11.5 Choosing a CD Writer
Use the following guidelines when choosing a CD writer:
- Transfer rate
As with CD-ROM drives, throughput is rated in comparison to standard CD-DA (CD-Digital Audio), which transfers 150 KB/s, and is designated 1X. CD-RW drives have three speeds. Usually, but not always, the first number refers to how fast data can be written to a CD-R disc, the second to how fast data can be written to a CD-RW disc, and the third to how fast the drive can read data. For example, a Plextor 40/12/40A writes CD-R discs at 40X, rewrites CD-RW discs at 12X, and reads discs at 40X. Note that fast CD writers use "max" ratings. For example, the PlexWriter 40/12/40A writes at 40Xmax, rather than writing at 40X across the entire disc surface. Also, it is common for very fast CD writers to have a lower maximum write speed for audio discs than for data discs. For example, the PlexWriter 40/12/40A writes data discs at 40Xmax, but audio discs at 24X.
- Average access
The heavier heads used by CD writers also mean they provide slower average access times than standard CD-ROM drives. For example, the Plextor 40/12/40A burner has an average access of 120 ms, versus 85 ms for the fastest Plextor CD-ROM drives. If you will use the burner primarily for duping CDs, average access is relatively unimportant. If you will use it heavily for reading CDs or for packet-mode access, average access time is more important. Current models range from about 120 ms to more than 300 ms average access. Buy a model with average access of 200 ms or less.
We used to tell our readers that, all other things being equal, creating CDs was less trouble-prone if they used SCSI rather than ATAPI, and Windows NT or 2000 rather than Windows 9X. The second part of that advice remains true. CD burning is more reliable under Windows NT or Windows 2000 than under Windows 98/SE/Me (although CD burning under Windows XP can be a nightmare). But the first part of that advice is now obsolete. The best modern ATAPI drives, such as the PlexWriter 40/12/40A, are at least as reliable as the best SCSI CD burners. Nowadays, we regard SCSI CD burners as a niche product. About the only situation in which they are still superior to modern ATAPI burners is when you need to burn the same data to several CD writers simultaneously, as in commercial short-run duplication. If your needs are more typical, choose an ATAPI burner.
- Buffer size
Even on a drive with BURN-Proof or a similar anti-underrun technology, a large buffer is desirable because it helps prevent buffer underruns, whether or not those underruns are intercepted and repaired by BURN-Proof. A CD burner that writes at 16X or slower should have a buffer of 2 MB. A CD burner that writes faster than 16X needs a 4 MB buffer. Many no-name CD writers skimp on buffer size. We have seen some 8X models with only 256 KB of buffer and some 12X models with only 512 KB.
- Packet-writing support
Not all drives support packet-mode operation. Make sure the one you buy does.
- Supported formats and methods
Any burner you buy should support at least the following:
- Read-mode formats
CD-DA (Audio CD), CD-ROM, CD-ROM/XA, Audio-combined CD-ROM, CD-I, CD-I Ready, CD Bridge, Video CD, CD-Extra, CD-R (Orange Book Part II), and CD-RW (Orange Book Part III).
- Write-mode formats
CD-DA (Audio CD), CD-ROM, CD-ROM/XA, Audio-combined CD-ROM, CD-I, CD-I Ready, CD Bridge, Video CD, CD-Extra, and CD-RW.
- Writing methods
Disc-at-Once, Session-at-Once, Track-at-Once, and multisession.
The software you use is as important as the CD-R hardware. Nearly all CD burners are bundled with various software, which is described in the following section. Despite the fact that it's "free," bundled software is not always the best choice.