Five Multiformat DVD Recorders
At first blush, DVD recorders are very cool. You can use them to back up files (up to 4.7GB), archive home movies or create DVD movies of your very own to give to family and friends. Of course, they also have more controversial uses, such as backing up your DVD movie collection.
In practice, DVD recorders have caused nearly as many headaches as solutions. One major problem has been the bifurcation of media. Early on, it was DVD-R and DVD-RW, supported by the Recordable DVD Council ((RDVDC) and DVD Forum. Meanwhile, the DVD+RW Alliance brought us the DVD+RW standard.
If you want to record music onto a recordable CD, you go out and buy CD-R media, record your music and play it anywhere. Yes, some audio players don’t understand CD-RW, but that’s a nuance easily discerned by the price difference. With DVD recorders, users needed to be aware of the media type. A DVD+R disc wouldn’t work in a DVD-RW drive. Issues like setting the “compatibility bit” to enable playback of DVD+RW/+R media in some consumer players add another layer of confusion.
We’ve written extensively about this split in recordable DVD standards here, so we won’t dwell on the format wars. However, having two standards (three, if you consider DVD-RAM, still a fairly minor player) creates tremendous confusion amongst users. Last spring, Sony was the first to bridge the gap between the two media types, shipping the first multiformat DVD recorder, the DRU-500A. We discovered quickly that DVD+RW offered faster performance and that, when using recordable media in consumer players, compatibility issues are gradually becoming a thing of the past.
Now, a host of multiformat DVD recordable drives are arriving on the scene. We look at five of them, to get a feel for what’s on the market and predict where the standards war might be heading. Each drive is interesting in its own way.
The Pioneer DVR-A06: Pioneer is the, well, pioneer of DVD recordable drives, having originated the DVD-R/-RW standard adopted by the RDVDC. While it might be a tacit admission by Pioneer that the -R/-RW standard is losing out, it’s also making them a stronger player in the data side of DVD recording.
The Asus DRW-0402P/D: The Asus unit is focused toward a commodity market. It was the lowest cost drive we tested, with a street price dipping under $170.
The Iomega Super DVD Writer: The Iomega drive is the only drive here that can write to the DVD-RAM format. It’s also the priciest drive, exceeding $300 in some outlets.
The Memorex Dual Format Drive: Memorex actually OEMs the mechanism from Pioneer, so it’s worth comparing both price and performance to the Pioneer drive.
The Plextor PX-708A: This dual format drive is Plextor’s bid to regain performance leadership in the optical drive market. This drive can record at 8x speeds to DVD+R media rated for only 4x burning.
We’ll check out the performance of these drives, and then examine each in more detail.
We used our standard storage testbed, which consists of an Intel Pentium 4 2.8 GHz with a 533-MHz front-side bus. The motherboard is an Intel 865PE board with a pair of 256MB DDR400 modules.
Intel D865PERL System (DDR333)
2.8GHz Pentium 4 (533-MHz FSB)
Motherboard and Chipset
Intel D865PERL; Intel 865PE chipset
2 x 256MB Kingmax DDR400 memory; running in dual-channel DDR333 mode; CAS2.5-3-3 timings
Radeon 9800 (non-Pro); Catalyst 3.7 drivers
Sound Blaster Audigy Gamer
Windows XP Professional; Service Pack 1 installed
(Note: the Intel Application Accelerator was not installed.)
We used CD Winbench 99 and Nero’s DVD/CD Speed application for benchmarking read-and-write performance for both CD and DVD discs. After all, these drives are advertised as being able to handle CD recording chores as well as DVD recording. The test CDs for the Nero tests were created using Nero DVD/CD speed itself. The Nero application can create either a data or audio test CD. We used the dual-layer, Microsoft DVD Test Annex disc (running with the Nero application) to test DVD-ROM performance
After every test, the hard drive was defragged and the system was rebooted. We also ensured that no background tasks were running by executing the command rundll32.exe advapi32.dll,ProcessIdleTasks and waiting for the background idle tasks to complete. We also disabled System Restore, Remote Desktop and automatic updates.
CD Read Performance
We used both CD Winbench 2000 and the Nero CD/DVD-Speed test to gauge CD performance. Note that CD Winbench 2000 only tests read performance.
According to CD Winbench 2000, the Plextor PX-708A is substantially superior to the competition as a CD drive. The Iomega drive, on the other hand, is notably slower. The others are pretty even.
If you look at Nero’s transfer rate tests, you might be hard pressed to understand the CD Winbench score, but you should be aware that CD Winbench puts a lot of weight on the access time. The Plextor drive’s average access time is substantially better than its competitors, and Nero’s random seek test seems to agree. This positions the PX-708A well as a true multipurpose drive.
It should be noted that the Iomega drive generated large numbers of errors during the digital audio extraction (DAE) test. All the other drives completed the DAE test without any issues.
We used Nero’s performance tool to test record performance. Note that some of the drives in the roundup refused to recognize ultra-high speed CD-RW media (media rated for 24x and above). In those cases, we used 12x media, which was typically the highest rated media the drive could read.
The Plextor drive cleans up on the CD-R burn test and the CD-RW burn test. A possible explanation for the high CD-RW burn score is that the Plextor was only one of two drives that would recognize 24x CD-RW media. The other was the Iomega drive, and it seemed to get a bit of a bump in performance, though it still lagged behind the PX-708A by a considerable margin.
The Microsoft DVD Test Annex disc is a two-layer disc with 6.4GB of data. The typical read pattern consists of a slowly-increasing data rate from inner to outer tracks, then a slowly declining data rate after the layer change.
Our pack of contenders performed neck-and-neck on the Nero DVD-ROM transfer rate test, but the PX-708A’s breakout performance on the random seek test matched its stellar performance on access time with CDs.
As with the CD recordable tests, we used Nero CD/DVD speed to create test DVDs. The text matrix is a bit more complex, as we need to account for DVD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+R and DVD+R.
The most interesting result, of course, is the Plextor DVD+R burn test. The PX-708A can burn at 8x speeds onto media rated only for 4x. It’s worth taking a look at the actual chart generated by Nero during the burn test, and comparing it to a more typical, 4x burn chart.
The Pioneer drive has a smooth curve over the duration of the burn, but the Plextor chart bumps up to 8x only during the middle section. Outer and inner tracks (and, presumably, the lead-out and lead-in sections) are burned at a more conservative speed.
Another interesting point is that DVD+RW burn performance is generally superior to DVD-RW burn performance, even on the Pioneer DVR-A06. Note that the Iomega drive burned a DVD-RAM disc at a data rate of 1269 KB / second – considerably slower than either DVD+RW or DVD-RW.
Inside the Asus package, you’ll find the usual set of cables, a DVD+RW disc and a CD-R disc. The software bundle consists of the Asus DVD Player, Sonic’s RecordNow DX and Ulead’s DVD MovieFactory SE.
The Asus drive is the lowest cost drive we tested, though it ws only a few dollars less than the Memorex and Pioneer drives. The software bundle is a tad limited, but serviceable. The DRW-0402P/D is a great choice if you already have a more robust software suite, such as Roxio’s Easy CD/DVD Writer or Nero version 6.0.
Steady performer; low price
Limited software bundle
If price is an issue, check out the Asus drive. The software bundle isn’t the greatest, but if you already have the Roxio or Nero suites, then the Asus drive will save you some bucks.
$165 street, check prices
Iomega bundles its own HotBurn Pro software, which offers easy burning options. Also in the box are MusicMatch 8, Adobe Activeshare, Sonic MyDVD 4, Sonic CinePlayer 1.5 (a software DVD movie player) and Iomega’s Automatic Backup software. Also included are a DVD+R disc and a DVD+RW disc but, curiously, no DVD-RAM media.
Although the Iomega drive does support DVD-RAM, the performance when writing to DVD-RAM media is noticeably poorer than with DVD+RW or DVD-RW. If you have an existing investment in DVD-RAM media, then the Iomega drive might be useful. But you’ll pay for the privelege, as this drive is the most expensive unit we tested.
Iomega Super DVD Writer
Writes to DVD-RAM media
Poor DAE quality; pricey
If you need DVD-RAM or want to use other media, then this is the drive for you. However, it’s expensive and has issues with digital audio extraction.
$290, check prices
Since Memorex uses the Pioneer mechanism, the chief differences lay in the software bundle. Memorex bundles in practically the entire Roxio software suite. This package includes Easy CD and DVD Creator, Drag-to-Disc, AudioCentral, PhotoSuite 5 (full), DVD Max Player, DVD Builder and VideoWave Movie. Memorex also pops in a couple of its own discs for your use.
Despite the generous software bundle, the Memorex drive is priced withing a few dollars of the Pioneer and Asus units. It’s a great value, and is probably our second choice here behind the Plextor drive. If you already have a fast CD drive, then the Memorex is an excellent choice.
Memorex Dual Format
Good software bundle; reasonable performance; good looking bezel
It’s the Pioneer drive in a different skin.
The Memorex drive is a great value, offering reasonable performance and a great software bundle.
$170 street, check prices
The Pioneer drive arrives with Nero Express and a host of Ulead products in the box – Ulead DVD Player, Ulead Video Studio 7 SE DVD, Ulead Movie Factory 2 DVD SE and Ulead PictureShow 2 SE. It’s certainly all competent, if uninspired software.
The limited software bundle makes the Pioneer drive less attractive than the similarly priced Memorex Dual Format. Note that both drives use the same Pioneer-manufactured mechanism. If, for some reason, you require a genuine Pioneer-branded product, then the DVR-A06 is slightly cheaper. But the Memorex drive is probably a better value because of the bundled software.
Solid drive, no major issues
Unassuming software bundle; not really cheaper than the Memorex
Pioneer takes the +RW plunge and does a good job. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary otherwise.
$175, check prices
Interestingly, Plextor is the only drive that still offers a headphone jack and rotary volume control on the front of the drive. The PX-708A ships with a set of Roxio applications, including Easy CD and DVD Creator, PhotoSuite 5 SE and Roxio’s DVDMax movie player. Additionally, the company includes its own elegant set of utilities, which offer most of the data backup and copying functionality you’d want right in the system tray. The Plextor Utilities also allows granular control over many of the drive’s performance settings.
The Plextor’s overall superb performance, coupled with the excellent Plextor Utilities, compels us to give the PX-708A our ExtremTech Approved award. And the software bundle (in addition to the Plextor Utilities) is excellent, too. After giving up the performance and features crown in recent products, Plextor claws its way back to the top once again.
Superb performance; great software bundle
The PX-708A offers excellent performance and a fabulous suite of software – and it’s not that much more expensive.
$235 street, check prices
DVD recordable drives are fast approaching maturity as hardware becomes more capable and prices drop. The best thing that can be said about these multiformat drives, however, is the elimination of confusion. It doesn’t matter what media you buy – except, of course, DVD-RAM, which is only supported by the Iomega drive.
Of the other drives, both the Pioneer and Memorex drives – based on the same mechanism – perform smoothly, and are priced reasonably. The honor for priciest drive in the roundup goes to the Iomega Super DVD Writer. While it’s problematic for digital audio extraction, the ability to write DVD-RAM media may appeal to some.
The least expensive drive we tested was the Asus drive. It performed well, demonstrated no noticeable glitches and offers solid value for the money.
Of the drives we tested, our favorite by far is the Plextor PX-708A. It’s an elegant bit of engineering and ships with a great set of software and the stellar Plextor Utilities. Performance is excellent as well, and the Plextor drive is one of the few DVD-recordable drives that can also star as your primary optical drive. Although it’s the second priciest drive here, you get a lot of performance and functionality for your dollar.
Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in ExtremeTech.