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Optical Drives: Speedy and Cheap

Plextor's PX-712SA.
Plextor's PX-712SA.
Whether you upgrade or build a new PC, adding a fast optical drive can increase its flexibility. And even if you're on a budget, drives that read and burn any format under the sun won't break the bank.

One drive'll do ya: No need to worry about whether your drive supports DVD+RW or DVD-RW--just plunk down $90 for an 8X DVD combination drive that writes to all major formats of rewritable DVD. For example, the Lite-On SOHW-812S, which we use in our value PC configuration for this story, shows its adaptability by burning DVD+R and -R discs at 8X, both rewritable DVD formats at 4X, CD-Rs at 40X, and CD-RWs at 24X. You'd save only $40 by scaling back to a simple CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive, so you might as well spring for a DVD burner that does it all.

How much speed do you need? Even no-longer-top-of-the-line 8X DVD burners can write an entire disc in less than 10 minutes, and CD burning speeds these days are sufficiently fast at the upper end that the difference between 48X and 52X is negligible. Consequently, if you're on a budget, there's no reason to pay a premium for a 12X or 16X DVD burner or to insist on buying the fastest CD-RW drive you can find.

Lose that bulky data cable: The flat, wide ribbon cables that Parallel ATA drives use to carry data can restrict airflow inside your case, robbing your system of valuable cooling; and functionality aside, they're just plain ugly. Rounded data cables available at your local PC store look much nicer, and they don't impede airflow. For a geekier solution, check out Plextor's $200 PX-712SA, the first optical drive to use Serial ATA instead of parallel ATA.

Get a storage boost: What's 12 centimeters in diameter and can hold 8.5GB of data? A dual-layer DVD disc, that's what. We tested some of the first for this month's " Better Backups." Most stand-alone DVD players can play the dual-layer discs that these drives burn, boosting the amount of video that will fit on one disc. You'll pay a small price premium for early dual-layer drives, however, and compatible media may be hard to find at first. In addition, writing to dual-layer discs is slower than writing to single-layer ones--2.4X for the former, as opposed to 8X, 12X, or 16X for the latter. We recommend waiting until the prices of drives and media fall before switching to dual-layer unless you're desperate for the extra storage space.

Adding Extra Drives--One Cable, Two Drives: Master and Slave Demystified

Adding a drive to an older PC isn't always a question of simply plugging it in. Most older PCs use parallel ATA technology, where two drives share one cable (this is referred to as a channel; most PCs come with at least two IDE channels for a maximum of four drives). Setting a jumper designates each drive as either a master or a slave, which permits a single cable to connect two drives to one IDE channel. The jumper settings for each designation are usually labeled on the drive itself.

A few simple rules should guide your configuration choices. If possible, each drive should sit on its own IDE channel configured as a master drive. If you have two drives on one channel, always make the faster drive the master drive.

or example, suppose that you wanted to add a second hard drive and a DVD burner to a PC equipped with one hard drive and one CD-RW drive. In that case, you would want to set the new, faster hard drive as master on the primary IDE channel. Your older hard drive should be the slave drive on the primary channel, with the two optical drives as master and slave on the secondary channel. PC Guide has a detailed overview of the ins and outs of configuring IDE devices.

Our Picks

  • Power System: Plextor PX-712SA ($230). This new 12X dual-format rewritable DVD drive uses the Serial ATA interface for easy installation.
  • Media and Value PCs, and Upgrade: Lite-On SOHW-812S ($90). This 8X multiformat rewritable DVD drive provides an excellent balance of price, performance, and adaptability.
  • Quiet PC: Asus CRW-5232AS ($35). Unfortunately, we discovered that really quiet CD and DVD drives are surprisingly difficult to locate. This Asus model ranks as one of the quietest CD-RW drives we've tried, though it still makes noise when you access it.

<table width="100%" border="0" cellspacing="4" cellpadding="0" bgcolor="#DBDBDB"> <tr> <td width="32" valign="middle" align="center"><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="/howto/graphics/116993-pdf_logo.gif" width="32" height="31" border="0"/></a></td> <td width="1"><img src="/shared/graphics/spacer.gif" width="1" height="2" /></td> <td class="black11" valign="top"><div class="blueCBold11">Article PDF Available</div> The magazine version of this article is <a href="" target="_blank">available for purchase</a> in a downloadable .pdf format. This complete article includes all the formatting, photos, tips, and charts contained in the original.</td> </tr> </table>

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