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Dual-Layer 16X Burners

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Keeping up with the ever-changing DVD-burner market could be a job in itself. Every few months, faster drives are announced, new features get introduced, and competing (and confusing) disc formats continue to play leapfrog in the quest for market dominance. The most recent technological development in DVD writers is dual-layer burning. This nifty technology allows you to double the capacity of a DVD, from 4.7GB to 8.5GB, by writing to two different layers on the same side of the disc. You’ve been renting double-layer DVDs for a while, but now home users can burn their own.

Recently, Macworld Lab put seven of the latest drives to the test. There were more differences between the drives than we had anticipated, and in the end, the LaCie d2 DVD±RW 16x FireWire with Double Layer drive took the crown.

Dual-ing Devices

In the world of DVD burners, there are two competing standards groups that create two types of blank DVDs: DVD+R and DVD-R. They do the same thing, and both are compatible with most home-entertainment DVD players and with the DVD drives in many computers. One group will come out with media and promise faster DVD-write speeds, and the other will soon follow or jump ahead. Though it may be confusing, the upside to this heated rivalry is that it keeps the price of media down and speeds up development of new features. All the drives we looked at can write to both DVD+R and DVD-R media, as well as dual-layer media (also called either DVD+RW DL or DVD+R9).

Faster DVD, Burn, Burn

The speed at which a drive will burn a DVD depends on three factors: the drive mechanism’s speed, the speed of its connection to your Mac, and the disc’s rated speed. Each of the drives we tested claims to burn a single-layer DVD at up to 16x, and all the drives have FireWire ports, except the Iomega, which has only a USB 2.0 port. Because all current Macs include FireWire, which is as fast as or faster than USB 2.0, we tested all the drives except the Iomega using FireWire. We tested the Iomega using USB 2.0.

The Sony drive was the fastest when burning 4.7GB of data to a 16x-rated DVD+R disc, at just 5 minutes and 56 seconds. The Plextor, Kanguru, and LaCie drives were a tad slower, but three drives—the EZQuest, the OWC, and the Iomega (due to its slower, USB 2.0 connection)—took considerably longer to write the disc.

We also spot-tested USB 2.0 write speeds using the Sony and Plextor drives, which offer both USB 2.0 and FireWire. The Sony took about three and a half minutes longer to burn 4.7GB to the same media using USB 2.0. The Plextor took nearly two minutes longer.

The fastest dual-layer media available at press time are rated at only 2.4x, but the drives rated at 4x for dual-layer burning can actually burn these 2.4x discs at 4x speeds, taking about 27 minutes to burn an 8.5GB disc. The Sony and Iomega drives are the exceptions: they are rated at 2.4x for dual-layer burning and took almost 44 minutes to burn a disc. So if you plan to use the dual-layer feature often, you’ll definitely want to buy a burner rated at 4x for dual-layer burning.

We also tried copying data from the external drive to our Mac to test the drives’ read speeds. When we copied 655MB of data that had been burned to a dual-layer disc, the Plextor was quite a bit faster than the rest, finishing the task in just 1 minute and 15 seconds, probably owing to its 8MB of cache memory (all the other drives have 2MB).

You’re Nowhere without Software

At present, OS X doesn’t recognize any of the drives included in this review, but each drive comes with software that lets you use it with OS X. You just can’t use Apple’s Disk Burner software, iTunes, or iPhoto to burn discs. iDVD is another story altogether; you can burn a DVD directly from iDVD only if you have an internal Apple SuperDrive. The recently released iDVD 5 (   , April 2005 ), included in the iLife ’05 suite, will let you create a disc image that you can then burn to an external Apple-supported DVD drive, or you can use a disc-burning utility, such as Roxio’s Toast. Apple’s DVD Studio Pro won’t burn directly to any of these drives until Apple supports them.

It sounds like a mess, right? Don’t despair—there are two other ways around this lack of support. First, LaCie includes with its drive a utility called Disc Recording, which lets you use Disc Burner, iMovie, iTunes, and DVDStudio Pro to burn to the drive. The utility is available only when you purchase a LaCie drive. Second, owners of other drive brands can download a free utility called PatchBurn, which does the same thing as LaCie’s utility. We tried PatchBurn on all the drives and had success using Apple’s Disc Burner software and iTunes. PatchBurn also offers a hack that lets you burn to a drive using iDVD 4, but use it at your own risk. (We encountered a few crashes while trying to use it.)

All the burners include third-party applications for burning audio, video, and other files onto CDs and DVDs. Roxio’s Toast is Macworld’ s disc-burning software of choice, and we performed all our tests using Roxio’s Toast 6 Titanium (   ; December 2003 ). Three of the drives—the EZQuest, the Plextor, and the Sony—ship with a Lite version of Toast, which has fewer features than the full version. The LaCie drive ships with the full version of Toast, which makes this drive even better in our eyes. The other drives ship with either NewTech Infosystems’ Dragon Burn 4 or Charismac’s Discribe 5. In our tests, Dragon Burn worked fine and had an intuitive user interface, but we found Discribe difficult to use. The EZQuest and OWC drives also include EMC/Dantz’s Retrospect Express, which allows you to automate backups of your data.

Dual-Layer 16X DVD Burners Compared

Product Connectors Write Speeds Bundled Software Drive Mechanism 4.7GB DVD+R Burn 8GB Dual-Layer DVD Burn Copy 655MB to Hard Drive
EZQuest Boa 16X DVD±RW Double Layer FireWire FireWire 400 (2) DVD-R, 16X; DVD+R, 16X; DVD+R dual-layer, 4X; CD-R, 32X EMC/Dantz Retrospect Express, Roxio Toast 6 Lite Pioneer DVR-108 9:14 27:02 2:03
Iomega Super DVD Writer 16X USB 2.0 (1) DVD-R, 8X; DVD+R, 16X; DVD+R dual-layer, 2.4X; CD-R, 48X Charismac Discribe 5 Lite-On Show 1633S 10:05 43.45 2:40
Kanguru Quicksilver 16X QS-FW DVDRW FireWire FireWire 400 (2) DVD-R, 16X; DVD+R, 16X; DVD+R dual-layer, 4X; CD-R, 48X NewTech Infosystems Dragon Burn 4 NEC ND-3500AG 7:54 26:52 3:20
LaCie d2 DVD±RW 16X FireWire with Double Layer FireWire 400 (2) DVD-R, 16X; DVD+R, 16X; DVD+R dual-layer, 4X; CD-R, 32X LaCie Disc Recording, Roxio Toast 6 Titanium NEC ND-3500AG 6:44 26:51 3:20
OWC Mercury FireWire/USB2 D108 DVD±RW FireWire 400 (2), USB 2.0 (1) DVD-R, 16X; DVD+R, 16X; DVD+R dual-layer, 4X; CD-R, 32X EMC/Dantz Retrospect Express, NewTech Infosystems Dragon Burn 4 Pioneer DVR-108 9:16 27:04 2:02
Plextor PX-716UF FireWire 400 (1), USB 2.0 (1) DVD-R, 16X; DVD+R, 16X; DVD+R dual-layer, 4X; CD-R, 48X Roxio Toast 6 Lite Plextor PX-716UF 6:17 27:08 1:15
Sony DRX-710UL/T FireWire 400 (1), USB 2.0 (1) DVD-R, 8X; DVD+R, 16X; DVD+R dual-layer, 2.4X; CD-R, 32X Roxio Toast 6 Lite Lite-On Show 1633S 5:56 43:55 2:41
<Better <Better <Better

Editors’ Choice in red. Best Results in bold .

We connected each drive to a dual-2.5GHz Power Mac G5 running Mac OS X 10.3.7 and with 512MB of RAM. We recorded the time it took each drive to burn 8GB of data onto dual-layer DVD+R Verbatim media using Toast Titanium 6.0.7, and also the time it took to burn 4.4GB of data onto 16× DVD+R Verbatim media. We then timed the copy of a 655MB file from a burned dual-layer DVD to the Mac’s internal hard drive. The Iomega drive was connected via USB 2.0. The rest were connected via FireWire 400.—Macworld Lab testing by Jeffy K. Milstead

Macworld’s Buying Advice

These fast new burners can be real time-savers, and the new dual-layer features can help you get much more data onto one disc, so you’re not spanning projects across, or backing up to, two different discs.

We judged the LaCie d2 DVD±RW 16x FireWire with Double Layer drive to be the best value, because it offers the full version of Roxio’s Toast and software that makes it compatible with OS X. The Plextor drive, with its 8MB of cache memory, was the best all-around performer, and it has great connection options, but it’s also the most expensive. If you already own Toast Titanium, you might consider the Kanguru Quicksilver drive, which is based on the same mechanism as the LaCie but costs about $30 less.

Editors’ Choice: LaCie d2 DVD±RW 16X FireWire with Double LayerEZQuest Boa 16X DVD±RW Double Layer FireWireIomega Super DVD Writer 16XKanguru Quicksilver 16X QS-FW DVDRW FireWireOWC Mercury FireWire/USB2 D108 DVD±RWPlextor PX-716UFSony DRX-710UL/T
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