Installation and Setup
Out of box, the 50xMax comes with a floppy disk with DOS drivers. The instruction booklet is no more than an installation guide; there are no specs listed anywhere in the documentation (so keep the box or bookmark the Website if you want the specs). Four narrow-threaded Phillips screws are included for installation of the internal drive, as is an analog CD-Audio cable, one side terminating in a standard MPC-3 molex jack, and the other in Sony Standard.
Being a standard ATAPI drive, installation of the 50xMax was simple and painless. The back of the drive has the standard 6-pin configuration header for Master, Slave, and Cable Select. The 40-pin IDE header was clearly labeled with PIN 1, and both analog and digital CD-Audio Out headers are included. It's unfortunate that Asus did not include a Digital cable for CD-Audio, but since the Sound Blaster Live! is the only mainstream card shipping with Digital-CD IN, it's no big loss. The front face-plate has a headphone jack and volume knob for CD-Audio, and Play/Forward and Stop/Eject buttons. Also present is the seldom-used paper-clip emergency release hole, which I (fortunately) never had to test.
After installing the drive, I booted up the system, confirmed in BIOS that PCI IDE Bus Master was enabled, and loaded up Win98. The drive installed without a hitch, replacing the generic 36x max CD-ROM seamlessly and without requiring new drivers or even a reboot. CD-ROM integration in Win98 is a blessing for those of us who remember having to install drivers and manually tweak MSCDEX.
What's that Sound?
The first thing I noticed about the 50xMax was the noise. This drive really packs a powerful motor, and anytime the disc spins up or remains in operation, it sounded like a jet fighter taking off. With our testbed systems set up as desktops, I also noticed the drive vibrating slightly more than a standard CD-ROM.
Asus claims the use a proprietary system called DDSS II (Double Dynamic Suspension System II) to limit the noise and reduce the vibration of the motor, but at 10,400 RPM, I guess you can't expect it to be silent. Hearing stories about early 10K rpm hard drives torqueing full-sized towers to the ground, I was a little concerned at first, but the drive appeared to remain stable in its enclosure.