Review: Primera ComposerMAX CD/DVD Duplicator
Posted Dec 1, 2002

With two or four recorders, optional in-line printing, cavernous 400-disc capacity, and competent operation, the ComposerMAX continues Primera's long-standing tradition of offering useful products at attractive prices. It's important, however, to carefully consider your application needs and appreciate there will always be a variety of solutions to call upon. For unattended duplication and inkjet printing for large quantities of discs in situations where turnaround time is not critical—all in a single unit—ComposerMAX fits the bill to a "T."

Primera Technology (www.primera.com) can take well-justified pride in its line of CD and DVD disc-label printers. Hence, its focus on creating an army of supporting duplication systems, the latest being its ComposerMAX. As its name suggests, the ComposerMAX is Primera's largest model to date, adding enhanced disc capacity and throughput in a single unit to Primera's diversified product line.

As is the case with many current automated systems, the ComposerMAX is available in CD-R and DVD-R configurations. Both come equipped with two or four recorders and are available either by themselves or with optional in-line inkjet or thermal transfer printers. The ComposerMAX unit itself consists of a large platform which acts as the base for a vertically mounted pick-and-place robot married to five removable disc input and output bins to provide a colossal total working capacity of 400 discs. Recorders are mounted in a bank at the rear of the unit with the printer sitting atop and a large plastic cover enclosing all.

The ComposerMAX cuts a truly imposing figure, weighing in at a hefty 72 pounds and measuring 17.4" H x 20" W x 30.5" D. Considerably more headroom is, of course, necessary to accommodate the hinged cover, and additional rear space is required to allow room for the connecting cables and adequate ventilation.

The test system came equipped with four TEAC 40x12x48 CD-W540E CD-R/RW recorders; Primera plans to replace these drives soon with the latest LG (HLDS) GCE-8480B 48x16x48 offering. Due to a variety of limitations, Primera recommends recording speed be limited to 32X when using the TEAC units, but hopes are that LG devices will allow full 48X operation. DVD models currently make use of Pioneer's 2X DVR-A04 DVD-R/-RW recorder. Primera will incorporate the new 4X DVR-A05 model when those drives become available.

Several in-line labeling options are available for the ComposerMAX, although it should come as no surprise that only Primera solutions are supported. Currently offered are the industry-standard Signature IV (www.emedialive.com/r4/2001/starrett6_01.html) and SignaturePro (www.emedialive.com/r4/2001/bennett9_01.html) color inkjets, as well as the Inscripta(www.emedialive.com/r4/2001/bennett2_01.html) thermal transfer printer. While some might be tempted to purchase the less expensive Signature IV alternative, the SignaturePro is a better match for the ComposerMAX thanks to its faster printing speed and greater ink capacity. It's important to note, however, that even the SignaturePro's two ink-cartridge system (separate black and three-color) is often inadequate to supply the labeling needs of a full run of 400 discs. Primera promises that help will soon arrive in the form of an enhanced driver to allow the printer's black cartridge to be replaced by a second color cartridge.

System Requirements and Installation
The ComposerMAX is configured to be a peripheral for PC-compatible computers, so recommended minimum system requirements are meaty. They consist of at least a 1.7gHz Pentium 4 PC with 512MB RAM and a 7200RPM Ultra ATA/100 or better hard drive with 2 to 5GB of free space running MS Windows XP or 2000 using Service Pack 2. Duplicator connection is made using the included IEEE 1394 (FireWire, i.LINK) interface card, a parallel hook-up for the printer, and serial port to control the robotic disc loader.

For this evaluation, the ComposerMAX was put to the test using a 1.7gHz Pentium 4 PC with 512MB RAM running MS Windows XP Professional, a Western Digital 60GB Ultra ATA/100 EIDE hard disk, Adaptec DuoConnect AUA-3121 combination USB 2.0/IEEE 1394 host adapter, and a Lite-ON IT LTD-163 16X Max ATAPI DVD-ROM drive. Using a fast storage system is a must to achieve reliable and optimum system performance. Thus, to eliminate the possibility of an I/O bottleneck, source data was staged on a Seagate Cheetah X15 15,000RPM hard drive connected to the PC using an Adaptec 29160N Ultra160 SCSI interface card.

Piecing together large duplicators is often challenging, but setting up the ComposerMAX is straightforward. It involves attaching the cover and printer to the main duplicator, installing the included IEEE 1394 interface card, fastening the appropriate cables, and loading the appropriate drivers and software onto the PC. Physically aligning the various components also is relatively painless.

Maximum Operation
Directing the ComposerMAX's movements is the latest version of Prassi/Veritas' PrimoDVD, an established and capable solution packed with a lot of features and offering several ways to duplicate existing discs. The fastest method is to use a CD/DVD-ROM drive as the master source for direct disc-to-disc duplication. This simply involves placing the disc to be duplicated in the CD/DVD-ROM drive, specifying the desired number of copies to make, selecting which recorders to use, and then submitting the job for processing. PrimoDVD can also be set up to perform a number of jobs in sequence by preemptively creating disc images on the PC's hard drive. A "Stream" mode is also available, which removes the need to archive disc contents beforehand by allowing the ComposerMAX to duplicate multiple master CDs placed in the input bin along with the appropriate number of blank discs to be written.

Smarter than your average bear, PrimoDVD is a premastering application at heart and can create most popular formats from scratch, including CD-ROM, Red Book Audio, CD-Text, and VideoCD. These are supported by a full range of features such as Mode 1 and Mode 2 single and multisession authoring, all recording modes (DAO, TAO, SAO) and common file systems (ISO 9660 with Joliet extensions, UDF 1.02).

PrimoDVD does have a few inadequacies, however, including a mid-1990s user interface, insufficient documentation, and inconvenient operational quirks such as requiring users to identify the physical location of each recorder at each startup.

As is the case with most duplicators, printing with the ComposerMAX requires creating label artwork ahead of time. This can be done through the native "Disc Face" facility in PrimoDVD, by using a conventional graphics program or the SureThing software included with all Primera printers. The PRN files that are output from these programs are then used as the label sources with the ComposerMAX able to duplicate and print discs or just print using a separate software utility. One noteworthy limitation, however, is the inability to label when using the "Stream" mode.

Let the Big Dogs Eat
During testing, the ComposerMAX proved powerful, versatile, and reliable, ably duplicating 1,000 discs over the course of a month's evaluation. When it came to production throughput, however, trial results suggest that the ComposerMAX won't break any land-speed records. During testing, using all four recorders and a SignaturePro printing full-surface labels in 1200dpi presentation mode, it took the ComposerMAX roughly 26 minutes to output ten 700MB discs, 24 minutes for ten 350MB discs, and 22 minutes for ten 50MB discs.

Performing the same tasks in a two-recorder configuration proved only slightly slower at 29 minutes, 23 minutes, and 22 minutes, respectively. Straight-ahead duplication without labeling was predictably faster with corresponding four-recorder tasks clocking in at 17 minutes, 13 minutes, and 8 minutes, and two-recorder results at 26 minutes, 17 minutes, and 10 minutes.

Contributing to its leisurely performance are several of the ComposerMAX's design characteristics. For example, while the PrimoDVD software's ability to record and print simultaneously helps speed up the production process, full-surface printing with the SignaturePro creates an obvious bottleneck, especially when duplicating and labeling discs containing small data sets. Further delays result from PrimoDVD's synchronous operation, which requires all of the recorders to be loaded before duplication begins. In terms of its physical layout, the ComposerMAX is arranged such that its recorders cannot be loaded and unloaded while the SignaturePro is printing.

Is Bigger Always Better?
When surveying the duplicator landscape, it's important to consider all of the alternatives. Instead of looking at a single large unit such as the ComposerMAX, it might make more sense for some outfits to consider the potential advantages of purchasing several smaller systems. For example, two of Primera's ComposerPro models' combined capabilities total 4 recorders, 2 printers, and 200-disc capacity. Such a dual arrangement halves the ratio of recorders to printers thereby reducing the labeling bottleneck, especially when dealing with full high-resolution labels and partially recorded discs. Along with increased performance comes redundancy, as well as the flexibility to perform two jobs simultaneously.

In concrete terms, two fully outfitted ComposerPro units with SignaturePro printers cost roughly the same as one similarly equipped ComposerMAX—although there are obviously additional costs (purchasing a second computer) and trade-offs (diminished disc capacity and the need for extra production space). Ultimately, the appropriateness of a system depends upon the type of jobs to be performed and balancing the equipment to best advantage.

With two or four recorders, optional in-line printing, cavernous 400-disc capacity, and competent operation, the ComposerMAX continues Primera's long-standing tradition of offering useful products at attractive prices. It's important, however, to carefully consider your application needs and appreciate there will always be a variety of solutions to call upon. For unattended duplication and inkjet printing for large quantities of discs in situations where turnaround time is not critical—all in a single unit—ComposerMAX fits the bill to a "T."


CONFIGURATION OPTIONS
• ComposerMAX with 2 CD-R/RW recorders $6,495
-with 4 CD-R/RW recorders $7,995
-with 2 DVD-R recorders $9,995
-with 4 DVD-R recorders $12,995

• Signature IV inkjet printer $1,495
• Signature Pro inkjet printer $1,895
• Inscripta thermal transfer printer $2,995
• Inscripta printer adapter kit $375