Top 5 CD-RW Drives

SAN FRANCISCO (08/31/2000) - Falling prices is the name of the game this month. Though Plextor's speedy PlexWriter 12/10/32A remains at the top, Sony claims the number two spot with the $200 Spressa Professional CRX140E/CH2. This 8X/4X/32X model features the same hardware as the more expensive CRX140E/CH, which had been on our chart since last December.

The difference lies in the software bundle, which Sony has scaled back by eliminating a handy backup utility. Holding fast at number three is Plextor's PlexWriter 8/4/32A, an affordable all-around drive at $185.

Meanwhile, grabbing the number four slot is Pacific Digital's 8X/8X/24X 8824ei, a $179 drive with 8X CD-Rewritable speed. Ironically, the 8824ei knocked the $249 Yamaha CRW8824EZ--which has the same drive mechanism as the Pacific Digital model--off the chart.

The other two drives we tested--Hewlett-Packard's $299 CD-Writer Plus 9510i and Sony's $249 Spressa Professional CRX145E/CH--didn't earn spots on the chart. The 9510i marks HP's first foray into next-generation CD-RW speeds; the 12X/8X/32X drive features excellent read speed and the best CD-Recordable write performance we've encountered. However, experienced users may feel limited by the newly bundled MyCD mastering software's inability to create or write from disc images--a feature that is particularly handy when you're making multiple copies or copying data CD-ROMs to and from the same drive.

Sony's 10X/4X/32X drive just missed nabbing a chart position. Though the CRX145E/CH offers 10X CD-R speed, its $249 price tag is steep for a drive that can manage only a 4X CD-RW speed. That price is especially high when you consider that the faster 12X/10X/32X PlexWriter 12/10/32A costs $4 less, and several 8X/4X/32X drives sell for about $50 or $60 less.

How We Test

We test CD-RW drives on a Micron Millennia Celeron-400 system with a Western Digital Caviar 13GB hard drive and 64MB of RAM. We install an IDE CD-RW drive as the master on the secondary channel. If a vendor doesn't provide its own SCSI card, we install an Adaptec 2906 SCSI adapter for use in our tests. Each CD-RW kit is installed according to the vendor's instructions in the quick-start section of the manual.

To return the test PC to its original condition before each test, we restore an image created with PowerQuest's Drive Image software. We then install the CD-RW drive to be evaluated, noting any difficulties, and then load the bundled software for CD-R and CD-RW writing.

We gauge CD-ROM read performance by using Testa Labs' CD Tach 98 2.0 software, and by installing Microsoft's Office 2000 suite in its default configuration. To determine CD-R write performance, we burn 430MB of data to CD-R both from an image file and on the fly. We test CD-R read performance by reading the 430MB back to the hard drive.

We test digital audio extraction speed by extracting a 250MB audio track from an audio CD (Beethoven's Eroica Variations Opus 35) to the hard drive. We also write the track back to a fresh CD-R, and listen to determine whether noise or other sonic artifacts have been introduced.

To test CD-RW packet-writing performance, we copy a folder containing 100MB of files to a CD-RW disc twice. First we copy the folder to the newly formatted blank disc, and then we overwrite the folder by copying it a second time to the disc without deleting the original copy.

#1 Plextor PlexWriter 12/10/32A

Reviewed: August 30, 2000

WHAT'S HOT -- For creating CD-RW discs, the PlexWriter 12/10/32A remains the fastest drive we've tested. The 12/10/32A's industry-first 10X CD-RW write speed let it write our 100MB test folder in a mere 1 minute, 32 seconds. The drive also extracted our 250MB audio file in a record-setting 1 minute, 52 seconds. The drive utilizes Sanyo Electric's Burn-Proof technology, which promises to eliminate ruined discs resulting from buffer underruns.

WHAT'S NOT -- This drive doesn't ship with the CD Res-Q disaster-recovery software that Plextor ships with its SCSI drives (though the software is available separately for $34.95).

WHAT ELSE -- The otherwise adequate software bundle includes Adaptec's Easy CD Creator 4.02 and DirectCD 3.01 for mastering and packet writing, plus Plextor's exclusive AudioFS drivers, which let you copy audio tracks using the standard Windows interface. The 12/10/32A's documentation is thorough and concise. Plextor offers a one-year warranty and tech support for 11 hours on weekdays.

BEST USE -- If you burn a lot of CD-R discs, frequently back up files onto CD-RW, or extract music from audio CDs, this is your drive.

Buying Information

Plextor PlexWriter 12/10/32A

$245; IDE, internal, 12X/10X/32X, 2MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, multimedia software; one-year warranty, toll-free support for 11 hours on weekdays.

888/675-3986

www.plextor.com/english

#2 Sony Spressa Professional CRX140E/CH2 Reviewed: August 30, 2000 WHAT'S HOT -- The 8X/4X/32X Spressa Professional CRX140E/CH2 (which uses the same drive hardware as the retired CRX140E/CH, a chart regular since December 1999) comes in at number two thanks to an attractive price that makes it $50 less than its predecessor. The CRX140E/CH2 can still lay claim to the fastest 8X CD-R and 4X CD-RW writes we've seen to date; plus, it garnered a top-notch CD Tach rating of 20.9X. Some of the credit for the drive's performance should undoubtedly go to Sony's CD Extreme and Prassi's abCD 1.3, the excellent mastering and packet-writing packages included in the Spressa Professional software bundle; each program performed flawlessly. Sony's round-the-clock, toll-free tech support is a refreshing change from the weekday-only offerings of most other vendors.

WHAT'S NOT -- To achieve the $200 price point, Sony dropped its handy backup utility from the software bundle. Also, we weren't particularly fond of CD Extreme's HTML-based help file, which lacks an index.

WHAT ELSE -- In addition to 24-hour support, the Spressa Professional carries a one-year warranty.

BEST USE -- If you want a quick drive with top-flight support, the Spressa Professional CRX140E/CH2 is a solid bet.

Buying Information

Sony Spressa Professional CRX140E/CH2

$200; IDE, internal, 8X/4X/32X, 4MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software; one-year warranty, 24-hour toll-free support.

800/352-7669

www.ita.sel.sony.com/jump/storage/spressa

#3 Plextor PlexWriter 8/4/32A

Reviewed: August 30, 2000

WHAT'S HOT -- The PlexWriter 8/4/32A continues its record-setting 11-month run in the Top 5, down one notch from last month thanks to the Sony drive's price drop. For the budget-minded, the $185 8/4/32A still offers a great balance of price, design, and features; this solidly constructed drive also offers performance fast enough to satisfy most buyers. Plus, the PlexWriter 8/4/32A is one of the faster drives we've seen at executing digital audio extraction.

WHAT'S NOT -- This drive ships without the CD Res-Q disaster-recovery software Plextor includes with its SCSI drives (but the software is available separately for $34.95).

WHAT ELSE -- The company bundles Adaptec's Easy CD Creator 3.5 and DirectCD 2.5, an enhanced media player, and AudioFS drivers that allow drag-and-drop extraction of CD audio tracks. Plextor's documentation is thorough and concise. The 8/4/32A carries a one-year warranty, and Plextor maintains toll-free tech support lines for 11 hours on weekdays.

BEST USE -- This model should hit the sweet spot for people who want quick 8X CD-R recording at a low price.

Buying Information

Plextor PlexWriter 8/4/32A

$185; IDE, internal, 8X/4X/32X, 4MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, multimedia software; one-year warranty, toll-free support for 11 hours on weekdays.

888/675-3986

www.plextor.com/english

#4 Pacific Digital 8824ei

Reviewed: August 30, 2000

WHAT'S HOT -- Taking the number four spot with ease is Pacific Digital's 8824ei, a solidly constructed drive that offers 8X write and rewrite speeds, as well as NTI's CD-Maker 2000 mastering software and FileCD packet-writing software--all for a paltry $179. Based on Yamaha's CRW8824EZ drive mechanism, the 8824ei wrote our 100MB test folder to CD-RW in a mere 1 minute, 56 seconds and installed Microsoft Office 2000 in only 5 minutes, 50 seconds--a faster time than that turned in by the number one drive, the PlexWriter 12/10/32A. Pacific Digital also bundles Sonic Foundry's highly regarded Acid Express and Sound Forge XP music software.

WHAT'S NOT -- You must first run the FileCD application and work within its interface to packet-write to CD-RW--an approach that's less convenient than the transparent Windows Explorer drag-and-drop procedure offered by Adaptec's DirectCD and Prassi's abCD.

WHAT ELSE -- Pacific Digital offers toll-free support for 10 hours on weekdays and 5 hours on Saturdays to supplement the unit's one-year warranty. A trial version of NTI's BackupNow is included in the package.

BEST USE -- This drive is a great value for those who write often to CD-RW.

Buying Information

Pacific Digital 8824ei

$179; IDE, internal, 8X/8X/24X, 4MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, backup utility; one-year warranty, toll-free support for 10 hours on weekdays and 5 hours on Saturdays.

888/333-6732

www.1pdc.com

#5 Hewlett-Packard CD-Writer Plus 9110i

Reviewed: August 30, 2000

WHAT'S HOT -- The $199 CD-Writer Plus 9110i comes with a clearly written manual and generously illustrated, multilingual documentation. Supplementing the documentation is an AVI movie that details the process of physically installing the drive. The large software bundle includes Adaptec's Easy CD Creator 3.5c and DirectCD 3.01 packet-writing software, along with disaster-recovery, cataloging, and backup utilities. The 9110i, which replaces the 9100i on our chart, is identical to that previously ranked drive except for the software bundle: The consumer-targeted 9110i includes Sonic Foundry's Acid Music Creator and Broderbund's Multimedia Organizer Deluxe, whereas the business-oriented 9100i includes Corel Print Office. HP also bundles the Neato CD Labeler and a nifty label-application tool with the 9110i.

WHAT'S NOT -- HP doesn't provide weekend tech support, and you must pay the long-distance charge when you call on weekdays.

WHAT ELSE -- The company provides a one-year warranty.

BEST USE -- Users looking for a terrific software bundle and some extra hand-holding during the installation will do well with this 8X/4X/32X IDE drive.

Buying Information

Hewlett-Packard CD-Writer Plus 9110i

$199; IDE, internal, 8X/4X/32X, 4MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, disaster-recovery software, CD media-labeling and cataloging utilities; one-year warranty, support (not toll-free) for 12 hours on weekdays.

800/826-4111

www.hpcdwriter.com

Hewlett-Packard CD-Writer Plus 9510i

Reviewed: August 30, 2000

WHAT'S HOT -- HP's $299 12X/8X/32X 9510i offers excellent overall performance. The drive wrote 430MB of data to CD-R on the fly in a mere 4 minutes, 56 seconds, and wrote 100MB to CD-RW in only 1 minute, 46 seconds. HP's one-step software installation provides plenty of hand-holding for neophytes, as do the new HP MyCD mastering software and HP Fast Format, a version of Adaptec's DirectCD packet-writing software. Fast Format takes about 2 minutes to prepare a small portion of the CD-RW disc, after which you can start writing to the disc while the utility continues to format the rest in the background; you can't write to portions of the disc that have not yet been formatted. The company also bundles with this drive HP Disaster Recovery and HP Deluxe Multimedia Organizer.

WHAT'S NOT -- MyCD's step-by-step wizard approach becomes cumbersome after the first few procedures, and you can't bypass the wizard. Worse, the software offers no way to create disc images or to write an image to a disc. Tech support is available only on weekdays, and a toll charge applies.

WHAT ELSE -- HP supplies a one-year warranty. The 9510i is the same drive as the company's 9500i model, except that in the 9500i software bundle Corel Print Office replaces Sonic Foundry's Acid.

BEST USE -- The 9510i certainly provides ample hand-holding, making it a great choice for beginners to CD writing. However, more-experienced users will find the MyCD software limiting in the long run.

Buying Information

Hewlett-Packard CD-Writer Plus 9510i

$299; IDE, internal, 12X/8X/32X, 4MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, disaster-recovery software, CD media-labeling and cataloging utilities; one-year warranty, support (not toll-free) for 12 hours on weekdays.

800/826-4111

www.hpcdwriter.com

Sony Spressa Professional CRX145E/CH

Reviewed: August 30, 2000

WHAT'S HOT -- Sony's CRX145E/CH offers the same outstanding round-the-clock tech support and best-in-class performance of the number two drive on the chart, Sony's CRX140E/CH2, and it also provides faster 10X CD-R write speed. Sony's CD Extreme mastering software is capable of writing to two drives at once; also included in the bundle is Prassi's abCD for packet writing. Dantz Retrospect Express, a capable entry-level backup program, and 24-hour tech support only sweeten the deal.

WHAT'S NOT -- The better-performing Plextor PlexWriter 12/10/32A costs a few dollars less. Needless introduction graphics slow the software installation, and each program must be installed separately--an unnecessarily tedious operation. CD Extreme's HTML help file lacks an index, and it isn't as thorough as it should be.

WHAT ELSE -- The Spressa Professional CRX145E/CH carries a one-year warranty. Sony's round-the-clock, toll-free tech support is a pleasant departure from the weekday-only offerings of most other vendors.

BEST USE -- A solid overall performer, this drive is best for those looking to boost CD-R write speeds.

Buying Information

Sony Spressa Professional CRX145E/CH

$249; IDE, internal, 10X/4X/32X, 4MB buffer, CD-mastering and packet-writing software, backup utility; one-year warranty, 24-hour toll-free support.

800/352-7669

www.ita.sel.sony.com/jump/storage/spressa

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