Dual Format DVD Burners 28th June 2004
We've been waiting to do this review for a while now mainly for TDK to send us a sample but in the end they decided not to. Whether this was due to lack of availability or not wanting to go up against the stiff competition of the products we are reviewing here today will probably never be known. On to the review.
We received retail packs from LiteOn, NEC and Plextor. All are dual format 8-speed DVD+R/DVD-R except for the Plextor model which writes DVD-R at a maximum of 4x.
The drives are of a fairly standard length except the LiteOn which is shorter - no doubt a bonus for owners of Small Form Factor PCs. We'll look at each drive individually and then pit them against each other in a series of tests.
The Plextor is the only drive in our Roundup to offer a two year warranty and is a reflection of their confidence in the build quality of their products.
Supplied are the usual leads, screws and basic manual. Application CDs have various software which is listed in the feature comparison table below.
The drive itself is very attractively styled and certainly the most appealing of the three.
The NEC model burns at 8x with either DVD-R or DVD+R media and is widely available now.
As well as the usual cables we have media supplied in jewel boxes (becoming a rarity these days as price pressures mount) including a 4x DVD+RW - something we have been unable to find from any online source to date.
As with other NEC models the fascia is plain for compatibility with the greatest number of cases.
LiteOn manufacture a huge quantity of Optical drives and this is their only 8x product before they switch to 16x as well as Dual Layer by the end of the year.
A lot of software is supplied (see feature comparison table below) representing excellent value for money.
This is the standard LiteOn fascia and while not as stylish as the Plextor one, conveys all the pertinent information.
For this and all other tests we will stick to the following order: Plextor PX_708A on the left, NEC ND-2500 in the center and LiteOn SOHW-812S on the right.
Nero's information utility shows all the features at a glance and is a useful comparison to see what the drives can and cannot do. Full size screen captures can be displayed by clicking on the above images. All drives are Region locked (RPC-2) and would require a custom BIOS to be flashed to become RPC-1. Naturally this would void the warranty and may leave a drive completely inoperative and so is a risky venture.
Both the Plextor and the LiteOn can write to CDs at 40x whereas the NEC can only manage 32x and all three drives have a 2MB buffer. Although we would like to see larger buffers as write speeds increase, it seems the inclusion of BURN-proof technology has made coasters much harder to create due to a brief hiccup in the data stream. Sustained interruptions can still ruin a DVD burn as part of the capacity of a disk is used up each time Buffer Under run is employed.
Each drive was flashed to the latest BIOS for maximum compatibility with media and in all three cases this was done from within Windows XP and did not require a DOS boot-up making the process a painless one even for novice PC users. After this the drives were tested with a range of media and found to be compatible with all of them. For the testing we decided on Princo 8x DVD-R disks as we had several cake boxes of these lying around. The supplied disks were not used as they may have been specially picked by the manufacturer for performance and reliability - we wanted to make the tests as realistic as possible.
We started by burning a 4GB ISO image at 8x with Nero 6 and timed the results.
The Plextor won the test with the LiteOn coming in a close second. No errors were reported during the burning process but that does not necessarily mean the disks were perfect (readers who have relied on successful completion messages in the past only to find read errors at a later date will know to take these messages with a pinch of salt). It is a well known fact that writing at a slower speed makes for more reliable disks so how well can data be read back at 8x?
The LiteOn was the fastest at reading back data from a recorded DVD and also produced the cleanest graph. The others had "noisier" graphs and also exhibited a minor glitch (hardly noticeable though) towards the end of the disk. Since the test was performed on a 3.2GHz P4 the CPU usage figures should be taken with a pinch of salt and our CPU usage never went beyond 2-3% during the burning process for any of the drives.
Now we come to another important issue. If DVDs do not suffer from DVD rot (still only isolated incidents so far) they should last a lifetime. During that time it is unlikely they will always be accessed on the drives used for recording and so the question of reliably reading the disks in other drives becomes important. It is wrong to assume that disks recorded in one drive will play back equally well in other models and in particular stand alone DVD players. Our tests showed that disks created in any of the drives at 8x played back without any glitches in 3 different low to medium range DVD players.
Read tests were performed with the previously burned disks in a Pioneer DVD-106 DVD-ROM drive with the following results.
Both the disks burned on the Plextor and the LiteOn were fine along the entire length whereas the disk burned on the NEC required some read retries. Basically this means that the disk was slowed down to allow more accurate reading, a process which Windows does automatically. DVD Dcryptor showed no read errors on this disk but did slow down towards the end of the read process. The tests showed that all three drives could produce disks that could be read back universally but the NEC drive was something of a borderline case.
While we would have liked to have even more drives for comparison we were able to test three of the most popular brands to their limits.
The NEC drive, while a solid performer did leave cause for concern in some areas but to be perfectly honest its unlikely that the average user would have noticed the glitches our tests highlighted. The NEC ND-2500 comes third place overall in our tests.
The Plextor drive is stylish and has good build quality backed up by a two year warranty and is only let down by its 4x recording limitation with DVD-R disks. Performance is very good and is highly recommended for those interested only in the DVD+R format and we award the Plextor PX_708A our Hardware Review Silver award.
It was close but the winner has to be the LiteOn drive with excellent performance, a generous software bundle and compact size. LiteOn are a huge manufacturer of Optical drives and are rapidly pushing forward technological boundaries with 16x and Dual Layer models on the way. We award the LiteOn SOHW-812S our Hardware Review Gold Award.
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