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Center stage: Six new DVD burners, from (left to right) LG, Samsung, Pioneer, Lite-On, Sony, and Plextor. The LG and the Pioneer earn Best Buys.
Center stage: Six new DVD burners, from (left to right) LG, Samsung, Pioneer, Lite-On, Sony, and Plextor. The LG and the Pioneer earn Best Buys.
Ultrahigh-capacity discs, such as those promised by the Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD formats, are enticing; but like any fresh technology, they're going to be expensive when they first reach store shelves. That doesn't mean, however, that you have to wait to pack extra gigabytes onto your discs affordably.

Today's conventional DVD burners can deftly handle writing two layers of data onto a disc, and they can do so significantly faster (by nearly a third, if you pick the right drive) than they could just six months ago. In recent months, drive manufacturers have increased the write speeds of dual-layer DVD-R and double-layer DVD+R burners from their original speeds of 2.4X to 6X and 8X, respectively; and each type should eventually hit the same 16X maximum write-speed ceiling as write-once single-layer DVD drives.

Just as important, prices for the two-layer media used in the dual- and double-layer drives are finally showing signs of dropping. For example, you can now purchase a five-pack of 2.4X DVD+R DL discs that sold for $25 six months ago for about a third of that price. And 8X DL media is coming this fall (see "Firmware Update Required?" for more).

Rewritable speeds have also jumped up a notch, from 4X to 8X for DVD+RW, and from 4X to 6X for DVD-RW. Discs formulated to receive data at those speed ratings, however, remain rare (they're so scarce, in fact, that we conducted our DVD+RW tests with early production-level 8X discs from Verbatim). We expect to see appropriate-speed media trickling onto the market in limited quantities by the time you read this, though.

We evaluated five of the latest internal IDE DVD burners--Lite-On's $75 SHW-1635S, Pioneer's $90 DVR-R100, Plextor's $105 PX-740A and $155 PX-716AL (a slot-loading model), and Sony's $100 DRU-810A--and two external drives, LG's $180 Super-Multi GSA-2166D and Samsung's $200 WriteMaster SE-W164C. All seven drives made our chart, which includes three previously tested models, Asus's DRW-1680P, Samsung's TS-H552U, and Plextor's PX-716UF. Our Best Buys, though, went to two of the newcomers, the Pioneer and the LG.

Most of the new drives had identical specs, including 16X single-layer DVD-R and DVD+R and 8X DVD+RW. All of the drives support double-layer writing at faster speeds to 2.4X media, the first generation of DVD+R DL media to ship last year. But five of the seven products claim to deliver double-layer DVD+R at 8X; the Samsung advertises 5X writes; and the Plextor PX-716AL bills itself as a 6X writer. Across the seven drives, all but two feature 4X dual-layer DVD-R support (the same speed as the currently available media). The Pioneer DVR-R100's spec promises 8X performance, and the Plextor PX-716AL pledges 6X.

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