Burning Up

By Jayesh Limaye Published Date
01 - Feb - 2008
| Last Updated
01 - Feb - 2008
Burning Up

With prices falling and media becoming more readily available, almost everyone can afford a dual-layer DVD writer. But which one to buy? That’s where we come in...

It’s that time of the year again, and we set out in search for all the optical drives we could get our hands on. Surprisingly, variety doesn’t seem to be sought after when it comes to DVD writers, as we only found eight drives to be the popular choice amongst retailers. In addition, we also got our hands on a couple of Blu-ray drives to see what the near future has in store for us.

The Drives

We got DVD Writers from different manufacturers. Some drives came from the old warhorses such as ASUS, Samsung and Sony, and some from newer entrants such as Moser Baer and Philips. In fact, Moser Baer makes its DVD Writers in collaboration with Lite-On—a famous brand of DVD Writers. Philips DVD Writers have been around abroad for many years, and are now available across India.

Interestingly, most optical drives are now SATA drives, and IDE seems to be dying of old age. The drives we got with the SATA interface were ASUS DRW-1814BLT, ASUS DRW-2014L1T, Philips SPD2514T, Samsung SH-S203, and Sony DRU-845S, while those with the IDE interface were Moser Baer DH-20A4P23C, Philips SPD2414T, and Sony DRU-190A.


Supported Speeds

In our last test, we saw one DVD writer dominate the rest with a maximum write speed for DVD-Rs of a whopping 20x. This time around, almost all the drives support 20x writes, with none going faster, because we seem to have reached the maximum speeds for DVDs. Only the ASUS DRW-1814BLT supported a maximum write speed of 18x, which shoul still be fast enough for most. What’s funny here is that its reading speed tops out at 16x—giving us a DVD writer that can write faster than it reads!

We have no complaints about any of the trays this time, unlike a couple of years ago

When it comes to DVD-RW and DVD RW speeds, all the drives support 8x and 6x respectively. All the speed changes seem to have occurred in the dual-layer race, and although all the drives can write to DVD R DL media at an acceptable 8x, the Sony DRU-845S is capable of 12x and the Samsung SH-S203 manages a whopping 16x! That’s the fastest we’ve seen for dual-layer burning, ever.

With DVD R DL media available for as little as Rs 100, and prices only seeming to fall more, there’s never been a better time to invest in a dual-layer burner.

All the drives also feature the ability to write to DVD-RAM at 12x. The exception was the ASUS, which claims 14X DVD-RAM write speeds. DVD-RAM is great for video professionals, because you can treat your DVD-RAM drive as a hard drive—make folders, create files, even edit them from within the disc, etc. Availability of media, however, is a rather large thorn in the format’s side.

How We Tested

The drives were connected to the second SATA port or set as master and connected to the primary IDE channel, according to the type of the drive. The test process consisted of two sections: writing to and reading from different types of media. 

                                  Test Rig
Processor                  Intel Pentium 4 540 3.2 GHz
RAM                            1 GB of 667 MHz DDR2
Motherboard             ECS PF5 Extreme
Graphics Card          NVIDIA GeForce 7300GS
Hard Drive                 Western Digital 80 GB SATA-II
Power Supply           Antec Neo480 480 Watt
OS                              Windows XP Professional SP2
Burning software    Nero 8 Ultra Edition

The Reading Tests
Nero CD-DVD Speed was used to note the data transfer rates, access/seek times, CPU utilisation, burst rate, etc, for CDs as well as DVDs. This comes bundled with Nero 8 Ultra.

SiSoft Sandra Pro Business 2007, which is a system-wide performance benchmark as well as diagnostic utility, was used to measure the DVD read speeds and access times.

dbPowerAmp, an audio format conversion and CD ripping tool was used to rip three audio tracks of our test audio CD, located at different positions on the CD. The tracks were ripped to 44 KHz MP3 format at 128 Kbps, and the time was logged.

DVD Decrypter is a tool used to rip DVD video files to the hard drive. This was used to rip a select chapter (a .VOB file, 1 GB located towards the middle of the media) of our test DVD to the hard drive, and the time taken for this was noted.

The Writing Tests

These included logging the time taken to write to CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD R, DVD-RW and DVD RW. An assorted data of 700 MB—the latest Digit CD—was used to write to CD-R, CD-RW and DVD-RW and the time was logged. Sequential data consisting of a 700 MB file—the same Digit CD zipped without compression—was used to write to a CD-R. Similarly assorted and sequential data of 4.38 GB was used to write to DVD-R and DVD R media and the time taken for this was noted.

The Media

The media used were 52x CD-R from Moser Baer, 10x CD-RW from HP, 16x DVD-R from Sony, 16x DVD R from Sony and 4x DVD-RW from HP. A point to note is that most of the DVD-Writers can burn DVDs at speeds in excess of 16x, but since such media is unavailable, the 16x media was burnt at the highest supported speed. We used Moser Baer DVD R DL for dual layer media write test and an assorted data of 8.5 GB was burnt to these at their certified speeds of 8x where possible.

Other Features

Other features such as support for various DVD types, LightScribe capability, capability to set Book Type, tray build quality, silent operation and bundled accessories such as data cable, media, bezels, etc., were also noted and rated to derive the final score. Please note that the specified read and write speeds were not rated, instead we rated the read and write speeds in real world tests.

Additional Features

The two Philips drives are the only ones to not allow setting the BookType of DVD R media when burning. Setting the BookType allows you to set the DVD you create to appear as a stamped DVD-ROM to standalone DVD players. This is helpful if your DVD player acts finicky when playing DVD-Video discs that are burnt on PCs.

Just like DVD-RAM, LightScribe is a feature that is fast losing ground due to waning interests. Again, expensive and hard to find media is the cause for this. LightScribe basically allows you to burn a CD/DVD label on to the disc, using the same drive that you’re using to burn data on to it. You can create your own labels using text, images or both, and this custom label is burnt to the DVD/CD face using an additional laser. Only the ASUS drives—the DRW-1814BLT and DRW-2014L1T—support LightScribe this time.

Build Quality

When we talk about the build quality of an optical drive, it is the tray that we are talking about. We have no complaints about any of the trays this time, unlike a couple of years ago, when this was a serious issue with quite a few drives. The ASUS, Samsung and the Sony DRU-845S seem to have the best trays and load/eject mechanisms. Another thing to note here is that the ASUS, Moser Baer, and Samsung drives were the quietest when burning, which makes them better suited for HTPCs.

Bundled Accessories

With attempts to make optical drives dirt cheap, this is one area where all manufacturers are cutting costs, and as a result, the bundles are miserable. Samsung drives are the only drives that come with SATA and power cables, the rest expect you to buy these yourself. The ASUS DRW-1814BLT comes with two LightScribe discs, so you can try out the technology before deciding to buy any more media—which isn’t exactly cheap.

Blu-ray Newcomers
Next-gen optical drives featuring blue lasers have been launched in India well over a year ago, but have found it hard to get a footing. The reason is the excessive price and inaccessibility of the media. Our test labs received just one Blu-ray drive last year and no HD-DVD drive. This year too, the picture did not change much. We received two Blu-ray drives—ASUS BC-1205PT and Sony BWU-200S. While the Sony can read as well as write to Blu-ray media, the ASUS is a combo drive and its capabilities are limited to only reading from such media. Nevertheless, both drives are completely backward compatible and can write DVDs as well as CDs.
Both drives sport attractive-looking black bezels with the Blu-ray logo. We found that the tray mechanisms of these drives was noticeably different from conventional DVD writers that we tested—it seemed more rugged and slid precisely and smoothly. They come with a SATA interface and feature an 8 MB buffer, necessary for smooth HD playback.

The Sony BWU-200S can write to BD-R and BD-RE media at 4x and 2x respectively. While the Sony sports a DVD writing speed of 16x, the ASUS can do just 12x—too slow when you consider that 20x is the norm today. It took the Sony around six minutes to write to a DVD, which is par for the course, while the ASUS was understandably slower and took over seven minutes and ten seconds. In the Nero DVD Speed read test, the Sony clocked 12.29x, which is a good score, while the ASUS lagged behind with just 9.44x. Unfortunately, we could not test these with BD media—none are available.
Both these Blu-ray drives come with CyberLink BD Solution suite—a full-fledged suite of applications that consist of CD/DVD/BD burning application, HD playback software, backup tools, as well as video authoring and editing application PowerProducer. The ASUS BC-1205PT is priced at Rs 15,500, while the Sony BWU-200S costs a whopping Rs 38,000, making both this drives out of reach of most mortals. We fail to justify the absurdly high price tag and just cannot recommend any of these. We suggest that you wait and watch as the prices are slated to plummet in the next few months.

On the software front, Nero 7 Essentials is the burning software of choice for all manufacturers, while only Samsung bundles Nero Express 7. There is no separate DVD playback software bundled anymore because Nero Showtime is a part of the Nero package and can play even HD movies. Samsung’s decision to bundle Nero Express 7 gets it some brownie points here because you also get Nero BackItUp (backup utility) and ReCode (video encoding) in addition to all the regulars that Nero 7 Essentials contains. Only the ASUS DRW-2014L1T and the Sony DRU-845S come with extra bezels to let you change the colour of the drive to match your cabinet.


Reading Nero CD/DVD Speed

All the drives performed well in this test and did not show any abnormal drop in read speeds during any part of the test. Most of the drives lingered around average speeds of about 12x for DVDs, but the ASUS drives underperformed with 9x. In the CD speed tests, the Moser Baer drive and Sony’s DRU-190A ruled the roost with 37 MBps. The rest of the drives managed around 30 MBps. A burst rate of over 60 MBps for DVDs was typical for all the SATA drives.

SiSoft Sandra Pro Business 2007

The SiSoft Sandra file transfer index reconfirmed our previous test, with most of the drives scoring between 12 and 13 MBps, with the ASUS drives lagging with just 10 MBps.

Audio CD And DVD Ripping

Finally, one of the ASUS drives decided to put up a fight! The ASUS DRW-1814BLT was the fastest at ripping the audio CD—taking just 39 seconds—miles ahead of the rest. There was no conclusive winner in the DVD ripping test, with most drives completing the task in around a minute. The ASUS DRW-2014LT was the slowest—it took just under two minutes to rip the DVD file.

Media Compatibility

We faced certain media compatibility issues with some of the drives, despite using certified media that is commonly available and popular.

As far as rewriteable media is concerned, there were no issues with any of the drives. CD-Rs did have some issues—while most drives supported 48x and recognised the 52x certified media at this (48x) speed, some such as the Sony DRU-845S and ASUS DRW-1816BLT could only recognise the media as 40x and 24x respectively.

Only the Moser Baer drive could recognise the DVD-R as 20x, while both the ASUS drives recognised it as 16x, and this affected their performances. The rest of the drives could recognise the DVD-R as 18x. When it comes to our DVD R media, most drives correctly recognised it as 16x—except for the Moser Baer and Sony DRU-190A, which reported the media to be 18x.

CD Writing

The Moser Baer drive was the quickest in the CD-R write test, followed closely by the Sony DRU-190A and Samsung. ASUS drives were the slowest and this is attributed largely due to the media compatibility issues that they face. Sony, Samsung and Philips drives were quicker in writing to CD-RW media.

DVD Writing

The Philips SPD2514T was the found to be the fastest in assorted DVD-R writes, though not by an especially large margin; it was closely trailed by the Sony and Samsung drives. The Moser Baer and Sony DRU-845S were the fastest in sequential DVD-R write test, taking just seven seconds over five minutes. The Philips and Samsung were close behind. Media compatibility issues dogged the ASUS drives as they delivered considerably slower performance. Coming to DVD R writing, we found that it was the Samsung drive that outperformed all the other drives this time, and by a commanding margin. The slowest drives were yet again the ASUS drives, but the performance difference was not as much as in the case of DVD-R writing. Writing to dual layer media did not change the picture, the only difference was that the Moser Baer drive could not keep up with its earlier performance. But in general, there was not a huge difference between the performance of the drives in this case, the leaders here were Philips, Samsung, and Sony drives.


If we took a look at raw performance, most of the drives did fairly well. We took a final call by taking into consideration, the price. There was a huge difference between the prices of DVD Writers—some were priced at a high of around Rs 3,000, while some were priced as low as Rs 1,200. The price was therefore, the decider.

Trailing behind the Samsung, the Sony DRU-845S misses out from topping the performance chart by just a whisker. It comes with a decent bundle of Nero 7 Essential and also a black bezel that lets you match its appearance with your PC cabinet. Boasting of dual layer DVD write speeds of 12x and priced at just Rs 1,600, this drive deserves a special mention here.

Editor’s Pick
The award for the Editor’s Pick as well as the Best Performer were swept up by the Samsung SH-S203. It sports 20x writing speeds for DVD R and DVD-R and we were surprised to see that it can write to dual layer DVD Rs at 16x! Without any exceptions, this drive delivers top-notch performance and tops the chart in all the writing and reading tests with all kinds of media. It took just over five minutes to burn 4.38 GB data to the DVDs, in both the assorted and sequential test. It completes burning a 700 MB CD in less than 170 seconds. It excels in the reading tests too, with a score of 12.14x in Nero DVD Speed. The price of this drive is the lowest amongst the lot—just Rs.1,200 and yet it comes with a great bundle that includes SATA data and power cable as well as Nero Express 7 suite, which includes DVD playback, data backup as well as video encoding software. We were left with no choice but to award all the awards to the Samsung SH-S203.

Moser Baer was next in line, along with the Sony DRU-190A—both these drives performed well and were priced well too. Although the Philips drives performed well—better than the other drives in some tests—their prices are unreasonably high, and that is the reason why they ended up at the bottom end of the chart.

Closing Thoughts

As we have seen, there is not too much that sets these DVD Writers apart, especially in terms of writing speeds. What does differ is the prices and the warranty and service offered. Now we can’t test how long these drives will last, but warranty is something you should keep your eyes open for.

With falling prices, combo drives (DVD-ROM/CD writer) have all but disappeared, and you should refrain from buying one—stick to DVD writers. Also, because optical drive read and write speeds are a lot slower than hard drives, the performance difference between writers based on interface—SATA or IDE—is negligible. Most newer motherboards will have enough SATA ports, so you can safely opt for a SATA DVD writer—the difference lies not in the performance, but in the cable clutter. SATA cables being thinner, your cabinet can do without wide IDE cables getting in the way of everything.

The optical drive market is in turmoil because of the stalemate between the Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps. With more movie studios preferring Blu-ray, it could be the format of the future. This will be good for us consumers, because finally manufacturers will pick a side and prices will start to plummet. Only time will tell though, and unfortunately, for now, Blu-ray drives remain a rarity, and quite expensive.

Jayesh LimayeJayesh Limaye