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Review of Formac's 12/10/32 CDRW Firewire Drive
By Mike Breeden
Published: 4/9/2001
(Updated 4/23/2001 for Toast 5.01 Tests)

Update: On 5/1/2001 Apple released an OS X 10.0.2 update and iTunes 1.1.1 update for OS X which adds CDRW support. After the updates OS X iTunes does detect the Formac Firewire CDRW drive in the Preferences/Advanced tab (shows Teac 512, the drive inside the Formac case). I've added results of OS X iTunes 1.1.1. audio CD Burn times with the Formac drive below. (On 5/4/2001, OS 9's software updates notes there's an Authoring Support 1.1 update that readers noted added Teac drive support for OS 9's iTunes 1.1 also.)

I received a review loaner of Formac's 12/10/32 Firewire CDRW drive. I've tested the drive with a PB G3 firewire, a PB G4 and a dual G4/500 using Toast 4.1.2 and iTunes/Disc Burner (with an unofficial Teac support file). I also ran tests of audio extraction rates. I want to repeat some of the tests here and also run others like MP3 CD creation (not just data and audio CDs) when time permits. Regardless, there's enough information here to give you a good idea of the drive's performance and features.

kit contents

The retail package includes the drive, a printed manual (covering their DVD-RAM and CDRW drives), a CD including Toast 4.1.1 and a high quality Firewire cable. (The cable is the only one I've seen with ferrites on the end for RFI suppression.) Formac included a small AC adapter which is currently an option (about $24) on the 12/10/32 drive, but standard with the 16/10/40x model.

Tests Run:
I used my Sony 10/4/32 Firewire drive as a comparison for tests burning data CDs in Toast 4.1.2, digital audio extraction using Toast's 1.1.1 extractor, data CD burns in Disc Burner 1.01 and audio CD burns using iTunes 1.1. (Since iTunes/Disc Burner currently does not support the Teac drive in the Formac case, I used the reader modified support file posted here previously.)

Tests systems included an early model PB G3/500 running OS 9.04 (Toast tests), a PB G4/400 running OS 9.1 (iTunes/Disc Burner tests) and a G4/500 dual CPU system running OS 9.1 (Toast tests with bus power). [I note that the PowerBook G3/500 firewire was an early model since according to an ADC note on their firewire webcam, summer 2000 and later PB Firewire models may have a different firewire chip.]

Notes on Bus Power Limits:
Although Formac noted the drive can be bus powered with a G4/Tower or Cube, the PowerBook G3 Firewire ports (as well as many other models) do not provide enough power for the drive, so an AC adapter must be used. Personally I'd *not* want to use bus power for a 5.25" CDRW drive regardless of mac model. Firewire PCMCIA cards provide no bus power at all, so an AC adapter would have to be used with any portable firewire device connected to them. In a quick test here in Toast on my G4/500, a 12x burn and verify worked on bus power, but I'd still want to use the small AC adapter. I just don't like the idea of a bus powered full size CDRW drive.
My Formac contact said that although the drive needs more power than is specified for single port, on-board firewire Tower Macs and Cubes have adequate power on the bus if no other portable (bus powered) drives are connected simultaneously. (Since the CDRW drive really isn't a portable model, I'd highly recommend using an AC adapter regardless of Mac model.) If you have a firewire port failure and you've used a bus powered device that draws more than the spec'd power per port - that may void your system warranty. Here's a clip from the bottom of this Formac CDRW page as of the date of this review. [They may change that at any time. And again I DO NOT recommend you use bus power for any 5.25" drive like this.]

Macintosh Model
External power supply necessary?
PowerMac G3
No*
PowerMac G4
No*
G4 Cube
No
iMac DV
Recommended
iBook
Recommended
Powerbook G3
Yes
Powerbook G4
Recommended

* G4 and G3 Macintosh generally supply enough power to run Formac cdrw 12X/10X/32X bus powered. If you are experiencing any problems we strongly recommend to purchase the optionally available power-supply (PS 1000-1) at 1-877-4Formac.

(The above are Formac's comments, not mine.)
Althought I was a bit leery of a full size CDRW drive being bus powered even with my G4/500 tower, a 12x burn and verify in Toast 4 worked fine. I'd still use the small AC adapter personally. I just don't like having a device that draws more power than Apple specs per port and the drive isn't really portable anyway.

The following photos show the front and rear views of the unusual Formac case:

front view
rear view


First Toast 4.1 Tests:
I didn't install the Formac CD's OEM Toast 4.1.1 since I already had the latest version 4.1.2 installed. I connected the AC adapter and plugged the drive into the Powerbook's Firewire port. Toast scanned the bus at startup and found the drive - reported as a "Teac CD-W512EB" (the internal mechanism type) with firmware version 2.0B. (If you don't have Toast already, you can install the CD version and then download the 4.1.2 update, which adds Burn-Proof support.)

Toast drive ID

Note: The drive has a 4MB buffer, but according to PC site reviews of the previous model (w/o burn-proof), Teac noted some of the buffer is used for 'commands' and that (PC or Mac) CDRW software reporting only 2.9MB of cache is correct.

Toast Data CD Tests:
Using a Powerbook G3/500 firewire (OS 9.04), I compared performance burning the System folder with 476.3MB of data (5,515 files/417 subfolders) on the Formac 12/10/32 and my Sony 10/4/32 using bulk Office Depot 12x CDR discs. The Formac drive as expected was a bit faster at burning the CDR but was more than 4 times as fast verifying it (with this early PB G3/500 - on the G4 tower tests the Sony drive verifies were much faster). I rarely verify CDs, but after some past reports of very slow verification in Toast with some drives, I decided to include it in these tests.

Toast 4.1.2 Tests - PowerBook G3/500

    Burn Time:
  • Formac (12x): 5 minutes, 13 seconds
  • Sony (10x): 6 minutes, 9 seconds

    Verify Time:
  • Formac: 4 minutes, 34 seconds
  • Sony: 20 minutes, 32 seconds

Note - For both the Sony and Formac drives, after 100% of the verification was complete (bar completely filled in), Toast popped up a dialog that noted "verification aborted". (A test on my G4/500 did not have this problem.) I don't have my Toast4 manual and searching the Roxio site didn't provide any info on this. Since this did not happen with the drive verifying a System folder burn on my G4 tower I can only assume it's related to this particular PB G3's configuration.

Bus Powered Tests on Dual G4/500:
As a quick test of reliability using bus power with a G4 Tower, I burned the boot disk's System folder to the Formac drive. (I did not enable burn-proof, as I wanted to see if bus power was reliable at 12x speeds, without any assist.) The System Folder on the G4/500 used for this test was 395.7MB (3192 files/342 folders); not as large as the one in the above PB G3 tests so the times are shorter.

    Burn Time (G4/500):
  • Formac (12x): 4 minutes, 24 seconds (using Firewire Bus Power)
  • Sony (10x): 5 minutes, 11 seconds

    Verify Time:
  • Formac: 3 minutes, 47 seconds
  • Sony: 6 minutes, 45 seconds

The verify tests ended with a normal "successful" dialog on this machine, unlike the tests on the PB G3/500. The Sony also had faster verification on the G4 tower, but the Formac still verifies faster than it burns, where the opposite is true of the Sony.

Digital Audio Extraction Speeds:
I used Toast Audio Extractor 1.1 to test DAE speeds. Both Track 1 and Track 10 of the CD had literally the same speeds with both drives when tested on the PB G3/500 - fluctuating from 2.5-2.6MB/sec on the Formac and about 1.72 MB/sec with the Sony. The G4/500 produced higher rates. (Note - I later realized that this CD had 12 tracks, so track 12 may have reported higher rates. 10 tracks were shown in the list, but scrolling down during a test of another drive later showed that the CD had 12 tracks, not 10.)

    DAE Speeds (PB G3/500):
  • Formac 12/10/32: 2.55 MB/sec (appx 17x ) for both inner/outer tracks
  • Sony 10/4/32: 1.72 MB/sec (appx 11.5x) for both inner/outer tracks

    DAE Speeds (G4/500 DP Tower - bus powered)
  • Formac: 2.65MB/sec (inner track), 3.19MB/sec (outer track - appx 21x)
  • Sony: 1.72MB/sec (inner track and outer track - appx 11.5x)

Since the Formac drive is a 10X CDRW speed and my Sony only 4X, I didn't compare CDRW burn times (yet) as the Formac has a huge advantage. (FYI: as noted on the label of most high-speed (4x-10x rated) CDRW discs, they are not compatible with 4x and lower speed drives.)

Burn-Proof Tests:
The Teac has Burn-Proof support which helps prevent buffer underruns (i.e. failed burns resulting in a coaster). I have enjoyed my Sony 10/4/32 firewire drive since last spring, but this is one feature I wish it had. I was very pleased that I could burn almost 650MB of files at 10x on a CDRW disc (max CDRW speed) in the background using Toast 4.1.2 without a problem. (12x background burns to a CDR disc were also successful.) I started the burn (enabling Rebound support in Toast preferences and Burn-Proof in the Write disc dialog) and then launched Outlook Express 5.02, checked email (getting about 50 mails) without a burp from the write process. (BTWL I had tried background burning with my Sony drive previously, checking email instantly resulted in a failed burn.) With the Formac drive, I also ran IE 5.0 for web surfing and still the disk finished writing in the background with no errors.

Note: One thing I do want to mention about background burning with Toast 4.x. Although burning in the backgound had little effect on system performance, once the burn completed and the verify started (which reads files from the hard drive, in this case on a PowerBook) foreground applications performance was noticably affected. During the verify (in the background) the entire system was very sluggish. I tried repeatedly to type a URL in IE 5.0 during the verify for instance and it was a pure exercise in frustration. This is likely no fault of the CDRW drive however. Toast 5 and iTunes are reported to have better background buring support than Toast 4.x and may perform better during verification. I like the ability to burn CDs in the background, but the verify is something I will never repeat with other apps running. Perhaps the slower Powerbook drive (2.5" drives are much slower than 3.5" drives in desktops) was a factor.

Toast 5.01 Tests: (added 4/23/01)
I received my Toast 5 update and installed it on the PB G4/400. I then applied the Toast 5.01 update. (Note: Although I burned a 698MB CDR using Toast 4.1.2 in DAO mode under fine, the first test on the PB G4 using Toast 5.01 in DAO mode resulted in a verify error - "sector 0" unreadable.)

Toast 5.01 Tests PowerBook G4/400 (641MB of data/2,839 items from 2 partitions/volumes. As with previous results here, time listed includes closing the disc, not just the write time)

    Burn Time:
  • Formac (12x): 7 minutes, 5 seconds
  • Sony (10x): 7 min 58 seconds

    Verify Time:
  • Formac: 7 minutes, 19 seconds
  • Sony: 11 minutes, 29 seconds

Toast 5.01 verify times were longer than burn times for the Formac drive, the opposite of what I saw in Toast 4.1.2 tests where verifies were faster than burn times. (My Sony 10/4/32 drive consistently has much longer verify than burn times in both Toast versions however.)

OS 9.1 iTunes 1.1 Tests (PB G4/400):
As noted here on our iTunes 1.1 Feedback page previously, the Teac drives are not officially supported in iTunes 1.1/Disc Burner 1.01, but our page noted the reader modified support file worked to add iTunes/Disc Burn support for this Teac drive. My drive did not have the latest 2.0C firmware but so far I've seen no problems. I selected 12 MP3 songs (1:00:29 total time) and compared burn times to CDR media with both the Formac and my Sony drive. ("Max" burn speed, large buffer, battery saver prefs settings).

  • Prepare Tracks: 6 Min. 30 Seconds
    (notebook drives are slower than desktops)

  • Burn Audio CD (CDR Media): (includes closing CD of course)
    Formac 12/10/32: 7 Min. 50 Seconds
    Sony 10/4/32: 7 Min. 32 Seconds

I'm not sure why the Sony finished faster unless a) the unofficial support file isn't running the Teac at its max speed, or b) the larger (4MB vs 2.9MB) Sony cache was a factor (I'd sort of doubt that however). I believe other readers noted the unoffical patch doesn't seem to run the drive at 12x speeds. I ran the test twice; results were repeatable. The Audio CD played fine on the internal drive and from the Firewire drive. I had selected 2 second gaps between tracks and no pops or noise was heard during the between track gaps. (I seem to remember some drives having this issue in the past, but perhaps I'm mistaken.)

OS X - iTunes 1.1.1 Tests (PB G4/400):
I selected 12 MP3 songs (1:00:52 total time) and burned to CDR media with the Formac under OS X. ("Max" burn speed, large buffer, battery saver prefs settings).

  • Prepare Tracks: 5 Min. 48 Seconds
    (appx 42 sec. faster than OS 9.1)

  • Burn Audio CD (CDR Media): (includes closing CD of course)
    Formac 12/10/32: 7 Min. 37 Seconds (13 sec. faster than OS 9.1)

I've not tested the Sony 10/4/32 drive in iTunes for performance yet. I just wanted to post the results asap for those that are curious about support for the drive in OS X's iTunes.

Disc Burner 1.01 Tests (PB G4/400):
I had installed iTunes 1.1 on the PB G4 some time back and burned CDs with it using my Sony 10/4/32 firewire drive. I had not installed Disc Burner 1.01 previously, but did for this drive's tests. After installing Disc Burner 1.01 via software updates, I copied the modified reader's iTunes/Disc Burner Teac support file to the system folder. Burns worked flawlessly with the modified file.

Although very convenient, Apple's Disc Burner only supports a single session and requires a two-step writing process. Copying files to the "formatted" CDR/CDRW disk is very fast since it's really going to a image file on the hard drive. You have to "burn" the CD (via the Finder's Special menu) before the files are actually written to disc. (If you eject the CDR before this is done it will have no files on it). This is common knowledge of course to those that have used Disc Burner before. The Disc Burner write and verify takes longer that it does in Toast also based on my experience. A literally full 700MB CDR took about 9 Min, 50 seconds to write in Disc Burn, slower than Toast 4.1.2. The verify process also seems to take longer in Disc Burner than in Toast. (I want to re-run this test in Disc Burner on both drives later and will post the comparison results.) As with the audio burns in iTunes, the unofficial support file may not be running the drive at its maximum speed.


Nits:
A few minor nits about the drive case. The manual eject hole on the Teac drive inside is below the "lip" on the Formac case. I have an L shaped eject pin that was included with another drive but it can't be used to eject a disc with this drive. Manually ejecting a CD from the drive is rarely needed however, but I just wanted to mention this as a FYI. Due to the curved case and flush eject button, it requires a more deliberate press than drives like my Sony that have an exposed drive front panel.

Noise:
For a high speed CDRW drive with a case fan, the Formac was very quiet in my opinion. Some drives have a fan that is annoyingly loud. (And some 16x speed drives make a lot of noise and vibration on their own, as noted here in the database of drive reports.)

Boot Tests:
I inserted my new Norton Systemworks CD (which is bootable from the PB G4 internal drive) and selected it in the Startup Disk control panel (latest version), but a restart would not boot from the Firewire CDRW. I also held down the Option key at startup, but the Firewire drive was not shown in the list. My Sony 10/4/32 Firewire drive was also not bootable.

Retrospect Notes: I don't use Retrospect anymore, so I can't say if this drive is compatible with it. I don't think Retrospect supports the IDE Teac 512B drive at least currently, so I assume it would not support the drive in a FW case. If anyone has tried this drive with Retrospect or Retrospect Express, let me know.

Summary:
Overall I'm pleased with this drive and am considering buying it rather than returning it to Formac. The Burn-Proof feature is a nice plus that I wish was present in my Sony drive. There are many 16x speed drives now (including Formac's), but the noise from some of them make the faster speed less attractive. My Sony 12/4/32 has no fan (although most firewire CDRW drives do) but this Formac 12/10/32 drive was much quieter than I expected from a drive with a fan in the case. Although bus-powered burns worked fine on my G4/500 in limited tests, I do recommend that buyers get the AC adapter ($24), even if they own a Tower or Cube. The AC adapter assures the drive will be usable with any firewire equipped Mac model you have now, or in the future. One question I'm asking Formac is if any future Teac firmware updates will be made available for Mac users.

When time allows I'd like to test the drive with my copy of Charismac's Discribe 4.0 which lists support for the IDE Teac 512E (they show it as a 12/8/32 drive), but I'm not sure it supports this "W512EB" model, especially in a Firewire case.



Pros: Burn-Proof Support. Fast CDR write speeds in Toast. Very fast verify times. 10X CDRW disc write speeds (max available now). Innovative case styling. Quiet for a drive with a case fan. High quality firewire cable included. Bus powered with G4 Towers and Cubes (tested here with G4/500 DP Tower). With unofficial support file, Disc Burner worked well, although iTunes audio burns were not as fast as expected.

Cons: [Update - OS X's iTunes 1.1.1 and OS 9 Authoring support 1.1 update adds Teac drive support according to reader reports.] No Official iTunes/Disc Burner support yet for the Teac mechanism (but a reader's free support file here works). Manual eject hole on drive is below the exterior case lip. Drive write/activity LED not visible. Bus powered feature doesn't work with many Mac models (granted all other full size CDRWs require AC power with any Mac). AC Adapter should be included ($24 extra) in my opinion.


Pricing and Availability:
For more info on the Formac CDRW drives and their other products (video), see www.formac.com. Formac's CDRW product line page is here.
(Update - on 6/4/2001 I received an email noting price reductions from Formac:

    " Formac cdrw 16/10/40 now sells for $289, the 12/10/32 for $239. A 24X version is scheduled to be released mid of June. The 9.4GB DVD RAM now sells at $479, the lowest price in the market
    Formac"


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