AOpen 1040 Pro DVD-ROM
Reviewed by Tachyon (16 November 99)
AOpen long known for making quality and affordable PC motherboards as well as PC peripherals has now come out with their own brand of DVD ROM drive. The drive looks suspiciously similar to the Pioneer since it spots a slot loading mechanism (more on that later) but it does have all the feature that looks like one. One would be forgiven if one were to mistaken it for a Pioneer. There isn't anything spectacular about the looks of the drive and it has all the usual headphone jack and volume control on the front panel. At the rear of the drive, you can see all the regular connectors plus an SPDIF output for digital audio. As with all CD ROM and DVD ROM drives installation was simple and straightforward since it employed an IDE interface. No driver software was required although it comes with DOS drivers. Windows treats the drive just like any other CD ROM drive.
|Interface||EIDE / ATAPI compliant|
DVD-Video (1 or 2 layers)
|Data Buffer Size||512 KB|
|Data Transfer Rate||
The drive is touted as a 10X DVD ROM and the CD ROM at 40X. Strangely the drive specification was not mentioned anywhere in the manual but on the package of the product. From initial impressions of the product, the drive actually seemed quite speedy and is as speedy as the touted 40X, at least it seems so. Unfortunately we still do not have a way to test the DVD ROM speed yet. In time, when we do have the capability we will update that part of the review. The DVD standards committee has also mandated that all DVD ROM drives produced in the year beginning 2000 must have the Phase-2 standard implemented. The Phase-2 implementation requires that DVD movie title regional coding to be coded in hardware instead of software as it is today in Phase-1. So, what does this mean to you as the consumer? It means that multi-regional coding will be more difficult to achieve for those of you who wants to continue watching DVD titles from different regions (especially in Singapore where you can find mostly code 1 and 3). Well, according to sources, the drive is hardware region locked and it automatically locks on the last region disc you play after you have inserted 5 discs in the drive. I didn't dare try that since the drive did not belong to me, but I am pretty sure about that. Anyone care to confirm?
Test System Configuration
Celeron 466 on MSI-6905 riser card
128MB PC100 Hyundai SDRAM
Intel BX Chipset with Slot-1
Quantum Fireball 6.4 GB
Windows 98 Second Edition Build 4.10.2222A
Here are some numbers which were obtained from WinBench CD on the AOpen.
CD WinBench 99 Results
WinMark 99 Overall (Kbytes/sec) 1290 Access Time (milliseconds)
CPU Utilization (percent used)
Transfer Rate:Inner disc (Kbytes/sec)
Transfer Rate:Outer disc (Kbytes/sec)
As you can see from the results obtained, the numbers are actually quite close to that mentioned on the package of the product. I find that the specifications of the drive is alittle lacking so it was quite difficult to determine if some of the data we collected is within the specification.
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Watching DVD movies
I was able to watch DVD movies with it successfully and without much fuss. AOpen's local distributor Fairland was kind enough to loan us a copy of the PowerDVD software for us to try out with the drive. The software installed easily and smoothly. The user interface of PowerDVD is largely iconic so a lot of time was spent probing around and trying out the buttons to find out what they do. I am not going to write much about the PowerDVD software here because this review is not about the PowerDVD software. All I can say is PowerDVD does have some nice features that WinDVD doesn't have.
Since I did not have another DVD drive to do a side by side comparison on the disc startup speed (just as a measure of the DVD ROM touted 10X speed) I couldn't tell if the DVD movie started up quicker than a say 6X DVD ROM drive. The DVD movie which I tried was Top Gun. The video played beautifully and the audio was just as engaging. I did not experience any freezes or jerkiness in the presentation of the movie neither did I hear any problem with the sound. In fact the movie played very smoothly. There really isn't anything to complain about in this department. I even tried out audio CDs with the drive and I was able to use the built-in SPDIF output on the drive. Since I was using SBLive! this was not a problem and the audio quality was quite good. This also shows that the digital signal coming out of the SPDIF interface was clean and good. I used the Sennheiser HD565 headphones to try to spot any inconsistencies in the audio quality and it sounded just as sweet (I was listening to Wayne Gratz's Blue Ridge).
Picture 1 : Movie startup with PowerDVD in the background. You can see that the PowerDVD control UI really looks like a DVD player.
Picture 2 : Snapshot of the movie taken with a digital camera. I couldn't capture directly from the PC since the video was overlayed and I didn't have any software that would allow me to do that. As you can see, the image is unprocessed yet you can see the details on the actor's face.
One other comment that I frequently hear people say about slot loading drives is that CDs tend to get scratched. Personally I did not find any problems of that sort whatsoever although I do feel that handling CDs this way is kind of risky especially when you are dealing with DVDs (I accidentally scratched one of my discs when playing in my Pioneer DVD player once.... ouch! The disc didn't play properly after that, fortunately I was able to get the scratch repaired...phew!). DVDs are much more sensitive to scratches and dirt contrary to the popular beliefs that CDs/DVDs are resistant to scratches. I do find that slot loading drives are not without its merit such as the need to press the load/eject button while loading a disc. No trays to worry about (no more stupid jokes about some user thinking that the tray is a cup holder - LOL).
Besides watching DVD movies, I was able to tryout some VCD movies as well as playing some CD ROM games. They weren't the type that was CD intensive though but at least the cut-scenes were. Didn't see any problems there.
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If the AOpen DVD drive looks like a good product, it's because it is. Although the appearance of the drive looks ordinary don't let that fool you into thinking otherwise. For the cost and performance it is relatively good compared to some of the other drives I have seen. Performance is better than the other drives too. The CD-ROM performance ain't bad either for what it can do. My only gripe is that the drive does not come with any software bundled and that it is possibly region locked. That may be its weak selling point. Otherwise, it is a pretty good buy as it is priced very close to its more established competitors like Pioneer and Sony. Since there aren't many DVD ROM drives with SPDIF output built-in, this is also a pretty good option to consider if that is one of the feature you require.
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