CD-RW drives are almost a de facto part of any computer system, and with the advent of DVD writable models, these too were thrust into mainstream system configurations. Better, faster, more flexible, and higher density are the catch-phrases of the day where writeable storage is concerned. Separate DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW drives have been replaced by dual-format models capable of writing both media formats, while 2X and 4X drives are being superceded by faster 8X DVD writers. Combo drives have emerged as a real benefit to system integrators, as CD-R, CD-RW and all DVD/CD read duties can now be taken care of by a single drive.
These technological enhancements have raised CD and DVD-based drives to new heights, and made this area one of the hotspots for hardware buyers. In this review, we'll be looking at two drives from AOpen, the COM5232, which upgrades the base performance of their Combo Drive line, and the DRW8800, an 8X dual-format DVD rewritable model with all the performance specifications.
The AOpen DRW8800 is a dual-mode drive that supports both the DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/+RW standards. This allows it to read and write both DVD formats, and really opens up the door in terms of media and usage. This drive supports up to 8X write speeds for DVD-R/+R media and 4X rewritable speeds for DVD-RW/+RW. It also doubles as a DVD player, and features 12X DVD-ROM and 8X DVD-R/+R/-RW/+RW reading speeds. This makes the AOpen DRW8800 a very flexible drive, capable of writing and reading all levels of standard DVD-based media.
The DRW8800 also includes CD-R/-RW support, and this has been upgraded so that a dedicated CDR unit may not be needed. The drive's features include CDR write speeds of up to 32X, and a 16X CDRW maximum rewrite speeds. High-end CD reading is also supported, with 40X speeds for CD-ROM and CD-R, and 32X for CD-RW. This is a nice upgrade over last-gen 2X and 4X DVD writers, and the enhanced 32X CD-R and 16X CD-RW write speeds are a very nice touch. Basically, the DRW8800 provides an all-in-one CD/DVD drive for all but the most impatient of CDR users.
The physical specifications of the AOpen DRW8800 are also quite nice, including a 2-MB data buffer and support for buffer underrun technology. The front panel of the drive is standard, and includes a tray loading design, along with an eject button, indicator light and emergency eject pin-hole. Also note that there is no headphone jack or volume control on this drive.
Our previous experience with DVD writers has made us accustomed to a serious retail package, complete with a full set of CD and DVD media. The times are a changing, and while AOpen blew off the barn doors with the DRW4410's retail bundle, the upgraded AOpen DRW8800 is quite sedate by comparison. AOpen still gets top marks for including both the CD-ROM audio cable and 4 mounting screws. A Quick Install Guide is also included, but that's the only documentation in the box.
The bundled software is an integrated CD that features a suite of DVD and CD mastering and playback utilities. These are standard programs for AOpen drives, and include VideoStudio 7, neoDVD, Nero 5, PowerDVD, and inCD packet writer. The DVD authoring software is quite good, and the inclusion of Nero 5 enables CDR-R/-RW writing and rewriting using a very standard package. The only area that AOpen has cut costs is with bundled media, and not to put to fine a point on it, but there is none. This is disappointing, if only because 8X DVD-R and DVD+R media can still be hard to find, and it would have been nice to use the DRW8800 to its full capabilities, right out of the box.
The overall performance of the AOpen DRW8800 is extremely good, and the enhanced DVD write and rewrite speeds really come in handy. In our real-world testing, the performance gains were incredible, with 4X and 8X DVD-R writing really dropping the recording time. For example, 1X DVD-R checked in at 55 minutes, 2X at 27 minutes, 4X at 15 minutes, and 8X at a blistering 9 minutes. 8X media is still a bit touch and go, and we recommend trying a few discs to make sure they match up to 8X speeds under a variety of scenarios. CD-R and CD-RW testing also got top marks, and 32X CD-R and 16X CD-RW speeds were achieved without any issue. Software compatibility was also excellent in our testing, with popular software such as Nero 6 Ultra, Nero/NeroVision Express, Fireburner, and others were immediately recognized.