A Belated Happy New Year?

“Happy New Year!”

There. I said it at long last.

But a quarter of the year has already passed, you exclaim loudly at your monitor. It’s bloody March! You’re too late even for the Lunar New Year!

Yes, indeed it has. Time flies when you’re having fun. But in my case, time flies regardless.

Last Year: A Retrospective

Prior to last year, I had been involved in full time research. Life as a research student is fairly mundane for the most part – it’s not bad, but it has its routine elements. Some people can’t handle this at all, but it’s not a big problem for me. The freedom and flexibility that I gained throughout my PhD was the main reason for this blog’s existence and allowed me to develop my hobbies and passions on the side.

Regular readers would have noticed that last year was a bit of a quiet year for the blog. That was because I had announced my intentions to travel through Asia as a reward for my efforts in study, as well as a chance to recharge myself and ready myself for a new phase of my life. I spent around half the year outside the country travelling on a budget, visiting Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Japan.

This was a trip of a lifetime, and it was absolutely awesome. While I didn’t opt to splurge, I never felt like I was deprived. I had the freedom to do exactly what I want, when I wanted. I had absolute motivation – every morning I woke up with a plan of what to do, and I’d try my best to make it happen regardless of the weather. Half of the time, I’d get distracted by a road-sign somewhere and divert to something even more interesting that I wasn’t aware of. This taste of independence was addictive and empowering. It made me realize just how bad I am at being a tourist in my own backyard, about how much we are blind to the world due to the routineness of our lives. The world is full of never-ending wonder, and sometimes you don’t have to go far to experience it.

The context of travel provided the ideal excuse to get out the camera and do some photography. Actually, not just some but a lot of. I came home with close to 40,000 photos, many of which I’m still dealing with now. It’s partly the reason why there haven’t been many posts about my holidays – I want to get it all sorted first. Oddly enough, people often criticize photographers for living life through a lens and missing out on the details. But to the contrary, I found that the lens made me look more closely at the fine details. Over the course of the year, I saw my photography improve – I reduced my spray-and-pray tendencies and became more deliberate in my execution, I even had visions about how I wanted a photo to turn out, even if it didn’t eventually go my way. But it was a step forward for one of my hobbies I’ve been somewhat neglecting.

I had the chance to experience life as someone who didn’t know the language and had to both learn survival phrases as well as exercise innovative strategies to communicate. It was through this that I understood the function and form of language, and through trying to learn the basics of Korean, I understood how people’s thought processes can be influenced by the structure of the language and the vocabulary available (e.g. subject-object-verb order being the inverse of English makes it hard for foreigners to form valid sentences). I also became more sympathetic to strange and sometimes funny signs with odd English expressions or typos. Ultimately, I even became grateful to see one (especially in Japan) where the meaning could be deciphered despite the faulty grammar. It was also nice to see the cultural differences in people and their interactions – the strict queueing and manners in Japan proved quite refreshing, to the point that I almost boiled with rage when someone cut in front of me in a bus queue on returning.

There were some funny moments, such as buying food at the convenience store which turned into food roulette – choose anything and hope for the best. But there were also many successes, where things turned out easier than expected thanks to technology such as Google Translate, Google Maps (with GPS), public transport apps or even just meeting some helpful multi-lingual staff. Coping strategies such as “symbol matching” were quickly developed, but also, I started to subconciously learn the language.

But as an engineer, my idea of sightseeing didn’t end at visiting tourist attractions. With my software-defined radio (SDR) gear and a loop antenna, I had some good successes in capturing signals that were too weak to be heard from home even with antennas much longer. Receiving the Kyodo radiofax station from within Japan and confirming its liveliness was a high point. However, in many cities, the radio-frequency interference was almost unbearable which made radio reception opportunities somewhat limited.

I also had a great time travelling on the different public transport options available in each country, taking some footage and notes on various driverless transport systems, examining how the ticketing system and fare structure worked and actually riding through the whole length of the network in several cities. The convenience of the subways in many Asian cities really puts Sydney’s network in perspective – a friend told me to meet with them halfway because visiting them was too far. As it turns out, it would have taken under 20 minutes to get there and cost me barely AU$2, which is insignificant when compared with Australia.

Besides that, I also had the wonderment of staring up into the power poles and looking at the wires and transformers, the traffic lights and control systems, the lighting technology used and even the colour of the sky. The sky really is a lot more blue in Australia!

It did wonders for my health as well. I walked about three times as much as I did when I was home, and I lost about 10kg of weight as a result. I felt much more energetic and no longer feared a long walk. Of course, that was hard to maintain once returning home to the routine life.

The year was set to end on a good note, and it ultimately did after reaching an amicable agreement with Netflix with regards to the Stranger Things cover. However, the issue did consume much of my energy, and as a result, I chose not to blog for a while to recover (while my site recovered from the back-breaking load which saw a whole month’s traffic in a day).

Into 2018: What Next?

Since 2017 went so well, allowing me to reinvigorate myself, I decided that 2018 will be the next big step in my life – reinvention.

The year started off slowly – instead of putting out content, I decided to take a break and appreciate the content put out by others. Ultimately, it’s enriching to me to take the time to absorb this as a form of education, and also, a bit of comfort to know that there are equally passionate people out there showing their work to the public.

I haven’t updated the interesting links for a while (I probably should), but I have watched and do recommend these YouTube channels for being interesting, entertaining and of high technical quality or with high production values:

  • bigclivedotcom – teardowns and tests of cheap and sometimes dangerous products, along with some reverse engineering and the odd politically incorrect jokes.
  • Techmoan – quality videos on obsolete audiovisual formats and equipment.
  • The 8-Bit Guy – basic restorations, history and technical details on vintage computing equipment.
  • 8-Bit Keys – a second channel dedicated to keyboard restoration, repair and demos.
  • CuriousMarc – more serious restoration of vintage computing equipment for the Computer History Museum. The series on the Xerox Alto is highly recommended.
  • databits – a channel on vintage/retro tech with a lot of stuff about rarer vintage media formats.
  • ashens – a comedian that makes rather funny videos on a wide range of things, especially gaming handhelds, toys, and food.
  • Barshens – a weekly entertainment channel which brings together a number of personalities to play a game with hilarious results.
  • Gaming Historian – focused on gaming history and consoles with a very informative style. Highly recommend the video on The Story of Tetris and The Life of Satoru Iwata.
  • ElectroBOOM – this guy loves to show the painful side of Electrical Engineering, so you don’t have to experience it yourself firsthand.
  • LGR – more gaming reviews, this one has a humourous presentation style and can get quite personal at times.
  • Classic Gaming Quarterly – more detailed videos of gaming system launch history.
  • Modern Vintage Gamer – a bit of a mix of stuff about gaming, but with a very interesting style.

Family life was also becoming somewhat problematic (for reasons I won’t explain here), but also, I felt I didn’t spend enough time with my father. Because of this, I spent the better part of last month orchestrating a full clean-out and house move. As a bit of a hoarder for the just-in-case scenario that never happens, I had a lot of items and this process proved to be quite time consuming.

Equally time consuming was to be the handyman and fix all the little issues in the house that have been piling up for a while. My father is getting to the point where he’s not able to handle these things on his own, and as a result, I’ve been climbing onto roofs to fix loose wooden battens, replacing 16 tap washers and three toilet outlet valves to stop leaks amongst other things. But I didn’t mind this, as it allowed me to do what I liked – to be hands on and solve problems.

For example, to solve the lack of task lighting at my desk, I jury rigged a Philips SmartPanel 2.0 fitting using two pieces of fishing line to the batten, and wired up an adapter that let me plug in a WeMo for wireless control. It’s probably not standards compliant – but both WeMo and the panel are double insulated, so the lack of earth shouldn’t be a safety issue. But it meets my needs and helps my productivity.

Another example is using Raspberry Pi units and various Wi-Fi adapters to connect to a “free” Wi-Fi network in the distance, NAT-route it locally, and broadcast an AP using hostapd using the one box. I also have another Raspberry Pi configured with parprouted so as to work as an Ethernet to Wi-Fi bridge, allowing me to join my wired devices as well. This set-up is quite versatile, allowing me to change over to using tethering on my mobile phone if necessary as well (as many of them have a “number of devices limit”, and running many machines behind a single NAT will appear to the phone as a single device at the expense of breaking some UDP-based applications with no NAT traversal abilities). I could buy something like a TP-Link Travel Router which could do similar things, but the truth is that building it your own is a better solution as it will have two radios that can operate on non-overlapping channels, thus reducing the throughput penalty of a single-radio based “extender” style configuration, and allows you to have a custom high gain antenna to get the signal where you need it.

However, choosing to move house was probably the right thing to do. For one, it resulted in a critical re-evaluation of the physical items I had stocked, resulting in quite a lot of things being disposed of (as being broken, worthless, or unnecessary) or donated to charity. This made me feel a lot lighter – more free of material burden. Moving house allowed me to have a change of scenery, which has helped to push my motivation and energy levels even further. It’s a lot of work, and I still haven’t fully unpacked, but it was worth it as it prepares me for a future where I might be moving out of home for other reasons.

Since the move, I have been doing 20-30km of bike riding about four or five days of the week along various roads and cycleways. I have also been eating more healthily, and eating less, as part of my commitment to health and an intention to lose more weight (as most of us probably need to do). I feel that I’m happier here, and my mind is more at ease.

This year will also be the year I find permanent employment. It’s something which I put off in order to have the holiday last year. Despite the state of the job market, I feel that now is the right time for me to find work with a company that I enjoy working with, doing something that I enjoy.

This year may also be the year I … well … maybe … will have some romantic pursuits in my life? Maybe? I hope so …

But regardless, technology will always be a part of my life, and my interest for the technical aspects will always be there. Whenever I can, I will try to blog. I’ve actually prepared a lot of content to go up on the site, but just haven’t had the time to upload it. It’s just a matter of time before it gets online. Everything is still the same (for the most part), although my silence has probably meant less offers of review items recently. Aside from that, I haven’t really purchased many items myself, hence the lack of reviews.


In short, 2017 was a great year for me, and left me feeling more culturally enriched, refreshed and reinvigorated. I broadened my horizons, indulged in hobbies I didn’t otherwise do, saw things from a different perspective and challenged my perceptions. I proved to myself that I was more versatile and adaptable than I ever thought possible.

Accordingly, I have decided that this year is a year of reinvention. To that end, I started off the year appreciating what others have done, as well as cleaning up my life and moving house for a change of scenery. I redefined my priorities, reset my motivation and got hands-on into solving problems.

It’s going to be another milestone year in my life. But one thing will not change – I am still going to be devoted to tech.

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Tech Flashback: Western Digital Raptor/Velociraptor Hard Drives

When it comes to computer memory, the tiers of storage always end in mass storage as being the system bottleneck. Hard drives, colloquially referred to as spinning rust, were the dominant technology for the vast majority of computers from the 90’s. However, we have seen in the last decade, a big shift towards the use of flash-memory based solid state drives as a faster, less power-consuming, more mechanically durable alternative as prices become ever more affordable. This has meant a change in how hard drives are positioned within the market – instead of dominating all storage requirements as it traditionally has, it has been relegated to bulk storage where speed and access times are not as important.

One of the victims of this shift is the Western Digital Raptor and Velociraptor series of hard drives, the last of which was launched five years ago. Its passing went almost entirely unnoticed, until I took a stroll in some of the computer shops in Hong Kong.

The First Generation Raptor 36Gb (WD360GD)

Before the existence of the WD Raptor in 2003, the prosumer/consumer market was mostly dominated by high-performance 7200rpm IDE hard drives, and more mainstream 5400rpm IDE hard drives. SATA drives were only just coming to the market.

Those looking for more performance would remember looking through computing magazines in the late 90’s at “the beast”, which would often be specified with Seagate Cheetah 10,000rpm hard drives. The problem was that such solutions were expensive owing to the use of SCSI interfaces, where a controller could easily cost more than a drive or even two. The drives themselves were also not cheap. The performance was, however, unbeatable. Because of this, the Seagate Cheetah never really saw wide adoption in home computers – I’ve never seen them myself, and as the performance of IDE drives continued to catch up to them, they became even less popular.

The WD Raptor was significant, as it was Western Digital’s take on bringing server-class performance to the home/prosumer market. Instead of insisting on a more expensive SCSI (or SAS) interface, it would instead launch with a SATA interface, positioning it at the forefront of consumer-class technology at the time. It had a 36Gb capacity, 8Mb cache and 10,000rpm spindle speed, trading off some capacity for faster access times through the use of smaller platters. It was expensive, but not too expensive, thus making it a success at least for a number of years.

The first WD Raptor did have a bit of an identity crisis. It was designed for IDE, and its controller ran on IDE. But in order to present an “advanced, bleeding edge” appearance, it was launched with a SATA interface. This was done through the Marvell 88i8030-TBC (and TBC1) IDE to SATA bridge chips, which meant that the drive didn’t necessarily benefit from the increased speeds of the SATA interface, and had no support for NCQ. The original bridge had only UDMA5 support, restricting throughput to 100MB/s, with the later one operating at UDMA6 133MB/s. At least, there was no chance of the drive being wired up with a slave device (as could happen on IDE buses) and needing to share bus time.

The drive was launched in a time of transition, and thus had both SATA power and 4-pin Molex connections. This arrangement was termed “FlexPower”, and allowed those without the appropriate SATA power connectors or adapters to just use the regular 4-pin connector. As both are “bridged together”, connecting both options to the drive could result in current flow across rails through the drive, causing damage.

Compared with 7200rpm drives, the WD Raptor was both heavier and hotter. The drive featured ribs across part of its housing as a heatsink to help dissipate the heat. The drive was also considerably louder in seeking compared to regular drives, but these were acceptable trade-offs for enthusiasts most interested in higher performance. Apparently, these compared favourably to server-class drives which were worse.

The other side shows the standard flat edge, as you might expect from a regular hard drive.

Like other Western Digital drives, the serial number is also positioned on a label on the outer-short-side of the drive.

I came to own three units, and all of them have had a decent level of usage on them. Rather unfortunately, it seems that all three units have had reallocations, but none have ever corrupted or lost data through the process. This one seems to have some UDMA CRC Errors as well, implying occasional communication issues with the SATA/IDE bridge chip as well.

When it comes to reads and writes, the result isn’t so stellar nowadays. It manages a maximum of about 63MB/s, a minimum around 43MB/s and an average about 56MB/s. The access time is about 8ms, with the write access times shorter because of caching. Today, I suspect the same level of performance can be met with a pro-grade SD card.

The full suite of tests were performed, and with a figure of a few hundred IOPs being the maximum, it’s clear why hard drives couldn’t keep up with solid state drives. But that being said, it’s still a pretty impressive result to see for a hard drive.

CrystalDiskMark gives us the figures which broadly agree with HDTune results. The equal results with 4k and 4kQD32 show a clear lack of NCQ ability.

ATTO gives a very strong performance, with full speeds from 8kB accesses and up. The 512 byte performance is quite strong as well, because this drive predates the 4kB Advanced Format change and is thus 512 bytes native.

The Third Generation Raptor 150Gb (WD1500ADFD)

Western Digital released a second generation drive with double the capacity a year later and much the same design. I didn’t end up buying it. But I did buy the third generation drive, released in 2006 (three years since the first generation drive) which had a capacity of 150Gb and a 16MB cache to boot. This provided quite a lot of breathing room for my OS install, and it had a native SATA interface with NCQ at last.

The unit doesn’t have the mixed-tone lid on the top like the original, and has a new-style label design. There was a special edition of this drive with a clear polycarbonate window on top, but I didn’t manage to get one of them. It would have been nice though.

It retains the FlexPower arrangement as the original Raptor, even though many consumer SATA drives are now on the market without such conveniences.

Just like the original, there are ribs for heatsinking along one side, and the serial number label on the opposite short-side.

A look from underneath shows that the IDE to SATA bridge chip is gone. Hurrah. What cannot be seen is a newer FDB motor, which meant this drive was noticeably more quiet than the original.

It also proved to be even more reliable, seeing service in three different builds and clocking up some decent hours for a workstation with zero reallocations.

Because of the increased density, the unit performs better with a maximum read throughput in the vicinity of 84MB/s, an average around 74MB/s and a minimum about 54MB/s with a blisteringly fast access time of 8.14ms. The write throughput is slightly lower. Again, this might well be achievable by a modern pro-grade SD card.

On the whole, while the results are great for a mechanical drive, they are very much limited by the physics and thus the performance is only slightly improved from the first generation when IOPs are concerned.

CrystalDiskMark reflects similar results as to HDTune, although it’s clear NCQ seems to be having a significant impacts on reads, and a smaller impact on writes. A faster sequential speed is always welcome for “bulk” transfers.

ATTO on the other hand seems to report a mixed-bag of performance scores varying from run to run. This may be due to the NCQ implementation, but the drive does hit a very good 4kB read score near its full potential, and by 8kB and onward, it seems to be at its full performance.

The Fourth Generation Velociraptor 160Gb (WD1600HLFS)

I’ll admit, I never actually purchased a VelociRaptor for use in my own builds. As a thrifty student at the time, I kept running my hardware until it either failed or was too obsolete to be worth using. However, I was delighted to come across one in a junk pile during my trip to New Capital Computer Plaza in Hong Kong.

For the fourth-generation, WD changed its branding to VelociRaptor, probably to make it a little more exciting. Instead of building full-size drives, it would build 2.5″ units which were thicker than standard laptop drives, and mount them into cooling heatsink adapters called IcePacks which turned them into 3.5″ drives. The drives were available without the frame, although this was intended for use in specialty servers where the heat could be properly managed. Unmounting the drive from the frame would void the warranty.

This particular unit is actually a “special” 160Gb version for HP as an OEM drive. The standard capacity for WD’s retail model originally came in 80/150/300Gb.

The underside has four Torx screws, one covered by a label, that hold the drive into place. A red PCB contains the interface adapter which connects the 2.5″ drive’s SATA and power interfaces through to their standard locations on a 3.5″ frame. Some earlier IcePacks did not have this “feature” and thus were incompatible with backplanes.

In the design of the IcePack, both sides have heatsinking fins.

There is no serial number label on the front, but the serial number is laser-etched onto the drive which can be seen through a cutting in the frame.

This generation of drive abandons the FlexPower arrangement, as by 2008, SATA was well and truly established.

Rather disappointingly, the drive does not function. While it does spin-up, it clicks a multitude of times before spinning back down, suggesting possible firmware damage or physical head damage. As a result, the drive isn’t useful, but at least I do have an adapter frame.

The frame has two positions where thermal pads have been installed to carry heat from the drive’s PCB.

The rear of the drive is plain, but the outlines of the two thermal pads can be seen.

Removing the PCB shows a bit of foam with plastic insulation, along with a set of connections for the spindle motor and head-stack assembly.

The PCB has what appears to be three vibration sensors, which were surprising. Two of them are larger ones, at the extreme edges, with a smaller one near where the spindle motor connection is.

The interface adapter is wired straight through. Notice the jumper block on the rear is not-connected to anything and is not necessary, but its existence is probably to simplify parts handling for the manufacturer – they can use the same connector assembly for regular 3.5″ drive PCBs as for the adapter.


The Western Digital Raptor was an important part of my computers in the mid 2000’s through to the early 2010’s, providing a step-up in performance from regular 7200 rpm hard drives in a period where solid state drives were non-existent or too uneconomical to deploy as a boot drive. The diminished capacity, hotter and louder operation were acceptable trade-offs for a much more responsive system that booted quicker and started programs faster. Even though the first Raptor was a bit of a “shambles”, I came to own three units and all have been perfectly reliable despite reallocated sectors. I upgraded to a third-generation Raptor, which also proved equally as reliable but much better on acoustics. It’s unfortunate that having been reminded of the Raptors by the fourth-generation Velociraptor I picked up in Hong Kong, that it should be non-functional.

Unfortunately, the Raptors have been driven to extinction, as solid state drives based around flash memory trounce the Raptor on every performance metric, while (eventually) undercutting on price, mechanical durability, energy consumption and acoustic noise. It’s sad, but also, a natural course for a non-competitive product to take.

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Tech Flashback: BenQ DW1640 DVD±RW Drive Specialties

The final part of a series of postings about the BenQ DW1640 DVD±RW drive looks at some of its other special features and explains why I’m so fond of this particular drive.

Quality Testing

When users burn recordable discs, they don’t have a ready way to gauge the quality of the recording. Owing to the presence of error correction data within the recorded data, a simple read-back verify would succeed as long as sufficient data remained readable to recover the original data post-error-correction. A user would not have any means to more accurately determine whether a disc was “close” to being unrecoverable or not, possibly save for a transfer-rate test where speed dips were indicative of drive retries although the cause would not be clearly understood (e.g. could be disc warpage).

To that end, normally such information can only be garnered through the use of expensive disc analyzers such as CATS. However, this ability began cropping up on drives as part of less-well-documented firmware features that exist with drives of specific chipsets. The most famous are the Mediatek-based drives from LiteOn, where Karr Wang helped popularize media scanning with his KProbe2 tool, which later on, was followed up by DVDScan which has since been abandoned. It was then discovered that other drives with other chipsets also had this ability to differing degrees, including the BenQ DW1640.

To do such quality scans requires third-party software. The ones I use most are Nero CD-DVD Speed and Opti Drive Control, both by Erik Deppe, however there is at least one other alternative (that I will not name owing to some political issues).

The drive supports scanning both CD and DVDs. In the below set of four images, I scanned four different types of blank CD-R (one of the Plasmon discs is a mis-identified Ritek) recorded by a slimline DVD recorder at 24x. Most slimline drives are terrible, but this LiteOn DS8A8SH seems to be somewhat passable.

The drive can return the C1/C2 error count simultaneously with jitter. Lite-On drives can do the same, although jitter support varies and typically is done “post-test” in a second pass. Applicable limits are generally a C1 maximum below 220 (as that is the “failure point”) and preferably no C2 errors. This has been met for all discs. Jitter should be as low as possible, generally below 10-12% is a good idea.

The drive can also test DVDs, returning the PIE, PIF and POF counts with jitter. The drive reports PIFs as sum8 values rather than the standard sum1. As a result, direct comparison with Lite-On drives and ECMA standards for PIFs is a bit difficult. PIEs should be below 280 (limit to failure), and PIFs should be below 4 (sum1) or about 16 (sum8). Note that the PIFs for sum8 condition is not 8 times the sum1 condition, as statistically, there could be a chance that the PIFs are “bunched” in one block which would result in an actual read error. There should be no POFs, else unreadable data is quite likely. Jitter should be below 12%.

With this information, it’s possible to get an idea of what the drive is seeing when it tries to read the disc, although the absolute figures are probably unreliable and incomparable when comparing across different models of drive.

There were other drives, including some combo drives and readers which had scanning ability. However, many of them were not particularly reliable, partly owing to their mostly CAV characteristics, which show increased error rates towards the outside edge not due to recording issues but possibly mechanical ones. CLV scanning is generally preferred, especially at 4x for DVDs, as this reduces the “mechanical” contribution to the variance in scan results.

99-minute Overburning Support

When CD-R/CD-RW media enjoyed a price advantage over DVD media, the quest for ever more capacity was constant, and special blank media of 90 minutes and 99 minutes were released for a limited time. These pushed the standards somewhat in regards to the pitch of the groove, allowing more data to squeeze into the same radius. These discs were all identified as “standard” 79m59m74f style 80 minute blanks, and required overburning to achieve their full capacity. Not all drives were capable of handling this properly, and while the 90 minute blanks were generally quite compatible, the 99 minute ones almost always caused problems.

As it turns out, I still have a few 99 minute discs left, so it was a good thing as I can demonstrate the BenQ’s abilities.

On a simulated overburn, the BenQ DW1640 was able to register a maximum capacity of 99 minutes 56 seconds and 41 frames. Such long simulated capacities are nice, but can it actually be achieved?

I decided to write a 99 minute 00 second 00 frame disc, as in my experience, getting too close to the simulated value will cause issues. Another frequent cause of issues is the lead-in of the disc uses the same addresses as used by the recorded data.

Once burned, the disc achieved a practically flawless read-out on the BenQ DW1640 as well as a LiteOn DH16A6L, LiteOn iHBS212, LG BH16NS55 and LG GGW-H20L. It was an unexpected result, as contemporary drives in that era would often have problems maintaining high read speeds as they struggled to cope with the marginal disc that was just out of spec.

A quality test showed the disc wasn’t in any danger of breaching the C1 limit, and registered zero C2 errors although the jitter was high, possibly due to the fact the manufacturer of the disc is unknown and the write strategy possibly less than optimal. But that’s still better than not being able to burn the disc at all.

If you compare this with other drives, one of several results can occur. Some drives simulate and “pretend” they can record forever, such as this LiteOn DH16A6L –

Others will honestly bail out, but short of the full capacity of the disc, such as the result from my LG GGW-H20L –

But when it comes to writing, all bets are off, as the actual result may not even work as drives struggle to finalize the disc or fail to maintain tracking towards the outer area. The BenQ, however, has always been a reliable writer of these types of marginal discs and has been quite a good reader as well in handling such odd media. It does go without saying that in this case, being able to overburn this much also means handling overburning of regular 80 minute CD-Rs quite well.

DVD+R Overburning Support

While CD-R overburning was easily achieved using contemporary burning software of the time (Nero) and generally just worked, DVD overburning was completely different. In fact, I wasn’t even convinced that DVD overburning could happen and made this post on 14th October 2005 stating my opinion which was quickly refuted as being real, but only for Plextor users.

Attempting to overburn on most drives with DVD+R media results in a burn right up to the limit before suddenly bailing out resulting in a “truncated” burn. However, simulating such a burn on the BenQ DW1640 resulted in a true simulation (no burn to disc) and a value which suggested overburning was indeed possible.

I was intrigued by it, hence my posting about it. Needless to say, I was soon steered into this post by Erik Deppe (the man behind this exact software I’m using to test the discs) which claimed back in 22nd August 2005 that he managed an overburn but a severe quality issue occurred. There wasn’t much action after this until I came along the day after I posted my disbelief in overburning DVDs and realized the issue as being the Solid Burn outer calibration track. Disabling Solid Burn through QSuite allowed me to burn my first overburnt disc (and presumably the world’s first without the quality issue) with the BenQ DW1640 cross-flashed to EW164B. As a result, I also beta-tested ImgBurn version with overburn support for DW1640. It wasn’t a complete success, as overburns had to be greater than about 4500MB or else the drive fails to finalize, but it did allow us to create strangely non-standard discs many years prior to the advent of BurnerMAX for Mediatek based drives and DVD+R DL media.

The DVD+R overburn was successful.

Readback on the DW1640 did show some slow-downs towards the end, but that may also be because the data rate exceeds the chipset’s nominal specifications.

The disc quality is not too bad according to the DW1640 – a bit poor on the inside ring, but otherwise quite decent.

Testing it with two LiteOn drives shows the DH16A6L felt the burn quality to be poorer but not unreadably so. The newer LiteOn iHBS212 Blu-ray drive instead sees the burn as horrible, but that is because it doesn’t seem to scan properly anymore, disobeying the speed request for 4x and not scanning at CLV which puts additional stress on the disc.

Surprisingly, trying to read back the overburnt disc in the LiteOn DH16A6L (at maximum and restricted to 8x), LiteOn iHBS212, LG BH16NS55 and LG GGW-H20L all failed to read to the end, most bailing out at the “normal” limit size of a regular DVD. Might this be a firmware bug related to the way the drives support dual-layer discs? I don’t know for sure. But what I do know is that the data is there, and the laser pick-up can reach it (as the quality scans show). But the other drives can’t read it. It’s always fun to create such strangely incompatible discs.

In case you were wondering, overburning DVD-R has not been a possibility. Using the Nero CD-DVD Speed software, a simulation of DVD-R overburning is possible with the DW1640.

However, when attempting to burn, we find that burns proceed to writing all the data and then fail. Worse still, the drive also ignores our request for 4x write speed.

Ejecting and re-inserting the disc results in a “blank” disc appearing, as none of the inner metadata has been properly written. The data area of the disc has been burned, and the disc is thus a coaster.

Giving it a go with the latest Opti Drive Control software results in a similar result – it just doesn’t finish and a coaster which appears blank is the end result.

Imgburn, being the ever-so-honest software, asks the burner to reserve a track of a size greater than allowed up-front pre-burn, and the burner denies this request thus making overburning impossible through this route. It’s good to rediscover that nothing has changed since 2005.

Firmware Modification

Thanks to the work of ala42 on MediaCodeSpeedEdit tool (MCSE), it is possible to read the firmware’s media support list, rename/reassign strategies to change write speeds or quality and patch the rip-lock to speed up DVD-video ripping.

This basically bought “Omnipatcher” abilities that were bought to LiteOn based drives by the codeguys to a number of other drives. As someone who also owned LiteOn drives at the time, it was nice to see “feature parity”.

In fact, I did help out with some testing of LG GSA-4163B patches back in 2005, as can be seen in the changelog. 25 Aug 2005
 Thanks to Crisao23, ise, lui_gough, PumaUK for testing the LG patches
 - changed GSA-4163 support
   overspeeding of 4x -R media does not work
   supports overspeeding of 4x/8x +R media to 12x and 16x 
   supports overspeeding of 8x -R media to 16x 
   all +R MIDs already supporting 12x can be used @16x
   six additional +R MIDs can be swapped to 12x/16x
   six additional -R MIDs can be swapped to 16x


Considering the BenQ DW1640 wasn’t particularly expensive compared to its contemporaries, it was actually quite a good drive for an average user as it delivered on good robust disc reading, quality disc writing at higher speeds and extra features to allow one to tinker with the drive and assess the quality of discs. The added firmware modification support is a big bonus as well.

On the downside, it didn’t support as many media types as some of the competing models, and it had no support for DVD-RAM (for which I kept an LG GSA-4163B for at the time) or Mt. Rainier (which I had an LG GCE-8523B as well). The quality scan features reported PIFs as sum8-values rather than sum1, thus could not be directly compared with the LiteOn or ECMA standard guidelines, although different drives did always vary with their opinions of the quality of discs.

It kept me good company as my primary burner for many years, and I still enjoy having it around for the “odd job”. I suppose this write-up is my way of thanking the drive for years of trouble-free service. That being said, most modern burners won’t have many of these features exposed to the users, but their burn quality at high speeds has definitely improved along with media support.

It’s right around now that I wished I was the owner of a Plextor drive for some GigaRec fun. It’s yet another way to get more data onto a CD-R, and one which can produce strange compatibility issues too.

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