The Driving Range
Posted Sep 1, 2005

Plextor PX-716
After much delay, Plextor's new PX-716 DVD/CD recorder has finally arrived. Has it been worth the wait? With numerous features that set it apart from the crowd, you bet it has!

Significantly, the PX-716 is available in both EIDE/ATAPI and Serial ATA (SATA) models. Attractively simple to install and manage, SATA is the best thing to happen to optical storage in years and unquestionably the way to go if you have a newer PC.

Beyond a choice of interfaces, the PX-716 is the first recorder claiming 8X DVD+RW rewriting speed. When implemented, this should cut current writing times drastically. I was, however, unable to put it to the test since 8X-rated DVD+RW discs are not yet available. I settled instead for 4X (14:08 to write a full disc).

In terms of its DVD±R writing speed, my evaluation puts the PX-716 in the middle of the pack of current 16X recorders taking 6:13 for a full disc. As it turned out, the unit was especially sensitive to inconsistencies in the blank discs used. Employing adaptive technology that reduces writing speed, it routinely took a little longer. When it comes to achieving predicable results, it's often better to be safe than in a hurry. However, for those who like to live on the edge, some safeguards can be disabled for speed's sake.

Also for the adventurous is the PX-716's unadvertised ability to "overburn" a DVD+R disc with more information than is customary (must be supported by the recording software). During testing, I was able to write 4.82GB to 4.7GB discs. Playback, however, proved to be understandably hit and miss.

Rounding out the PX-716's recording features are 4X DVD+R DL, 48X CD-R, and 24X CD-RW, which translated to 27:12 to write a full DVD+R DL disc, 2:43 for a CD-R, and 4:58 for a CD-RW.

And the PX-716 isn't a slouch when it comes to reading. Prerecorded single-layer DVDs are handled at 16X (4:55), DVD±R/RW and prerecorded dual-layer DVD at 12X (6:36), DVD+R DL at 8X (17:53), CD-R at 48X (2:19), and CD-RW at 40X (2:36).

Currently, the PX-716 records to most brands of DVD+R DL discs at 4X speed (updates to add 6X DVD±R DL capabilities are promised for the near future) and accommodates many DVD±R makers, even writing a few 4X types at 8X and some 8X media at 12X. Support for the latest 16X varieties is only average.

Filling out the package is Roxio's Easy Media Creator 7, a trial version of Dantz Retrospect, and Plextor's legendary PlexTools Professional complete with its battery of knobs and handy utilities, not the least of which can help check low-level disc quality.

Although a little stingy on mainline software and a tad more expensive than some recorders, the PX-716 is, all in all, a top-notch, high-performance, and eminently practical unit. System requirements: 1.4GHz+ Pentium 4 running Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP; 256MB RAM; 10GB free hard drive space; 1024x768, 16-bit color display; 5.25" half-height empty drive bay; EIDE/ATAPI or SATA interface.

—Hugh Bennett

Memorex 16x16 Dual-Format External DVD Recorder
As someone who started his CD recording life as a Mac user, I've always had a fondness for external burners. Reviewing dozens of internal models over the years has only heightened that feeling. Granted, external models cost a little more, get the speed upgrades a little later than the internal drives, and require connections to ports you may not have available, but they certainly cut down on the muss and fuss. And given that CD/DVD recording has become, by and large, a minimal muss-and-fuss activity, why not go external and save yourself and your system the wear and tear of cracking open the box to add another peripheral?

The newest DVD recorder from Memorex, the 16x16 dual-format, DL-capable model, jumps into action as quickly and easily as any I've ever seen. I locked it into its stand for hip vertical positioning, connected it to the available 6-pin FireWire port on my venerable 2.4GHz Pentium 4 VAIO (it can also connect via USB 2.0), and found myself burning a DVD within minutes. The drive boasts nearly all the latest and greatest CD/DVD recording capabilities: 16X DVD±R, 48X CD-R, and 4X DVD+R DL. Its 4X DVD±RW isn't quite state-of-the-art, but I'll start worrying about that as soon as I see 8X DVD±RW media. In the meantime, I can't fault it for not accelerating to speeds that available media probably wouldn't let me achieve anyway.

In testing, the drive achieved all its advertised speeds; averaging 6:22 and 6:26, respectively, for full DVD-R (on media from Verbatim, Ritek, Taiyo Yuden) and DVD+R (Verbatim, Ritek) burns and accomplishing full 48X CD-R burns in 2:44. DVD+R DL (Ritek) performance fell just shy of 4X (29:57, plenty fast for me), while DVD±RW nailed 4X every time. Nero's CD/DVD speed confirmed the real-world results. The Memorex burner's 10.26X average burn speed for DVD-R is the best I've seen on any media (keep in mind that drives follow a speed arc at higher burn speeds, rather than record at the same rate across the full span of the disc).

The Memorex 16x16 ships with the full complement of Nero authoring and recording software including Nero Express 6, Nero Vision Express 2, Nero Showtime, Nero Cover-Designed, Nero InCD, Nero BackITup, Nero Recode 2, Nero Toolkit, and the excellent digital photography capture and management tool PhotoShow Elite. The Nero bundle seems to have become nearly as ubiquitous in DVD burner packages as Roxio's was a few years back; today, Roxio-based bundles like the Plextor 716's are the exception rather than the rule.

Is the Memorex 16x16 the ultimate DVD burner? It is for Memorex, according to VP of marketing and product development Allen H. Gharapetian. While the company will continue to market and support existing DVD burners—including the line-topping 16x16, naturally—Gharapetian says, the next new recorder that rolls off the Memorex line will be an HD-DVD drive.

System requirements: 1.4GHz+ Pentium 4 running Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP; 256MB RAM; 10GB free hard drive space; 1024x768, 16-bit color display; available FireWire or USB 2.0 port.

—Stephen F. Nathans

Ridata QuattroDrive
Ridata's new QuattroDrive is, well, something else entirely. It's an external USB 2.0 48X CD recorder and CD/DVD reader, and it's also a 4-in-1 compact memory card reader, with support for CompactFlash I & II, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MS Pro Duo, SmartMedia, MicroDrive, SD, and MMC. You can read or write content to and from all formats, and you can burn a CD directly from a card. Of course, we've seen some of this before—Sony started making burners with Memory Stick slots years ago.

What's even more interesting—and ingenious—about Ridata's new creation is that you can connect it directly to your TV or PC/Mac as a digital media player and watch a slideshow of photographs from a compact memory card, or play back MP3s or VCD content.

In testing, the drive proved a solid CD writer, achieving full 48X recording speeds by the end of the disc using Ritek and Verbatim media. Tested with both MMC and Memory Stick cards, it also performed as advertised as a card reader and slideshow generator when connected to both the testbed 2.4GHz Pentium 4 VAIO PC and a standard television set; the slideshow feature is especially welcome, and seems like a natural way to use such a product. To connect the Quattro to a TV or projector, the user simply connects the Video/S-Video and Audio/Optical out jacks to the TV or projector's Video and Audio in RCA jacks. To use it as an MP3 or CD-Audio player, you connect the Audio/Optical out jack to headphones or the inputs on your stereo. Not much to it.

For digital media player-mode management, the QuattroDrive ships with a button-riddled remote control, including shuffle and menu features, volume controls, zoom, and more. You can also do basic control (play, stop, rewind, fast forward) using the small panel atop the drive.

Documentation is scant, but the drive ships with cables, the remote, drivers CD, and a 10-pack of Ridata 48X CD-R discs—a rarity in this era of single-disc stinginess.

System requirements: 900MHz Pentium 3+ PC running Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP or G4+ running Mac OS 10.2.6+; available USB 2.0 port.

—Stephen F. Nathans