Dual Format DVD Burners 24th December 2004
Just in time for Christmas we are able to review two of the latest Dual Layer drives to become available. Both write to single layer DVDs at 16-speed and dual later DVDs at 4-speed. We managed to find some Verbatim 2.4x DVD+R DL disks (courtesy of Verbatim) which quite happily write at 4x without problem. 16-speed blank DVDs are becoming available but DL DVDs will be scarce (and expensive) for some time.
The LiteOn drive came in a retail pack but the NEC one was a bare drive. The NEC lacks a front headphone connector but few people use these so it's no great loss.
The LiteOn is shorter (almost standard on LiteOn drives now) which may be useful when space is tight. Otherwise both drives have the usual rear connectors etc.
The LiteOn came in a nice retail pack.
This includes Nero and PowerDVD which are great to get started straight away.
The NEC model was a bare drive so we cannot say for sure what would be included in a retail pack but looking at its siblings it can be reasonably expected to be at least as good as the LiteOn offering.
For this and all other tests we will stick to the following order: NEC ND-3500A on the left and LiteOn SOHW-1653S 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 NEC and the LiteOn can write to CDs at 48x and both 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 both 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 and Verbatim 2.4x DL disks (writing at 4x). We started by burning a 4.7GB ISO image at 16x with Nero 6 and timed the results. Then we used an 8GB ISO with Nero 6 to test dual layer burning and timed those results as well. The are summarized in the following table.
There was a problem burning at DL with the LiteOn drive and we got the following message:
After retrying we concluded that the drive was faulty but were not able to get a replacement in time for this review.
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?
The graphs show that both drives were able to read back the disks with no glitches but the NEC drive won easily in terms of speed.
Due to the inability of the LiteOn to successfully burn at DL we can only show the result for the NEC drive which coped very well without glitches. The symmetrical shape of the graph is characteristic of DL disks and there was no noticeable pause when switching layers.
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.
Read tests were performed with the previously burned disks in a Pioneer DVD-106 DVD-ROM drive with the following results.
The LiteOn burned DVD refused to be recognized correctly let alone allow data access. The NEC burned disk read back flawlesly.
Once again we cannot provide a result for the LiteOn drive but the NEC drive produced disks which could be played without problem in any DVD-ROM drive or DVD player.
It's a shame the LiteOn drive developed a fault during testing and we hope to update this review when we get our hands on a working one. The NEC 3500A is a superb drive and can be picked up for around £50 in many places. It is much faster than its predecessor at ripping DVDs and finally removes the need to have a separate DVD-ROM drive (previously DVD writers tended to be much slower at reading disks).
Although Dual Layer disks are still scarce there is no reason not to buy a Dual Layer burner like the NEC 3500A as the price premium over as Single Layer burner is negligible and a small prce to pay for future peace of mind. Consumers will also be pleased to know that recordings made at full speed (16x) play back flawlessly and there is no need to use a lower speed for those "precious DVDs". We would still recommend any special occasions (weddings etc.) burned onto DVD to be done at least twice and disks kept separately until more is known about the phenomena of DVD rot.
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