What can all those hours spent with a stop-watch doing these simple tests tell? Well:
1: Burning by Design
Burning applications are cutting-edge tools as much as the CD devices: one aspect affecting the application's performance is design - design not as in what a pretty colour the package is that the chisel came in, but how well the handle fits
the hand: there's no point in having a keen application if the interface is slippery with meaningless options.
During these simple tests, it became obvious that some powerful applications took excessive commands to do simple tasks; accompanied, in the worst cases, by some half-witted "wizard." It's easier to design a simple - in terms of
tasks & options - application like CloneCD, what's not simple is to keep the focus of the mouse-pointer [the distances you cover between clicks] tight and logical; especially when it's a very powerful general-purpose application like WinOnCD or Nero. The designer's failure to get this part
of the application right can make for a lot of wasted time, effort & frustration on the part of any user, however experienced.
Since speed was being tested, it became obvious that the command-time to do simple tasks would have to be measured, or at least realistically estimated. This varied between a couple of seconds - CloneCD - to a dozen or more clicking randomly
round the screen.
Nero is one of the dumbest-designed tools imaginable: one central problem is that two choices are needed early on: between which recording device is to be used [it counts your HD as a virtual recorder for image-files], and which type of CD is
to be recorded. These choices - for no discernable reason - are not made in the same active window or task-manager. To make it worse, the last-used recorder is default for the next session; so if you wrote an image-file to the HD last time you will always need to reset the recorder to a real
burner, and vice-versa if you last wrote to CD.
Worse still, the normal process for extracting an image-file takes you through several trivial task-manager screens each with a couple of radio-buttons, then another couple of windows, each demanding a click or two. Not only do you have to
wear your mouse-button to the bone; but these clicks are scattered all over the place, demanding much scrolling. The application wilfully ignores the right mouse-button, leaving the icons no more than dumb pictures.
Multicopy – the copy utility in Vob Instant CDWizard 5.2 – deals with the same choices as Nero much more coherently: in a two-paned startup window all the possible source drives, including the HD, are to the left; & all possible write
devices, including the HD, are to the right: any one source, and any one or more write device may be selected. Dropping down from this same window is a tabbed properties manager, where detailed read & write properties may be set, then saved if desired as named tasks. The sole time-waster is
the necessity to type a image-file name each time, even in a named task.
WinOnCD starts up with a genuinely useful task-manager, where preset tasks, as well as personal favourites, are no more than a couple of clicks away. You are then into a task-focussed window, where a few more clicks - usually geographically
close - set the job going: any twiddling & adjusting device or disk-properties is generally done through the right button. This sort of ergonomic thoroughness took real thought & makes this application one you would recommend to users new & old.
DiskJuggler needs a lot of commands for not very complex tasks: on the other hand it specifically encourages you to set & save favourite routines. The several task-windows have a coherent layout, which saves confusion. This seems to me to
be a professional tool where it is assumed the user will want to have regular full access to many options: care has been taken to make this possible.
CDRWin is a well-designed application - a classic example of a great deal of users' feedback refining a rather clunky original. You can adjust everything; but may equally set some sensible defaults. If it has a fault, it is that the most
commonly used buttons are not grouped to one area of the sequence of screens - all to the bottom, or right, for example.
CloneCD does its simple tasks perfectly well - as a piece of product design, it simply has no fault. Most tasks take a couple of left-clicks: defaults are simple to adjust.
Of the applications tested, FireBurner is the hidden gem: it is as ugly as can be; but from the design point of view does very complex things in a very small space, using both left & right buttons in a coherent way. To describe it as
"designed" would be difficult while keeping a straight face; but, like CDRWin, it is a tool refined by a great deal of intelligent concentrated effort.
PrimoCD Plus makes use of the right button to get at active & useful properties windows for the devices. Its management of tasks is also logical. The application is a little unfocussed, requiring the covering of a lot of screen-area during
the mercifully short command-sequences. It has clearly been decorated by a graphics designer, albeit one whose last job was signage for an airport.
BlindRead does its simple thing well, if taking rather a lot of screen-space: the sequence of screens is logical, & the clicks are coherently grouped. It will be most interesting to see whether BlindWrite, whatever its functional
qualities, can provide the same modest perfection in design as CloneCD.
EasyCD D/L v.4.02 has its own standards in ergonomics, as in so much else, and takes half-as-long again as the next-worst application to get to write an image-file. Once the “wizard” – more a gormless imp – has been got rid of, you are faced with an encouragingly pre-set-up screen for
drag ‘n drop from source to an audio-list, in bright kindergarten colours. The File menu offers you – again encouragingly – an option to make an image-file.
From that point on it all goes slooooow: you must browse to the extract-to directory/partition, then type in the file-name. Neither action appears to save new defaults.
The write-image commands are little worse than the next-worst: the EasyCD bonus is that, if using CDRW’s, a last-minute alert-screen prevents you from writing until you have noted the non-playability of RW’s in home & car hi-fi: this
nag appears to be impossible to strangle.
2: Performance & conclusions
We are preparing some more tests covering extraction from tougher sources with various readers. Here, all that is tested is the simple performance of the applications’ extract & write engines, moderated by the design issues considered
above. The source was an unprotected stamped audio CD, unscratched and clean.
Though the writes were at 2x, the differences in times between the applications will largely hold true for higher write-speeds: it is the time an application spends faffing around with cache, buffers & disk-analysis which tends to vary
The obvious winner is CloneCD; combining the fastest 2x write-time with one of the fastest read-times & by far the fastest command-times. All one can say is that these tests cover exactly what this application is designed to do, & no
more – the other writing applications all have a fuller range of capabilities. Having said that; if you need a copier & have suitable hardware CloneCd 184.108.40.206 is simply the best so far – v. 220.127.116.11 has the same engines, plus the ability to control AIN in W2K. Version 18.104.22.168 [under test
now] has the further bonus of accepting command-line settings from “Copy Protection Detect v 0.5” a neat utility which recognises the common protection-schemes & suggests copying strategies.
The other applications fall into three groups: firstly; the three bin/cue applications + Nero; then DiskJuggler & WinOnCD; lastly EasyCD & PrimoCD Plus.
FireBurner 1.6beta5 [teamed here with the excellent BlindRead utility until FB has the capability to extract bin/cue sets], Multicopy [part of ICDW5.2], & CDRWin 3.8a-e are all excellent performers & simple to use once the bin/cue
concept has been understood. FireBurner has the edge in sheer speed, and also offers a genuinely useful corruption-check & image-file mode/sectorsize conversion utility. Since all use this standard form of “iso” the choice here comes down to speed & ease-of-use: FireBurner just
edges ahead – you’ll need [for the moment] BlindRead; but then that’s the best, & purchase will entitle you to an early release of “BlindWrite” at no added cost, so why not?
MultiCopy 5.2 has an amazing “party trick” of being able to write to plural burners of different makes & models simultaneously [at the speed of the slowest, obviously]; this genuinely works – with the SCSI devices used here, at any
rate - & is a tribute to the solidity of the ASAPI-layer & memory-handling of ICDW5.x.
Nero 22.214.171.124, though unquestionably powerful & with a full range of capabilities, is up in the same performance-range as the fastest applications in these simple tests. It is also being constantly updated for the latest hardware &
software compatibilities [though notoriously antagonistic to other “major” burning applications]. However its clumsy command interface – its ergonomics – are so fundamentally flawed that each strapped-on feature is making the core tasks of this application harder to get at. Existing
users may be prepared to adapt; but Nero 126.96.36.199 is no longer a professional tool one could recommend to a DIY-er.
DiskJuggler 2.00.412b is noticeably a little slower than the above applications: this is perhaps due to its engines being optimised for copying specific protections and/or for on-the-fly copying [not tested here]. The design, while clear &
ready to accept both sensible defaults & specific personal tasks, is not ideal for occasional use. Though a “beta” – like FireBurner – it seemed completely stable in W2k.
WinOnCD PE 3.7 is the epitome of the “major” application: not only can it do most every task; but its performance in all is always acceptable, if seldom the best. What stands out is the competence of the ergonomics – the startup Task
Manager is helpful and fast, the various windows launched from it are well-organised & coherent; even the “wizard” is less obtrusive, and more helpful, than that in any other of these applications. The write performance in these tests showed a characteristic hesitation towards
finalisation of the disk which has been noticed before with previous versions; as well as involving a time-penalty, the long motionless pause of the progress meter is slightly un-nerving to the casual user.
The two slowest applications tested here both had problems extracting a native-format image-file from our [accidental] choice of an audio CD for these tests. Both wrote their images quickly – EasyCD especially so – but their overall
performance was poor.
PrimoCD Plus, whether using the read capability of a burner, or one of the fastest dedicated SCSI readers available, was grindingly slow in making a “global image”. A pleasant feature adding to ease-of-use & speed is the comprehensive
device & disk properties screen available through a right-click. It is full-featured enough to be a passable bundled application . . . but then there’s this extract performance thing . . . we’ll be testing it again with different hardware.
It’s sobering to think how many folk’s first impressions of burning applications must come via EasyCD. Once upon a time this was a famously stable application, with users boasting of defragging during a burn. Now – well, we had no
problems installed into W9x [98SE]; however, version 4.02a would not run stably in clean installs of W2K with the h/w used. It repeatedly managed, while the sole application installed, to completely lockup W2K a few seconds into an image-extraction – this after having performed the full gamut
of system-tests which the application encourages.
For some reason, the native-format image-files are extracted from an audio-source as discrete tracks, with little pauses for breath between. If the reader used had not been abnormally fast to spin down & up, the extract times would have
been far worse.
All one can say from the data gathered from these tests is that EasyCD is not the first choice for making a backup of an audio-CD, though at least better than PrimoCD. The built-in handicap of its nannyish interface will probably never allow this
application to be among the very fastest overall, though the write performance was fine; but we will soon see how effective it is with other, & tougher sources.
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