Believe it or not, the DataPlay disc is making a comeback. Originally developed as an affordable alternative to flash media, these quarter-sized, 500MB optical discs made a big splash at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show. The ideal solution for portable devices like MP3 players digital cameras and PDA's, the DataPlay disc quickly gained support from the computer and music industries. While a few DataPlay products did ship, production delays eventually pushed the company into bankruptcy.
In 2002, DataPlay's assets were purchased by a newly formed company called DHPI. Instead of selling off DataPlay's intellectual property, DHPI continued to develop the technology. Among other things, they replaced the proprietary file system in favor of FAT 12/16 and added support for USB 2.0, making the DataPlay platform compatible with computers running Windows, Mac OS and even Linux. DHPI's efforts haven't gone unnoticed either. They have a small, but growing customer base, including one of the world's largest optical media manufacturers, Ritek.
At the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show, Ritek gave visitors a sneak peak of their new DataPlay-enabled devices. On display were the TOPY Mini Writer and TOPY Photocopier. Sporting a USB interface and sleek design, the TOPY Mini Writer is the smallest DataPlay burner in the world. The TOPY Photocopier builds upon Mini Writer, adding a SD/MMC/Memory stick slot, FM tuner, voice recorder and support for MP3 play back.
While the TOPY Photocopier is still a ways off, the TOPY Mini Writer has finally made its way to the US. Thanks to the good people at Advanced Media, Inc. (Ritek USA) we were able to get one for review.
Before we get started, lets take a closer look at the DataPlay's recordable media. Surprisingly, the physical parameters are very similar to that of a DVD-ROM. Both use a red laser with a wavelength of 650 nm and a lens with a numerical aperture (NA) of 0.6. The track pitch is also the same at 0.74μm.
The discs themselves are 32mm in size and are double sided. Each side can hold up to 250MB of data giving it a total capacity of 500MB. For maximum compatibility, DataPlay media also comes preformatted with the FAT file system.
For added protection, DataPlay media is enclosed in a 42mm x 34mm x 3mm cartridge made out of impact resistant polycarbonate. Even with the cartridge, its still considerably smaller than 12cm and even 8cm DVD/CD media. Also, DataPlay claims that when placed in a protective case, the discs can be preserved for up to 100 years.
The TOPY Mini Writer comes in a small, pastel colored box. On the front, back and sides there are pictures of the drive from various angles. Opening the box, you're presented with a plastic bubble prominently displaying the Mini Writer and the included DataPlay media.
Underneath the Mini Writer and media, you'll find the user manual, installation CD, USB cable, warranty card and carrying bag. The carrying bag will definitely come in handy if you plan to take the Mini Writer on the road with you.
Ritek isn't kidding when they call the TOPY Mini Writer "the world's smallest portable writer." Measuring only 6.5cm x 6.5cm x 2 cm, the drive can easily fit in a pocket, purse or laptop bag. Made of a silver colored plastic, the Mini Writer is also very lightweight. According to Ritek, the drive weighs in at only 76g.
The Mini Writer has not one or two, but four LED's. The two LED's on the top light up red when the drive is powered on. The two on the bottom light up a bright blue whenever it is reading or writing. The drive's eject button is located right in the middle of the LED's. If you look at the bottom of the drive, you can see that it has four small rubber feet to prevent it from sliding around when placed on a flat surface.
The front and back of the Mini Writer aren't as exciting looking. On the front, you can see the drive's media door. When inserting a DataPlay disc, you'll want to put the end with the metal cover in first. On the rear, you have the Mini Writer's USB 2.0 interface and DC-In port. I'm not really sure why Ritek included the DC-In port as the drive is powered off of the USB bus.
Installing the TOPY Mini Writer is pretty straight forward. Under Windows 2000/XP, Mac OS 9.2.0 and Linux (kernel 2.4.0), the drive is recognized as a standard USB Mass Storage device, meaning no drivers or software are required. Simply plug in the Mini Writer and go.
The Mini Writer will also work with Windows 98 and ME. However, you will need to install a driver and a small utility first. Both are included on the installation CD and can also be downloaded from Ritek's website.
If installed correctly, the Mini Writer should show up in the Device Manager. Under Windows XP, the drive isidentified as a "TOPY Mini Writer USB Device".
To test the performance of the TOPY Data Writer I ran a series of benchmarks using HD Tach RW 22.214.171.124 from Simpli Software. HD Tach can be used to test a storage device's sequential read/write speeds, access time and CPU usage. To get a feel for the "real world" performance, I also copied and pasted 200MB of random files and directories in Windows Explorer.
Before I go on, I should point out that while the Data Writer supports USB 2.0, it doesn't come close to using the available bandwidth. According to Ritek, the drive has a maximum transfer rate of 0.79 MB/s when reading and 0.97 MB/s when writing. This is a far cry from the 60 MB/s (480 Mbits/s) that USB 2.0 is capable of.
The Data Writer's transfer rates stayed pretty consistent from start to finish. Looking at the screenshot above, you can see that the drive was a little slower than advertised when writing. However, it also exceeded its rated read speed, averaging at about 1.1 MB/s.
To test the "real world" performance of the TOPY Data Writer, I copied and pasted 200 MB worth of randomly generated files and directories. All of the files are between 6KB and 10MB in size and no more than three directories deep.
The Data Writer performed relatively well here, taking 4:03 to write our test data and 3:36 to read it back. If you do the math, this gives the drive and average writing speed of 0.82 MB/s and an average read speed of 0.92 MB/s.
Ritek and DataPlay really have their work cut out for them. While the ability to store 500 MB of data on a disc the size of a quarter is impressive, the technology needs a customer base to keep it alive. With flash media being more affordable now than ever, it's going to be very hard to convince consumers that DataPlay discs are the way to go. Then again, with 750MB and 1GB discs on the way, this could change, especially if the technology is applied to personal video players and camcorders.
As Ritek's first DataPlay based product, I went into this review not really knowing what to expect from the TOPY Mini Writer. With its small size and good looks, the drive is ideal for anyone that needs to read or write to DataPlay discs. Thanks to its USB 2.0 interface, it's also very easy to install and move from computer to computer. Just don't expect blazing transfer speeds as the Mini Writer doesn't come close to tapping USB 2.0's available bandwidth.
The TOPY Mini Writer has just started shipping here in the US, and can be found for about $130 at places like Newegg. While the price might seem a little steep to some, this includes three blank DataPlay discs, giving you 1.5GB worth of storage right out of the box.