Panasonic 562 CD-ROM

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, October 15, 1993

Panasonic 562 Double Speed CD-ROM player


GMS Datalink Intl. Corp.
8282 Sherbrooke Street
Vancouver V5X 4R6
604-327-2600 fax

Like everything else in the computer hardware world, CD-ROMs are a moving
target. Last year's high-end technology becomes this year's mass-market.

We've seen it in desktop computers, where the 486 chip is now the entry-
level. And in notebooks where 486s and colour screens are suddenly
affordable, and seemingly everywhere... quicked than I can write reviews
about them.

CD-ROM drives have been hampered by slow speed... they're noticably slower
than hard drives. And for many multimedia applications, where you're trying
to pump large amounts of data from the CD-ROM disk, through the CPU, and onto
the screen, this can become annoying. Try watching a video clip... bad enough
it's in a tiny on-screen window. Now how do you feel when the sound or the
action break up... pausing, and then racing to catch up, or worse yet, get
out of sync?

Last year, NEC released a double-speed player. This ran at standard speed for
audio CDs (otherwise music would all sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks!),
but ran twice as fast for CD-ROMs. This doubled the data-transfer rate, from
the multimedia standard of 150 kbs per second, to around 300 kb/sec. The
result is dramatic... programs start up faster, and on-screen video is much

Other companies, notably Toshiba, and UAC/Texel quickly came out with double-
speed models of their own. But consumers were forced to pay more for this
enhancement... these drives could cost as much double the price of slower,
single speed drives.

Japan's giant Matsushita, better known by its North American trade-name Panasonic,
is changing that. It has released a number of double speed drives that are
available at little more than the cost of a single speed model, just a few
months ago.

I recently got a chance to look at their model 526. This is an internal, AT-
bus CD-ROM player, which carries a list price of $500 CDN, but is being sold
locally for around $350.

It installed quickly and easily into my computer. As an internal model, it
required an open 5 1/4" drive bay, which may not be available in some desktop
cases. After a simple software installation, it started right up... except
for a couple of minor glitches.

-- there is no indication on the interface card which way to hook up the
cable. Oh well, I thought... if it doesn't work, I can simply reverse it. I
got it right the first time, but that's just luck.

-- the software came on a 3 1/2" disk only, and insists on running on drive
B:, which is my 5 1/4" drive. Easy enough to copy onto a 360k floppy. Would
it work on a computer with a single floppy drive? Yes... in that case, a user
could insert the disk, type B:, and then install. Like the first minor
problem, this is not clearly spelled out in the brief documentation.

A good point, though, is that SoundBlaster owners can run this drive directly
off their audio card, saving a slot.

The unit has an eject button, which smoothly slides the CD-tray out. It doesn'
t make use of disk caddies, those plastic see-through cases for the CDs that
some other units require. This has a good and a bad side. The caddies are
expensive, and ideally you'd have one for each disk, to minimize handling.
Still, in high-traffic settings, such as workplaces, schools, or libraries, I'
d rather have my disks protected in caddies, rather than risk peanut-butter
fingers gumming up the works.

As well, the player has a headphone jack and volume control on the front, and
standard audio RCA output jacks on the back. Simple and standard.

And that's about it... the unit performs as advertised, with the promised
double-speed. All these units, regardless of manufacturer, provide pretty
similar performance. As an AT-bus unit, you don't get the potential advantage
of chaining multiple SCSI add-ins together in a single chain. On the other
hand, you also don't have the potential hassles that many people still seem
to find, running SCSI on a PC.

Rumour has it that the competition is about to release triple and even
quadruple speed CD-ROM players. As always, when these are released, they'll
be at a premium price. For now, though, the Panasonic 562 is about as good as
it gets, for the price.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan