We've always encouraged you to buy best, not what the dealer dishes out. So which one is best? Here's our 2007 test for optical drives
With the increasing penetration of broadband in Indian households, we've begun downloading more and more and before long, find that there's no space left on our hard drive(s). What does one do when one wants to download more? Apart from this, there's the question of backups. In both cases, optical media is the answer.
Optical drives are fairly common these days, and there is scarcely a computer today without one. An optical drive is a CD, DVD, Blu-ray, or HD-DVD drive in most cases. Of these, CD and DVD-Writers are easily available and at throwaway prices-some as low as Rs 2,000.
A year has passed since our last DVD-Writer shootout. Not much has changed since-there have only been a few minor improvements in technology. The speeds of DVD-Writers have been upped a notch or two to 18x and even 20x, though such drives are only just beginning to appear in the market (and we got a few of these too).
This time round, we not only tested DVD-Writers, but also Combo drives: they are still popular because they are priced between Rs 500 to 1,000 lower than DVD-Writers.
We received a total of 12 drives: eight DVD-Writers and four Combo drives, from five brands.
Combo drives are CD-Writers that can also read DVDs. The popularity of such drives rose steeply here in India when Digit started bundling free DVDs full of goodies around two and a half years ago.
Today, combo drives are usually bundled with most PCs, and are usually preferred by the budget-sensitive consumer.
Already on the decline, we received only four products in this category from four brands: the LG GCC-H21N, Lite-On SOHC-5232K, Sony CRX320EE, and the Samsung OctoEdge SH-522C.
The write speed of a CD-R has a limit of 52x (7800 KBps), and all the Combo drives were capable of writing at this speed. Likewise, barring the Sony CRX320EE which could write to a CD-RW at 24x, the rest could manage 32x.
The top performer
The read speed for CD-ROM has reached a limit of 52x, and that for a DVD-ROM is 16x. This indicates that today's Combo drives should perform equally well, but this is not so-as we shall see in the performance tests.
All the drives have the IDE interface, and they are capable of DMA transfer mode. In this mode, as opposed to the older PIO mode, the device consumes very little CPU time, leaving more free resources for the PC to do other work.
The buffer memory was uniform, with each drive coming with 2 MB. A larger buffer memory is not really necessary these days because of the increase in speed of the interface.
A good-quality tray indicates, statistically, that the drive will last longer. The Lite-On and Sony drives had better-quality trays. Compared to them, the Samsung and LG drives' trays seemed wobbly and a little weaker.
The drives performed remarkably silent while writing; while reading, the Sony was the quietest. A noisy drive is irritating, and statistically, prone to early failure (probably because of poorer mechanical components).
Only Sony provides a data cable with the drive, which earns it valuable brownie points. The other brands cut costs by excluding this essential component, which costs only around Rs 50.
Lite On SOHC-5232K
You can't go any cheaper!
Earlier, one CD-R and CD-RW used to be bundled with Combo drives, which isn't the case now since the drives don't come at a premium.
On the software front, each drive came with some version of Nero. The LG and Lite-On drives came with CyberLink PowerDVD for DVD video playback, and with the OEM version of Nero for burning. The Samsung and Sony came with Nero 6 and Nero 7 Essentials respectively, each with Nero Showtime as a component- a DVD-video playback software.
To gauge the read performance, we used Nero CD/DVD Speed. A stamped-as opposed to a burnt-CD and DVD were used for this test. The LG GCC-H21N had a speed of 11.81x, while the Lite-On was close behind with 11.58x (with a DVD). Installing applications and copying data from these drives will therefore be much faster than with the other two drives: 10.52x for the Sony and 10.97x for the Samsung. With a CD, the Lite-On and Samsung drives were neck-and-neck.
The access time test for CD and DVD produced mixed results. While the Lite-On and LG prevailed in the DVD test, the Lite-On and Samsung topped the CD test with the fastest access times. Faster access times means copying assorted data faster.
In both the audio CD ripping and DVD ripping tests, the drives clocked more or less similar timings. You'll have no problems listening to audio CDs or watching DVD movies with any of these drives.
In SiSoft Sandra, the LG scored 7.9 MBps, while the others were faster at 9 MBps. The access times of the Sony and Lite-On were much better than those of the other two.
The LG burnt the assorted CD at 52x in just 170 seconds and the sequential CD in 165 seconds-a clear leader as far as writing to CD-R is concerned. The Lite-On was the slowest; it could only write at 32x to the 52x-certified Moser Baer CD-R.
The Sony CRX320EE was exceptionally fast, writing to CD-RW at 12x (even when the media was marked 10x!). The other drives managed to write at 10x, and clocked almost similar timings to get the job done. This is funny because 24x is the CD-RW writing speed specified for the Sony, which is lower than the 32x for the others.
Combo drives as a species is speeding towards extinction, and we cautiously state that this may well be the last time they are being tested. DVD as a media is much cheaper per MB than a CD. Further, it backs up data faster, and a single-layer DVD can hold over seven times the amount of data as compared to a CD.
To back up most movies, which usually occupy space larger than a single-layer DVD or 4.7 GB, you require a dual-layer DVD (if you don't resort to compromising the video quality and removing some features using tools such as DVDShrink). A lot of new games, too, have dual-layer install disks, and to be able to back up so much data, you require a dual-layer DVD media and recorder. Thus, the DVD-Writer is already poised to become the de facto optical storage device for the majority of home users.
We received eight DVD-Writers from five brands: the Asus QuieTrack DRW-1612BL, Asus DRW-1608P2, LG GSA-H12N, Lite-On LightScribe SHM-165H6S, Lite-On Super AllWrite LH-16A1P, Lite-On Super AllWrite LH-20A1P, Samsung Super-WriteMaster SH-S182D, and the Sony AW-G170A.
Until last year, we thought we'd never see a DVD-Writer that would be able to breach the writing speed of 16x for DVDs. But this time round, we received four drives capable of doing just that! Even though the DVD Forum (originally the DVD Consortium) still specifies 16x as the maximum speed of a DVD, drives from LG, Samsung, and Sony sported 18x write speeds for DVD-R and DVD R. The Lite-On Super AllWrite LH-20A1P surprised us the most when we found that it could manage 20x!
The DVD rewriting speeds put out by the drives were similar: 8x for DVD RW and 6x for DVD-RW. All the drives are capable of writing to dual-layer media, and most could do so at 8x to DVD R DL-with the exception of the LG, capable of 10x. Similarly, with the exception of the Super AllWrite LH-16A1P and the Lite-On LightScribe SHM-165H6S, which could write to DVD-R DL at only 4x, the rest were twice as fast at 8x. For those heavily into DVD movies, these high-speed drives are just right.
DVD-RAM is a media that presents itself as a hard drive. You can copy data to it, delete it, overwrite it, rename it, or do any other file operation just as if you would do with files on your hard drive. The good thing is that you don't need DVD-Writing software to achieve this. This is especially useful for video editing professionals and the like.
During last year's DVD-Writer test, we received only a couple of drives capable of writing to DVD-RAM, but this time the picture was reversed: only one of the drives, the Asus DRW-1608P2, was not capable of writing to DVD-RAM.
Lite-On Super AllWrite LH-20A1P
Speed can come cheap!
However, even this drive was capable of reading from DVD-RAM, albeit at a crawling 2x. While the Super AllWrite LH-16A1P and LightScribe SHM-165H6S from Lite-On could write to DVD-RAM at 5x, the rest were capable of 12x.
48x was the speed at which most of the drives could write to CD-R, while the ageing Asus 1608P2 could only manage 40x. Though the Lite-On Super AllWrite LH-16A1P and LightScribe SHM-165H6S, which could write at 24x to CD-RW, the Sony AW-G170A whizzed at 40x. The rest could do 32x.
How We Tested
The DVD-Writers and Combo drives were tested on a machine that comprised an AMD Athlon64 3800 processor running at a stock speed of 2.0 GHz, a WinFast 6150K8MA motherboard, 1 GB of 400 MHz Corsair XMS DDR RAM, and a Seagate Barracuda 120 GB SATA150 hard drive. The test machine was powered by an Antec Neo480 480-watt power supply. Windows XP Professional SP2 with the latest drivers was installed afresh on the test machine. Nero 7 Premium Edition was installed for CD and DVD burning. The drives were set as master and connected to the primary IDE channel. The test process consisted of two parts: writing to and reading from different types of media.
How We Tested
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 7 Premium.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 audio CD ripping tool, was used to rip three selected audio tracks from our test audio 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 a hard drive. This was used to rip a selected chapter (a .VOB file, 1 GB) from our test DVD to the hard drive. The time taken 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 media. 700 MB of assorted data-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 4.7 GB was used to write to DVD-R and DVD R media, and the time was noted. Combo drives went through all the above except for the DVD tests.
The Reading Tests
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 some 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.
Features such as support for various DVD types, LightScribe, capability to set Book Type, tray build quality, silent operation, and bundled accessories such as a data cable, manual, media, bezels, etc. were also noted and rated to derive the final score. Note that the specified read and write speeds were not considered; we only rated the drives based on real world read and write speeds.
Some of the drives had noteworthy features: LightScribe allows you to burn a CD or DVD label using the same drive that you use to write data. You can create your own label using images or text or both, and burn it to the face of the media. The drive employs an additional laser head for this. You require LightScribe media, though. We received two drives capable of LightScribe: the Asus DRW-1612BL and the Lite-On LightScribe SHM-165H6S. Because LightScribe media is scarce, this feature was not awarded too many points, but still, the feature shouldn't hurt!
Setting "Book Type" of a DVD means you can make the DVD you create appear like a stamped DVD-ROM to any standalone DVD player. Some DVD players have an issue playing DVD video discs created using DVD-Writers, and this feature aims to address that issue. The Asus DRW-1612BL, LG GSA-H12N, Lite-On SHM-165H6S, and the Samsung WriteMaster SH-182D had the feature of setting the media identification bit in the recordable DVD to make it appear as a stamped DVD-ROM.
The drives we received this time were all ruggedly built, unlike during the last comparison, and we must applaud the thought that the manufacturers have put into ensuring the longevity of the drives. The LG and Samsung drives had trays that appeared a little weaker than those on the other drives, but it's not something the majority would even notice.
The ability of a drive to operate silently is often an indicator of better mechanics and smoother alignment of the various moving components. This in turn means longer life. True to its name, the Asus QuieTrack DRW-1612BL was the quietest of the lot. The other Asus, on the other hand, was the noisiest. It was so noisy we could feel the vibrations through the table on which the PC was placed! The Lite-On SHM-165H6S was also a noisy reader, though hardly as loud as the Asus DRW-1608P2.
A DVD-Writer is more expensive than a Combo drive, so we'd hoped that all the companies would bundle a data cable. However, only the Asus DRW-1608P2, Samsung, and Sony writers came with a data cable.
Bundling media with drives was fashionable until last year, but this time things were different. Only the Lite-On Super AllWrite LH-20A1P came with two DVD-R and a DVD-R DL. The Lite-On LightScribe SHM-165H6S was sent with a LightScribe CD, while the Asus QuieTrack DRW-1612BL came with two. LightScribe media is scarce, like we said, and bundling one such disc allows you to form your first impressions about this technology-until you can get it in stores.
Lite-OnSuper AllWrite LH-16A1P
All the drives came with a burning software and a software DVD player. A large proportion of the drives was bundled with Nero 6 OEM. Samsung bundled Nero 6, while the Lite-On Super AllWrite LH-20A1P and the Sony provided Nero 7 Essentials. As you might be aware, Nero 6 OEM does not come with Showtime, the DVD playing software, which is a part of Nero 6 and Nero 7 Essentials. So the drives with Nero 6 OEM were bundled with CyberLink PowerDVD 6, with Asus bundling ASUSDVD (an OEM branded version of PowerDVD). Asus is known for its generous bundle across all its products. It bundled Ulead DVD MovieFactory 4.0 Suite SE, which is a premium DVD authoring software and video editor. LG bundled CyberLink PowerProducer, another video editing software.
The bezel determines the looks of the drive, since it is the only part of the drive that is visible when the drive is fitted inside the cabinet. One would want a drive with a bezel colour that matches that of the cabinet exterior. The Lite-On drives came with two bezels-one grey and one black-in addition to the white one on the drive. The Samsung came with an extra black bezel.
Nero 7 Essentials
Unlike last year, burning software such as Sonic/Roxio Easy Media Creator 8, RecordNow, etc., did not feature at all. We found that all the drive manufacturers have endorsed burning software from Nero (version 6 or 7). Nero 7 Essentials, which is the most feature-rich of the bundled versions, is not just a CD/DVD burning software. Nero Burning ROM-the main burning program-supports a wide range of CD and DVD formats, from regular CD to even Audiobook CD, and DVD-Video, DVD-bootable and DVD-ROM (UDF/ISO). It comes ready with support for newer standards such as Blu-ray. It can even burn LightScribe labels on supported drives.
Overburning is another feature that lets you burn beyond a disc's normal capacity, and this is well-supported here. It also lets you set the Book-Type for maximum compatibility. There are also certain extras such as a music file encoder and ripper.
InCD enables the very convenient drag-and-drop writing a.k.a. packet writing. In this process, you can simply drag and drop data files onto the media instead of using the burning software. BackItUp allows you to back up your files and folders, or even your entire hard disk.
Still more useful programs are bundled with Nero: Nero Vision is a full-fledged video capture solution that lets you transfer your digital memories to optical media. Be your own DJ with SoundTrax and create the ultimate music mix in this virtual multi-track music studio, and edit tracks using WaveEditor. Use Recode to master your own DVD, or use it to create movies playable on your mobile device.
Cover Designer 2 allows you to design your own covers to adorn the face of a CD or DVD. PhotoSnap is a nice little photo editor that lets you achieve tasks with difficulties ranging from simple to medium. Nero Scout is an indexing service that indexes data on your hard drive and enables access to your files as fast as possible. If you have a CD/DVD image but do not wish to burn it, you can preview it by mounting it on ImageDrive, a virtual drive software.
The drives that came with Nero 7 Essentials did not bundle a DVD playing software because Nero ShowTime comes with it, and is a very capable software DVD player.
Nero 7 Essentials is more than a burning solution. It is a complete multimedia entertainment suite.
None of the drives could recognise the 52x-certified Moser Baer CD-R at the rated speed. We tried another brand of media-Eurovision-but the results were pretty much the same. The Sony recognised the media as only 16x, and finished the assorted data write test the slowest, at 315 seconds. The Asus DRW-1612BL, which recognised the media as 24x, completed the test in 228 seconds. The LG recognised the media as 48x, and could therefore write the fastest-just 182 seconds.
The 20x-capable drive from Lite-On, the LH-20A1P, sped away in the DVD-R test with 323 seconds and in the DVD R with 309 seconds. It wrote to the 16x-certified Sony media at 20x for DVD-R and 18x for DVD R. The Asus drive featuring "overspeeding", could write to an 8x DVD R media at 12x last year, and thus proved faster; this time round, the Asus drives, did not prove that they could indeed "overspeed."
The Samsung was the slowest in the DVD R assorted data test. At around 85 per cent, the speed suddenly plunged below 4x, and it took 602 seconds for this drive to complete the burning process. But in the DVD RW test, this drive emerged the fastest, burning the 700 MB assorted data in just 135 seconds. The Asus DRW-1608P2 was the slowest here with 171 seconds. It was also the only drive that produced coasters. While it could burn assorted data, it failed to burn to sequential DVD-R media. We repeated the test several times but found the same result.
After all that burning and the smoke cleared, we took a look at the prices to help us determine the overall winner in each class of drives.
The Sony CRX320EE had the lowest specified CD-RW writing speeds of 24x as compared to 32x for the rest, yet it could burn a 10x CD-RW at 12x, which saves you a minute and a half. It was the top scorer as far as performance is concerned, exhibiting faster ripping speeds along with the second-fastest writing speeds for CD-R. The Sony CRX320EE, priced the second-lowest, is a deserving winner of the Digit Best Buy Gold for Combo drives.
Coming in close was the inexpensive Lite-On SOHC-5232K, which with its average performance, wins the Digit Best Buy Silver for Combo drives.
The Lite-On Super AllWrite LH-20A1P, with the highest writing speed to DVD-R in the world-20x, a stellar performance that left the competition biting the dust, and a surprisingly low price of Rs 2,095, was adjudged the winner of the Digit Best Buy Gold for DVD-Writers. With equally impressive features-being able to write to all types of media, bundled with two bezels, coming in second in terms of performance, and priced the lowest of the lot at Rs 1,950, the Lite-On Super AllWrite LH-16A1P drafted close behind its sibling and was awarded the Digit Best Buy Silver for DVD-Writers.
Last year, we had speculated that in 2007, we might see a shootout of Blu-ray and HD-DVD drives. Our speculations have gone all wrong. One of the reasons is the format war, which continues, and with no party ready to back down. The consumer is the one who loses out, because the technology has existed for a considerable period of time, but the manufacturers have decided to hold it back.
Another reason for us not being able to conduct tests of HD-DVD and Blu-ray drives is the scarce availability and the insanely high prices of not just the drives, but also of the media. A Blu-ray drive costs an astronomical Rs 43,000, and the media available now costs an equally ridiculous Rs 1,600!
We love our hardware here at Digit, and we're now hoping that we'll get to see the next generation of optical media when we come back to testing optical drives next year.