Review: The all-in-one and only drive you ever need
Over the past few decades, Lite-On has been regarded as an industry leader in uncompromising quality of design and consumer satisfaction in a variety of consumer electronics markets. Most notably, many have become familiar with their cutting-edge manufacturing processes in semiconductors, LEDs, and most notably the optical disc drive (ODD) market.
By 1995, the ODD market was a rapidly growing field in the modern personal computing space, and in order to establish a significant presence, Lite-On Technology decided to establish a dedicated business unit to produce high quality CD-ROM drives. A large manufacturing facility was established in China to meet all demands and Lite-On soon became Taiwan's biggest CD-ROM drive manufacturer, and number three worldwide.
Since then, the corporation has manufactured a variety of solutions including CD-ROM drives, DVD-ROM drives, CD-RW/DVD-RW combo drives and slimline DVD-RW drives for notebooks. Most recently, Lite-On has advanced its focus into the area of Blu-ray ROM optical drives and is currently experimenting with consumer demands across a broad spectrum of individually specialized markets.
For instance, the company began marketing into the field of Blu-ray writing for desktop PCs with the introduction of its LH-2B1S 2X Blu-ray Disc Triple Writer in November, 2006. Within less than six months, it had not only introduced its first external Blu-ray Disc Triple Writer, but had also received the highly prestigious Red Dot Design Award 2007 for its outstanding international product design. Over the last three years of the decade, the company has offered multi-optical format combo devices ranging from Blu-ray/DVD/CD reader, Blu-ray reader/DVD-RW burner and Blu-ray/DVD-RW burner with a progressive increase in seek times, interface speeds and buffer sizes.
Today, we intend to review the company’s latest and greatest internal Blu-ray reader/DVD-RW burner combo drive with emphasis on its performance advantages and its similarities with previously introduced Blu-ray optical drives. This will effectively allow us to analyze and hopefully predict a positive technology efficiency trend in the optical storage drive market and should be an indicator of Lite-On’s experience in the market.
On hand is the Lite-On iHES208 8X Blu-ray Disc Reader with DVD Writer Combo, provided to us from the company’s headquarters in Fremont, California. In perspective, the drive is loaded with 2009’s greatest technological advancements in the field of Blu-ray, DVD and CD optical reading capabilities and features a compelling specs sheet to undergo our approval. The drive is a half-height internal Blu-ray Disc/DVD/CD reader with support for BD-ROM, BD-R, BD-R DL, BD-RE SL, BD-RE DL, BD DVD-ROM, DVD ± R, DVD ± RW, DVD ± DL, DVD-RAM, DVD+R9, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, CD-ROM XA, CD-PLUS, CD-I and CD-DA.
Basically, if you have a 12cm or 8cm disc, this drive will more than likely be capable of playing it. This is not uncommon on most drives, however. What we are more interested in are the read and write speeds of the Blu-ray and DVD laser diodes and buffer on the drive respectively. Below is a chart containing a specification sheet of the three drives we will be comparing.
Packaging and Unboxing:
Upon delivery, the Lite-On iHES208 8X Blu-ray Reader / DVD Writer Combo was packaged in a blue and white box that weighed in at an average proportion of what we would expect from an internal optical drive. The informational contents included a 19-page user manual in three languages, a quick installation guide, a straightforward faceplate replacement guide, and the Lite-On Terms and Conditions warranty information note. The company was kind enough to also package a standard red colored Foxconn SATA cable and a CyberLink BD all-in-one software solution for burning, playing and labeling discs.
The drive itself looks like any standard 5.25-inch internal optical drive, complete with a black faceplate featuring the brand name and various proprietary technologies supported by the drive.
Specifications and Pricing:
It is important to keep in mind that the most crucial aspect to any optical drive review is the price vs. performance comparison made between various competing offers. The Lite-On iHES208 features all the quirks of a Blu-ray reader as well as a DVD and CD Writer, and as such we were compelled to compare it against two Blu-ray reader solutions with no DVD writing capabilities – one from Lite-On itself and one from Sony.
“The iHES208 is a great solution for those looking for the advanced technologies of Blu-ray in home entertainment,” said Christine Hsing, Marketing Manager at PLDS. “The drive will not only allow them to play high-definition content such as Blu-ray movies, it will also let them easily share data files, presentations, home videos and other image files on DVDs or CDs.”
The Lite-On iHES208 was originally priced at a $159.99 MSRP value back at launch in April 2009. However, it is now available for a smooth $109.99 from Newegg, Amazon, TigerDirect and B&H Photo. In comparison, the company’s iHOS104 4X Blu-ray reader is currently priced at just $59.99, creating a theoretical $50 price difference for the added DVD writing capabilities on the former option.
At the same time, we have decided to include our Sony BDU-X10S 2X Blu-ray reader into the price vs. performance comparison mix. Seeing that the drive has been out since January 2008, it should prove interesting to compare the technological advancements of Lite-On’s 8X and 4X drives to one of Sony’s originally noteworthy internal Blu-ray solutions. At launch, it was priced at $199.99 and is now out of production, but currently sells for around $79 on eBay and various etail outlets.
Despite the nature of optical SATA drives using relatively low CPU usage and southbridge communications, we always find it necessary to list the hardware configuration used for testing purposes.
As with most of our hardware reviews, we usually put our tested products under ridiculously overkill and sometimes even extremely overkill system environments where we have absolute confidence that nothing is going to be bottlenecking performance in any possible test scenario. With that said, our core hardware configuration consisted of an EVGA X58 SLI Classified E759 (nForce 200) motherboard, an Intel Core i7 Extreme 965 at 3.74GHz and 1.34v, 6GB of Mushkin XP Series DDR3 1600MHz 7-8-7-20 in triple-channel mode, and two Sapphire Radeon HD 5970 graphics cards running at stock speeds (for now).
Our peripheral hardware configuration consisted of a Thermalright TRUE Copper with dual Noctua NF-12P fans in push-pull configuration, two Samsung Spinpoint F1 750GB RAID Edition drives running Windows 7 Ultimate x64 RTM, and of course the Lite-On iHES208 8X Blu-ray Reader / DVD Writer Combo drive.
As far as software application choice is concerned, we went with Nero DiscSpeed 5 as our primary benchmarking solution for its compatibility with Windows 7, its simplicity and its ease of use.
The Lite-On iHES208 test ended up resulting with an overall 43MB/s Bust Rate and 87ms access time.
The Lite-On iHOS104 test ended up resulting with an overall 34MB/s Bust Rate and 92ms access time.
The Sony BDU-X10S test ended up resulting with an overall 47MB/s Bust Rate and 115ms access time.
While it may seem commonly understood that average read speeds and average write speeds are the most important factor in optical drive benchmarking, we want to point out that there is yet an even more important concern in dealing with price vs. performance comparisons. The concern is with the start-up and loading times of optical drives in comparison to competing technologies such as NAND flash storage and other flash-based media solutions.
Over the years, we have seen dramatic advancements in various forms of portable storage including memory cards, memory sticks and USB flash drives that have only previously been limited by their storage capacities. As we approach 2010, however, we are beginning to see the emergence of flash-based storage with enough capacity to match a 50GB Blu-ray Disc at reasonable pricing. While the data transfer rates of optical storage versus flash-based storage is a significant aspect of comparison, it is even more important to understand the difference in the amount of time it takes to insert a Blu-ray Disc and have it appear on screen versus the amount of time it takes a flash drive to do the same task.
We decided to throw in a Corsair Flash Voyager 32GB and a Patriot Xporter XT 32GB into our load-time testing run. Both drives are based on high density MLC NAND flash and were available beginning in early 2008. It is immediately noticeable from the benchmark results that Audio CDs and Movie DVDs hold the quickest loading speeds over the range of these optical disc drives, while Blu-ray movies produce the slowest loading times. Somehow, we thought that the 450nm blue laser diode would have a speed advantage over the 650nm and 780nm red laser diodes for DVDs and CDs respectively.
However, this assumption doesn’t seem to be the case, unless the Blu-ray loading times were hindered by the fact that our movie was on a dual-layer 50GB disc. Nevertheless, it is clearly evident that NAND flash takes a significant lead over the Lite-On iHES208 and all the optical drives in our testing, possibly even a majority of drives on the market. This is yet a small reminder to optical drive manufacturers that start-up times play a significant role in consumer satisfaction, and that there needs to be significant improvement in this area if optical drives are going to continue competing with flash-based solutions in the near future.
The Lite-On iHES208 8X Blu-ray Reader and DVD Writer Combo is a very silent and feature-packed all-in-one drive that takes a unique position in the market for being the only optical drive you really need.
There isn’t much of a demand for Blu-ray burning in the IT consumer space due to the fact that a 10-pack of BD-RE discs exceeds the price of buying a 64GB flash drive that also has faster start-up and transfer speeds. Nevertheless, the introduction of higher storage NAND flash solutions in the upcoming years will wage an interesting competition war against optical storage and its lasting effectiveness for holding audio, video, film and priceless sensitive data.
In the meantime, Lite-On’s latest solution holds a temporary time-gap responsibility by featuring support for the ability to read almost every optical format on the planet at very reasonable speeds. At the same time, it can play back Blu-ray High Definition content with incredible precision and silence, as the drive was quieter than every fan in our system during use. In the future, it is possible that the company will develop a 16X Blu-ray Reader with a larger buffer and a higher Burst Rate speed, but the need for anything more is quite unnecessary considering the future of flash-based media storage.
For the reasonable price of $109.99 from Newegg, Amazon, TigerDirect and B&H Photo, the Lite-On iHES208 offers the best value on the price to performance scale over the other drives we tested and deserves to be noted for its achievement as an all-in-one optical drive solution for the majority of consumer usage scenarios. In Europe you will get ripped off as usual. For about €106,- you will get the black bulk version.