Optical drive technology continues to evolve, and what used to be a race towards ever-higher CDR write speeds has turned into one of updated drives, new media and ever-higher specifications. Basic CD writer duties have shifted into an array of different configurations, including CD-RW, Combo and DVD-RW models. CD-RW drives are almost a de facto part of any computer system, and with the evolution of DVD-/+R technology and a gradual drop in hardware prices, we are almost at a point where DVD writing will be standard equipment.
This has also changed where new optical drive technology is heading, with faster DVD write speeds and support for new media formats being the two prime considerations. The early 1X DVD-R models have shifted to 4X speeds and then later to 8X, and CD and CDRW write speeds also increased, while dual format DVD writers have combined both the DVD-R and DVD+R formats. Each day it seems that additional functionality and higher speeds are being squeezed into these new DVD-/+R drives. The technological march continues with the AOpen DUW1608, as this new drive not only upgrades DVD+R write speeds to 16X but also adds in Dual Layer support to the equation.
The AOpen DUW1608 includes all of the base functions of the AOpen DRW8800 8X dual-mode drive, but adds a few new features and upgrades the read and write speeds in a few areas. The dual-mode specification means that it can read and write both DVD-R/RW and DVD +R/+RW standards, thus ensuring full compatibility. The main drawing card of the AOpen DUW1608 is its support for DVD+R Dual Layer, which it does at the standard 2.4X speed. The DUW1608 drive supports up to 16X write speeds for DVD+R and up to 8X for DVD-R media, and 4X rewritable speeds for DVD-RW/+RW. The DVD-R write speed is a bit disappointing, as some competing models support 16X DVD-R. Even so, the AOpen DUW1608 is a very flexible drive that supports a dizzying array of DVD media and does so at cutting-edge write speeds.
The AOpen DUW1608 also supports CD-R/-RW write functions, and these are at such high speeds that it can easily replace a dedicated CD-RW unit. The drive can handle CDR write speeds of up to 48X, CDRW at up to 32X and can even read CD, CDR and CDRW media at a whopping 48X. It also functions as a standard DVD player, and reads at 16X for single layer DVD-ROM, 12X for single layer DVD+/-R, and 8X for dual layer DVD-ROM and DVD+R. These are significant performance upgrades compared to most 4X and 8X DVD writers, and make the DUW1608 an all-purpose drive that can easily handle all possible DVD and CD write/read duties.
The physical drive itself is relatively standard, except for the fact that it supports ATA66 data transfers, and allows for a higher-end interface. The DUW1608 includes a basic front panel with a tray loading design, and an eject button, indicator light and emergency eject pin-hole. The drive's physical specifications are also quite good, and include a 2MB data buffer and support for buffer underrun technology. The AOpen DUW1608 also follows prior designs and does not include a headphone jack or volume control.
AOpen has a long history of producing quality optical drives at a value price, but has gone through many different changes concerning their retail bundles. At this point in time, less is definitely more where AOpen is concerned, and the DUW1608 16X DVD+/-RW follows right along with current trends. In terms of basics, the retail package does contain a CD-ROM audio cable and 4 mounting screws, along with a Quick Install Guide. This is the only hardcopy documentation in the box, although a full user manual is available in electronic form. In terms of aesthetics, the DUW1608 is a multi-faceted drive, and includes removable front plates in white (default), black, and beige colors.
The bundled software is a definite switch from previous AOpen drive, and rather than the integrated CD with a suite of DVD and CD mastering and playback utilities, we have individual CDs for Nero and PowerDVD. Nero is the de facto CD and DVD authoring program, and this is the OEM Suite (version 220.127.116.11 with our review drive) which includes Nero, NeroVision 2, Media Player, InCD and various other Nero OEM utilities. The PowerDVD CD includes a full version of PowerDVD 5, along with PowerDirector 5 Trial, PowerProducer 2 Gold Trial and a few other trial utilities. The DVD authoring software is very nice, and with Nero 6 OEM, users will get the most of the DUW1608, right out of the box.
The only area that AOpen continues to slice costs is with blank CD and DVD media. To put it simply, the DUW1608 does not ship with any recordable media, which can be a downer for those looking to burn a few CDs or DVDs. This does allow for a lower retail price, but given that media is so inexpensive these days, it might be a better PR move to include a few blanks. Since the AOpen DUW1608 also supports new technology like DVD+R DL and 16X DVD+R, even a single high-speed or DL DVD+R disk would have provided a nice opportunity to showcase the drive's capabilities.
Usually the installation of a DVD+/-R drive does not warrant any commentary at all, but the AOpen DUW1608 is a bit different animal. AOpen has gone the extra mile and equipped this drive with an ATA66 interface, presumably to ensure the higher write speeds are matched with a more capable data transfer interface. What this design gives in terms of performance and stability it takes away a bit in compatibility. The vast majority of optical drives are ATA33, and the DUW1608 has proven to be a bit finicky if everything is not set up correctly.
If the AOpen DUW1608 is going to be the only drive on an ATA channel, then it is unlikely you will have problems, but we recommend 80-wire ATA-66/100 cables under any configuration. Apparently the DUW1608 also works best in the Master configuration, although we have not have any problems when using other ASUS and AOpen CD and DVD ATA33 drives with the DUW1608 as a Slave. Just be sure to use an ATA66 cable and keep the AOpen DUW1608 as Master (or even on its own channel) as a safety measure.