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Firmware Update Required?

Optical drives can continue to evolve even after you have taken them home from the store. Drive makers regularly issue firmware updates to support new media manufacturers as well as to improve performance--by boosting write speeds a notch, for example.

Our experience in writing to double-layer DVD+R media offers a perfect example. Four internal drives we tested--the Lite-On SHW-1635S, the Pioneer DVR-R100, the Plextor PX-740A, and the Sony DRU-810A--list 8X DVD+R DL as a spec, but only the Plextor and the Sony achieved 8X-caliber write speeds with the available 2.4X DVD+R DL media. The Pioneer was about 3 minutes off the Plextor and Sony's pace, and--according to the manufacturer--the Lite-On drive's firmware purposely suppressed its speed. (LG's external GSA-2166D also claims 8X support, but the company told us it would need a firmware upgrade to do so; we did not test it.)

Before we went to press, the PC World Test Center received a limited number of early production 8X DVD+R DL discs from Verbatim; these discs lacked a stamper ID code, which some drives may require to write at maximum speeds. Nonetheless, we took the media for a spin (without updating the firmware on our shipping drives).

Though all of the burners we tested (except Lite-On's) burned to 2.4X media at significantly faster than 2.4X speeds, the results with the faster-rated media were reversed. The only drive that distinguished itself with the new 8X media was the Lite-On SHW-1635S. With the 8X media, just as with the 2.4X media, we had to let the Sony cool down between passes before it would write a second 8X disc at full speed. (Plextor's PX-740A had a similar, but less severe, problem with overheating.) The Pioneer DVR-R100 is not configured out of the box to record to 8X DVD+R DL discs, says Pioneer. Instead, the drive reduced its write speed to the lowest common denominator (in this case, 2.4X). As a result, it wrote our 7.9GB test disc in 45 minutes.

Although the practice is not new, we wish drive makers would tell buyers that a firmware upgrade is required to achieve the high-speed action clearly advertised on box specs. (Pioneer told us that it will issue an upgrade, but only when 8X DVD+R DL media is in mass production later this year.) For more on firmware updates, see "The Mysteries and Joys of Firmware Upgrades."


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