tag and a Blu-ray burner, the Sony DWU-100A. This should give you a comparison to where the next-generation devices are when compared to affordable drives of today. Some of the scores are not for the faint-hearted Sony fans.
In order to keep the results as clean as possible, yours truly opted for Office 2007 and the wizardry of 3D tables. We hope that by doing this, you will get a better overview of performance. Feedback on this is appreciated.
Testing was done on our INQtest #2 computer, which consists of the following components:
Intel Pentium EE955 3.46 GHz
Intel D975XBX2 "Bad Axe 2"
2GB A-DATA Vitesta EE DDR2-1066
Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX 256MB
Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 250GB x2
Tagan EasyCon 580W PSU
Zboard WoW Edition
Software wise, we were running Windows XP Professional SP2a, Office 2007 and a typical set of benchmarks. The devices were tested in CDVD Speed, DVD Decrypter, Nero CD/DVD Speed and CD DAE.
Nero CD-DVD Speed, DVD Performance
Continuing with Nero CD-DVD Speed, DVD performance
DVD Decrypter Performance with Superman Returns DVD-DL (8.4GB)
Reference Audio CD (not disclosing the title due to possible questions about author's sexual orientation)
From the tests above, you can see that the Samsung is pretty much on a par with the PX-760A, but beating it significantly in the DVD ripping test. It took over 40 minutes for Plextor to complete ripping my recently acquired Superman Returns HD-DVD/DVD combo edition. Of course, we've ripped the DVD version and performance was surprisingly good.
When it comes to audio ripping speed, we were unpleasantly surprised with our reference Plextor, and Samsung stayed in the range. Back at the days of CD burners, Plextor used to be known as "the man" in the burning industry, since it ripped audio CDs with pretty much stated speed. I still own several SCSI drives and of course, 40/12/40A and 48/24/48A. But, with DVD drives, speed fell to Samsung and Sony levels, so now we can pretty much recommend other companies as well.
We measured the speed of writing using our Verbatim DVD+R 16x mediums. An average of three mediums was used. However, during writing on -R media, the Samsung was burning at 14x, which was less than declared. This would be a serious minus on Samsung's account if there weren't for one small fact: between 14x and 16x, actual difference in burning ends in around 15 seconds.
Samsung and Plextor had zero problems burning the media at their maximum declared speed, with Plextor even burning one media at 18x, however we do not recommend burning the media with anything faster than the declared speed of the media itself.
In conclusion, we can only say that device performed on par with a top model from the burning legend, Plextor's PX-760A. The price point however, clearly puts this device in the lead, since the price in Croatia is in the 25 quid / 30 Euro range. That's about 50 USD for our USA readers, which is half the price of the PX-760A. Seeing how clean the drive looks inside the computer and not causing you a headache with a jungle of cables whilst installing it, we can give the Toshiba-Samsung Storage device named SH-W163A our warmest recommendations.
*Update:* At time of finalizing this review, Samsung launched its SH-S163A, refresh device which differs from reviewed model only by an increased speed of burning DVD+Rs to 18x. Other specifications remained the same.?