Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

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Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby red_avatar » 2019-1-31 @ 21:04

I have about a dozen CD / DVD drives lying about, from Plextor to Sony to Philips to Hitachi. Most of them are in too poor a condition to use - sticking trays, scratched discs, trouble reading discs, making odd noises, causing games to stutter due to taking too long to spin up, ... . I actually only have TWO reliable drives left - a 1999 Pioneer DVD player and a Hitachi 4x CD drive with a badly yellowed front (ordered Salon Cream to whiten).

So basically, I'm going to look around for a few drives since I got 5 retro PC that need reliable drives and I'm already using Daemon Tools in combo with a USB stick for the more recent ones so I want to get proper drives to replace them.

So what drives or brands would you recommend? My main "demands" are:

- not too noisy (I'm fine with a slower 16x drive - 52X tend to be very loud)
- it can be a DVD drive too as long as it's IDE
- white or light grey of colour to fit the cases
- relatively fast spin up / read speed to avoid skipping in games
- good readability - even of CDRs or scratched discs
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby Unknown_K » 2019-2-01 @ 01:14

For me old 90's SCSI cdrom drives were very reliable especially Plextor, Yamaha and Teac. Toshiba,Yamaha, Pionere, Plextor and Liteon made OK IDE drives but I found liteon rewritable drives have bad lasers after a while.

Sticking trays either need the dirt removed from the gear or lubed, some might need a new rubber belt. Some drives don't like long mounting screws. Odd noises could be because of the laser being shot and the drive keeps trying to read a sector over and over. Sometimes I clean the laser with IPA and a q-tip if the insides got dusty (clean the tray as well before the laser).

Nothing lasts forever.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby red_avatar » 2019-2-01 @ 09:39

Unknown_K wrote:For me old 90's SCSI cdrom drives were very reliable especially Plextor, Yamaha and Teac. Toshiba,Yamaha, Pionere, Plextor and Liteon made OK IDE drives but I found liteon rewritable drives have bad lasers after a while.

Sticking trays either need the dirt removed from the gear or lubed, some might need a new rubber belt. Some drives don't like long mounting screws. Odd noises could be because of the laser being shot and the drive keeps trying to read a sector over and over. Sometimes I clean the laser with IPA and a q-tip if the insides got dusty (clean the tray as well before the laser).

Nothing lasts forever.


Yeah I planned to throw open some of the drives to see if I can fix them. One of the trays stick because of plastic warping which I'm unlikely to fix, another probably has a notch in one of the gears by the way it moves so those two are write offs. I'm still planning to open them all up to clean them but I'd rather have new drives first since, as you say, nothing lasts forever and it's good to have some spares. The ones that scratch discs I'm not going to even bother trying to fix - it seems these are just bad drives that spin up too early or don't slow down fast enough before they drop the CD back down and I won't have them wreck my CDs.

My favorite drive is my DVD Pioneer which saw a LOT of use and still is going strong - it has no tray either but you push in the CD. It was an early DVD drive and can't write disks but it still works brilliantly - perhaps I should find another one online.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby SirNickity » 2019-2-01 @ 20:18

I have a fondness for my old SCSI Plextors. Aside from that, I use the Creative / Matsushita / Panasonic drives.

I really love the old 2x CR-563. I use that in my 486DX2/66 along with an SB16 to control it. It's a workhorse, iconic, plentiful (but also sought-after), and reads CD-Rs just fine.

My Pentium uses the Creative Hex Speed CD-620E. It can be a little quirky, but it was the first CD drive I had in my own computer when I was a kid.

My PII uses the 2x DVD drive from the DXR2 kit. Again, nostalgia. I also wanted a slow DVD drive for that era of games. Doesn't take long to spin up, doesn't spin down after 2 seconds of inactivity, just works.

I have an early (tray-loaded) Pioneer DVD-RW in my P3, but I want to replace that with a PlexCombo CD-RW / DVD-ROM some day. The Pioneer's a good drive, it just doesn't match the build.

After that (P4 and Core 2), I found some Toshiba DVD-RWs at a local new/used computer store for like $30. Not a bargain, but they were in great condition, and they work well. I started using virtual CD-ROM drives at that point to avoid having to deal with physical discs, so the drive is mostly an OS loading appliance.

I also got an NEC CDR-84 (external version of CDR-74), which is one of those caddy-loading 2x SCSI drives. I use it on my 386 because it's distinctive looking, and I remember lusting after them in old computer magazines when I was a kid. Works great. Slow, but reliable, and reads CD-Rs fine.

I also got the Media Vision Reno portable SCSI 2x drive because I wanted one of those too, as a kid. CD-ROM and discman in one? Awesome! Yeah, not so much. The one I got is probably just not working right, but it hardly reads anything. And when it does, it skips at the drop of a feather and takes forever to find its place. It feels cheap and doesn't look like it would hold up under use very well, so I consider that to be adequate resolution to a 25-year-old wish.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby red_avatar » 2019-2-02 @ 20:33

SCSI seems like a good idea but lord, SCSI drives are NOT cheap. Any decent one is like €80+ without shipping. I'll keep an eye out for another Pioneer like mine though - my old one is in my Pentium I 233 so if a PC that old can use it, I'm sure my 486 can too and having a tray-less drive is always a plus since a lot of damage to a drive are caused by the trays getting hit, pushed, etc.

EDIT: well I got quite lucky. My CD (dual speed) drive in my IBM Aptiva 486SX has been scratching discs since I had my PC (badly ruined my Sam & Max CD and a bunch of other games to the point where it won't read certain parts anymore) and since I don't like shoving in a more modern drive, I was wondering what to do with it. The CD drive looked so unique (the tray door wasn't a straight rectangle but quite thin) and any other drive wouldn't have felt right to me.

A friend, however, donated his old Pentium 70 Hewlett Packard PC and it has the EXACT same CD drive but a quad speed so double the speed. Turns out it's a Mitsumi drive (mind was branded IBM with no other brand on it).

https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/7L0AAOSw ... -l1600.jpg

And not just that: it's absolutely silent while reading and its tray mechanism is smooth as hell. Turns out my friend rarely used this PC at all and certainly not for games so the CD drive barely saw any use. That's one drive sorted in the best possible way! It also goes to show that our "nostalgic" noises are often wear & tear and we forget how it sounded when new.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby SirNickity » 2019-2-04 @ 20:20

Glad you found an option. :-)

Food for thought... I've always considered slot-loading drives to be more failure-prone. The loading mechanisms are much more complicated than a tray. Sure, you might have to replace a rubber belt every 20 years, or apply some fresh lubricant, but that's no biggie. I know some drives had gears that would wear out, but I think that's relatively uncommon. (I haven't ever had it happen on any drive I've ever ran across.) More to the point, I'm a little paranoid about the fact that you have an air intake through a felt 'baleen', collecting dust and debris over time. And then you slip discs in and out of that cavity. I just have to assume there's going to be some abrasion in that process after a while. I'll always prefer a tray, even if I have to maintain it. (At that point, you should probably be opening the cover and swabbing the lens, and re-lubricating the rails anyway.)

I recognized the tray description of that Mitsumi. :-) I have a 2x Mitsumi with the proprietary interface, but I haven't used it yet. Some day, when I decide to tinker with it, I'll be careful to use a throwaway CDR in case there's some common failure mode that lends itself to damaging the disc. So thanks for the heads-up on that one.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby SW-SSG » 2019-2-04 @ 20:49

red_avatar wrote:... A friend, however, donated his old Pentium 70 Hewlett Packard PC and it has the EXACT same CD drive but a quad speed so double the speed. Turns out it's a Mitsumi drive (mind was branded IBM with no other brand on it).

https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/7L0AAOSwzDFb8tbX/s-l1600.jpg

And not just that: it's absolutely silent while reading and its tray mechanism is smooth as hell. ...

I have one of these on the shelf (model CRMC-FX400C3), pulled from some Aptiva model with DX2-66; it's indeed manufactured by Mitsumi but I suppose IBM had a deal to put their name on various Mitsumi ODDs; mine has the IBM logo on its silver label. It's also lacking the volume knob and 3.5mm jack. I wouldn't call it silent -- both the one I have and an identical one I used to have produced this weird high-pitched sound, not unlike that of a CRT, when the CD is rotating -- but they seem solid otherwise. Maybe you can let us know if your minty one can read CD-Rs; I forget if I ever tried this on mine.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby red_avatar » 2019-2-04 @ 21:16

SW-SSG wrote:
red_avatar wrote:... A friend, however, donated his old Pentium 70 Hewlett Packard PC and it has the EXACT same CD drive but a quad speed so double the speed. Turns out it's a Mitsumi drive (mind was branded IBM with no other brand on it).

https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/7L0AAOSwzDFb8tbX/s-l1600.jpg

And not just that: it's absolutely silent while reading and its tray mechanism is smooth as hell. ...

I have one of these on the shelf (model CRMC-FX400C3), pulled from some Aptiva model with DX2-66; it's indeed manufactured by Mitsumi but I suppose IBM had a deal to put their name on various Mitsumi ODDs; mine has the IBM logo on its silver label. It's also lacking the volume knob and 3.5mm jack. I wouldn't call it silent -- both the one I have and an identical one I used to have produced this weird high-pitched sound, not unlike that of a CRT, when the CD is rotating -- but they seem solid otherwise. Maybe you can let us know if your minty one can read CD-Rs; I forget if I ever tried this on mine.

Yeah it reads CDRs fine. And there's zero spin up sound - the only sound you hear is when it's reading small files and even then it's relatively quiet. And yeah my IBM one lacked the volume knob and jack as well - it's the only obvious difference besides it saying QUAD instead of DUAL. Very happy with it all in all. I tried CDs which I KNOW the old drive struggled with including CDRs and they all read fine. With one CDR, I had to open and close the tray before it would read but I recall that being common in old CD drives. I did a read speed test and it reads CDRs slightly slower - 600KB read speed for regular CDs, 450KB for CDR CDs. Then again, my old drive read 300KB for regular CDs.

I may order another 100 CDR spindle and burn a crapton of games on CDR to spare my original CDs + burn ones I don't own (yet). Mind you, my collection has over 500 DOS based CD games ;):

https://i.imgur.com/1c3uM27.jpg

All those CDs are either DOS or early Windows games. I got tons more in CD wallets.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby red_avatar » 2019-2-04 @ 21:17

SirNickity wrote:Glad you found an option. :-)

Food for thought... I've always considered slot-loading drives to be more failure-prone. The loading mechanisms are much more complicated than a tray. Sure, you might have to replace a rubber belt every 20 years, or apply some fresh lubricant, but that's no biggie. I know some drives had gears that would wear out, but I think that's relatively uncommon. (I haven't ever had it happen on any drive I've ever ran across.) More to the point, I'm a little paranoid about the fact that you have an air intake through a felt 'baleen', collecting dust and debris over time. And then you slip discs in and out of that cavity. I just have to assume there's going to be some abrasion in that process after a while. I'll always prefer a tray, even if I have to maintain it. (At that point, you should probably be opening the cover and swabbing the lens, and re-lubricating the rails anyway.)

I recognized the tray description of that Mitsumi. :-) I have a 2x Mitsumi with the proprietary interface, but I haven't used it yet. Some day, when I decide to tinker with it, I'll be careful to use a throwaway CDR in case there's some common failure mode that lends itself to damaging the disc. So thanks for the heads-up on that one.


I've never opened a CD drive but I guess I should give it a go. As basic lube, I use silicon spray which I assume would work for trays, gears, rails, etc. Mind you, it doesn't dry so I'll have to be careful about it staining the lense.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby SirNickity » 2019-2-04 @ 21:31

I use white lithium grease, which I got in a small tube at the local hardware store. Swab on with a Q-tip.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby red_avatar » 2019-2-04 @ 22:36

SirNickity wrote:I use white lithium grease, which I got in a small tube at the local hardware store. Swab on with a Q-tip.


Lithium grease is petroleum based though - usually bad for rubber and plastic in the long run (although I'm sure it's not like it's eating away at it). At work we use it for metal and only metal. The reason I tend to stick with silicone is:

- it doesn't stain (it's fully transparent) and it doesn't get dirty like a lot of greases
- it has a VERY thin layer so it doesn't stress components by adding thickness to gears and so on
- it adheres to just about everything and is harmless for rubber and plastics
- it has a very wide range of applications around the house
- and best of all, I can get it for free since we use tons of it at work ;) - but buying it is very cheap as well

Main limitations of silicone grease, is that it works best for low to medium friction jobs - like door hinges, plastic moving parts, making drawers move more smoothly, etc. It's for the lighter jobs so not for stuff that gets hot or has a lot of pressure. For a CD drive it sounds ideal as long as I don't spray directly to avoid a mist of it ending up all over the drive. I'm surprised how few people actually use silicone spray around the house - many go for WD40 while for most jobs, silicone spray is superior.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby SirNickity » 2019-2-05 @ 20:55

Huh. I remember learning that white lithium is the go-to for things like this, but you make some good points. Maybe it's time to revisit some of that cargo-cult wisdom. (However, I did learn long ago that WD40 is not a lubricant! ... or at least, not primarily.)
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby AlaricD » 2019-2-05 @ 21:08

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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby red_avatar » 2019-2-06 @ 12:37

Well I took four drives apart yesterday. First one (the oldest one) was trickiest of course - impossible to open completely with the tray being closed and the trick with the pin didn't work so I had to assemble it again and hook it up just to get the tray open. But yeah, they all more or less are built the same way:

- open the tray before unplugging
- remove front bit of tray (if you don't, you won't get the front panel off on all models I opened)
- remove bottom plate
- remove front panel (with some models you need to remove panel before you can remove the bottom plate)
- lift the drive out of the case and turn it around and voila, laser, tray and rail + belt are accessible

None of the belts seemed to need replacing but all 4 models look like it would really suck to replace it. I lubed up all the rails (none really looked like they needed it but it makes them run a little more quiet I noticed) and I cleaned all lenses + the rubber rings that hold the discs.

One of the models I opened, wouldn't close and by removing the tray, I noticed that it was slightly bent - probably someone who bumped into it (it's a 2006 Pioneer DVD drive I recuperated from an old PC donated). It was very easy to pull out the tray completely. I then shoved one side underneath my rather heavy Corsair mechanical keyboard and on the other side, I hung the case of the drive which was rather heavy and let it rest for a night. In the morning, the bend was gone. I tested it and now it pulls back inside. Before I had to gently lift the tray before it would retract.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby LunarG » 2019-3-13 @ 09:58

I think I'll post this here, since it's sort of relevant to this topic.

I bought a Creative (Panasonic) CR-563-B CD-ROM drive a couple of months ago. I'm running it via my Sound Blaster 16 CT2230, and it seems to work well enough. I've copied files from it, played some games, and well, in short, everything seem hunky dory, aside from the fact that occasionally as it reads from the CD, it gives off a high pitched little whine. I've had it open and used a q-tip for cleaning off the rails for the laser-assembly, and coated the rails in new Silicot grease. It doesn't happen so often, and make so much noise that it's a deal breaker, but it does worry me slightly. The previous owner hadn't used it since he replaced his SB16 with a Turtle Beach sound card back in the 90's, so it had just sat in a box for 20-odd years.

Any advice on how to proceed? Just keep running it as my main CD-ROM drive in my 486? Retire it? (I'd prefer not... I love those classic logos on the front of it) Any other maintenance I could possibly do?
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby SirNickity » 2019-3-13 @ 17:44

Like only when seeking? Or when spinning the disc?

If it's not damaging your discs, I would just keep using it until it quits working. However -- I'll let you in on a secret. There are SCSI versions of that same drive used in some old OEM PCs and Apple products. They are much less sought-after, and thus cheaper and easier to come by, than the ones with the MKE interface. I would bet that you could use one of the SCSI versions as a donor for the transport bits, if one of the motors or laser assembly fails.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby SW-SSG » 2019-3-13 @ 17:57

LunarG wrote:... aside from the fact that occasionally as it reads from the CD, it gives off a high pitched little whine.

Sounds normal to me; all of these old <12x ODDs make those kinds of noises. I think we're all too used to modern drives where the engineers tried to tone down the "weird" sounds to create a more "refined" feel, aside from just to reduce the overall noise output. HDDs are the same way.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby LunarG » 2019-3-13 @ 18:30

SW-SSG wrote:
LunarG wrote:... aside from the fact that occasionally as it reads from the CD, it gives off a high pitched little whine.

Sounds normal to me; all of these old <12x ODDs make those kinds of noises. I think we're all too used to modern drives where the engineers tried to tone down the "weird" sounds to create a more "refined" feel, aside from just to reduce the overall noise output. HDDs are the same way.


Naw, it's clearly not a normal sound, but it actually seems to be getting slowly better after adding more Silicot grease. I guess it just needs to get properly worked into the plastic parts when it slides along the rails.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby swaaye » 2019-3-13 @ 18:46

My first CDROM was the CR563. Came with the Creative OmniCD kit. Seemed solid, but it has the problem of not being able to read past 650MB I think? I have a special 2 CD release of Star Trek A Final Unity to address that (received from Spectrum Holobyte by mail).

I like the Toshiba 8x and 12x CD drives. Less annoying CLV technology. Good DOS streaming game drives. Recommended by some mags back then.

It's a shame the Kenwood TrueX drives were so unreliable and quirky because they are super fast at reading a stamped CDROM and do it super quietly too. The stars have to align for them to work correctly though, and forget using CDRs.
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Re: Quality mid to late 90's CD/DVD drives?

Postby SirNickity » 2019-3-13 @ 22:52

SW-SSG wrote:Sounds normal to me; all of these old <12x ODDs make those kinds of noises. I think we're all too used to modern drives where the engineers tried to tone down the "weird" sounds to create a more "refined" feel, aside from just to reduce the overall noise output.


Quite the opposite, IME. The 563 is nearly silent, usually. It's only 2x, so it has a similar audible profile to that of a standard CD audio player. You might hear the sled moving during a seek, but even that is pretty benign. Above 8x, they start getting noisy. 24x and up starts sounding like a jet from all the air buffeting around in there -- particularly with slim drives.

swaaye wrote:I like the Toshiba 8x and 12x CD drives. Less annoying CLV technology.


Do you mean CAV? I'm assuming you meant it's less annoying because the disc speed does not change based on position of the optics. CLV is a constant speed of bits moving over the pickup, which requires the RPM to change depending on the effective diameter of that area of the disc. (Unless I got it backwards again.) I can't think of a reason why CLV would be quieter, except when you're at the end of the disc. :-)
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