In an era where IDE and DVDs have been left behind in preference for SATA and Bluray, it might seem strange that I’m choosing to repair my retail BenQ DW1640 DVD±RW Drive. Like many optical drives of any vintage, the rubber belt that powers the tray has degraded much like as what happened to my Bluray player. This time, I was going to replace the belt entirely and do the job properly as this is a drive that I am very fond of for a number of good reasons.
My first DW1640 was a retail model that I asked a relative to buy for me from Hong Kong and bring into Australia. Strangely enough, I eventually came to own four DW1640s, with the remainder purchased locally as “OEM” drives without the fancy bezel, some of which have failed and been disposed of. Despite this, my first DW1640 was still the best of them all for burn quality and high-speed burning/ripping stability, and was quite affordable.
Despite BenQ being a subsidiary brand of Acer, the DW1640 was a big break from their (normally) rather unremarkable and pedestrian peripherals. My first DVD writer was a “plus-only” BenQ DW400 which was very plain but fared well for about half a year. It then succumbed to laser failure and owing to a lack of replacements, I got an upgrade to a LiteOn SOHW-812S which had its own benefits and drawbacks. Despite this, it seems BenQ DVD writers had a good reputation and the DW1640 was where a combination of BenQ-exclusive innovations came to fruition. As a result, it won CDRinfo’s editor’s choice award.
The most obvious when looking at the drive was their dual cooling system – the channels on the top of the lid are part of a system that helps funnel heat out of the drive while remaining (somewhat) dust resistant and quiet, all without the need of a dedicated cooling fan such as in early CD-recorders.
The other counterpart to it can be seen on the right side where a set of holes allow for heat to exit the drive through the side. Of course, there are a number of other nifty features which you cannot see.
Possibly due to the different top-lid design, they decided to label the drive on the underside. The drive is dated 14th May 2005, and shipped with BSGB firmware. The final version released was BSRB, showing quite active firmware development throughout its lifetime.
On the rear, everything is as regular as with most IDE optical drives with SPDIF, analog audio out, master/slave/cable-select jumpers, IDE interface and 4-pin Molex power connector.
The drive has survived being transported between a number of computers, and even survived a minature flood. The case has rusted in some spots as a result. Undoing four screws allows the rear plate to be removed, where a few thermal pads are installed to conduct heat to the drive casing as a heatsink.
The drive itself is based around a Philips NXP PNX7860E chipset. To continue disassembling the drive requires an emergency eject with a paperclip, so as to remove the front fascia panels.
It’s at this point we can see the belt and wheels – there’s some discolouration which may be due to the rubber losing its elasticity and degrading. The kink in the belt shows that the period when it was stored without use has caused the belt to permanently deform. If the tray has enough clearance, it may be even possible to use some needle-nose tweezers to do the replacement without disassembly, but I decided to tear it apart first.
The lubrication on the tray end looks fine – hidden labels under the tray are not uncommon.
The upper lid has the spindle clamp kept captive within it, as is common for PC drives.
The remainder of the mechanism is built around a plastic frame. While it’s not obvious, we are looking at the special lens focusing mechanism which is (supposedly) better at steering the beam and compensating for disc warp. We are also looking at the turntable spindle clamp mechanism which has been designed to be more precise.
To fully release the tray, a small tab needs to be pushed down, then the tray can be completely slid out.
The offending belt is a much longer belt (about 138mm circumference) than the average drive has (which is about 80mm circumference).
The Cheap Belts
In my search for belts, I found some listings on eBay for individual belts, but at fairly high prices but of an inappropriate dimension for this particular drive. As a result, I got desperate and decided to cheap-out on belts, ordering a “60+ mix 1mm square belt 40-130mm” packet for just AU$1.89 including postage. It was so cheap that I didn’t care much if it was going to work or not.
When I received it, the package smelt heavily of rubber. This suggests that the stuff is probably not particularly high-quality or stable in the long term. It came in a sealed clear plastic bag with a product information card in Chinese that had not been filled out at all.
A barcode inventory label was affixed to the other side.
The belts came in about five different sizes (roughly sorted). The number of shorter belts seemed to be higher than the number of long belts. I didn’t count the number – for AU$1.89, it was cheaper than even ordering just one belt from some other sellers.
Unfortunately, the quality of the belts did vary, with the belts being rather under-dimensioned for thickness, and some belts being thinner than others with occasional rough edges.
I took one of each size, cut it and measured the length of the belt unstretched. It came out to 84mm, 109mm, 177mm, 248mm and 260mm (circumference). Many times, the belts are specified as their half length, which is more like 42mm, 55mm, 89mm, 124mm and 130mm. Unfortunately, the smallest ones are a bit too long for most optical drives which need about 40mm half-length, and the slippage results in it not working properly. In the case of my Philips Bluray player, none of these belts proved helpful.
But I’m glad to report that I did manage to get a belt to work with my DW1640 – namely a stretched one of the smallest size, as the 109mm (while expected to work) stretched too much when in use and slipped. The smallest one is a bit tight, but it does work, so that’s better than having to get the emergency-eject-paperclip every time.
The BenQ DW1640 is a special drive that holds a place in my heart. As a result of trying to fix it, I found a very cheap packet of rubber belts from eBay and decided to give it a go. While it did fix the problem, the belts themselves were not quite correctly dimensioned and they smelt very rubbery, which suggests to me that they might not last too long in service. It’s still nothing to complain about, but I hope to be able to show why the DW1640 is such a special drive in some follow-up posts.