12.5 Our Picks

ATAPI DVD-ROM drives have largely replaced ATAPI CD-ROM drives, which are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Current DVD-ROM drives substitute well for a CD-ROM drive. They're a bit more expensive than CD-ROM drives, but you can buy a good DVD-ROM drive for less than $60. For a general-purpose system, we now recommend DVD-ROM rather than CD-ROM. Here are the DVD drives we recommend:


Hitachi, Panasonic, Pioneer, or Toshiba. All of these manufacturers produce first-rate DVD-ROM drives, although they vary in features, speed, and price. If all you need a DVD-ROM drive to do is read DVD-ROM and CD discs, nearly any model from a Japanese maker will suffice. If you need a drive that can read other formats, such as DVD-RAM or DVD-RW, or a drive that supports high-speed DMA modes, the details become more important. See our web site, listed at the end of this chapter, for current detailed recommendations.


Toshiba SD-M1401S. DVD-ROM is primarily a consumer-oriented technology, so relatively few SCSI drives are available. Of those, the 10X SD-M1401S is the best we know of. SCSI is usually a step ahead of ATAPI in performance, but the SD-M1401 SCSI drive is slower than its ATAPI cousin. Although we're SCSI advocates, when it comes to DVD-ROM, we use ATAPI. Unless you're building an all-SCSI system, we recommend you do the same (http://www.toshiba.com).

Combination DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive

Plextor 20/10/40-12A PlexCombo. In May 2002, Plextor shipped the PlexCombo drive, which combines a 12X DVD-ROM drive with a CD burner that writes at 20X, rewrites at 10X, and reads at 40X. In the past, we gave combination DVD-ROM/CD-RW drives only a lukewarm recommendation. Although convenient, they were much slower than individual components, appeared more likely to fail, and lacked such niceties as BURN-Proof. Although the 20X writes and 10X rewrites of the PlexCombo are much slower than those of the fastest standalone CD burner models, they are more than fast enough for most purposes. The PlexCombo is solidly constructed, and after extensive testing we have concluded that it is as reliable as any other Plextor optical drive, which is to say extremely so. The PlexCombo is also the first combination DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive that supports BURN-Proof, which is a key factor in our recommendation. If you need both DVD-ROM and CD-RW functions and if 20X writes and 10X rewrites are fast enough for your needs, we recommend the Plextor PlexCombo 20/10/40-12A without reservation (http://www.plextor.com).

It's still not easy to choose among the competing writable DVD formats. Although it is slower and less compatible than the other standards, DVD-RAM remains an excellent choice for those who use a DVD writer to archive data. Conversely, for those who use a DVD writer to record video, DVD-R/RW drives are attractive because DVD-R/RW discs cost less than DVD+R/RW discs of comparable quality. DVD+R/RW drives have less robust error correction than DVD-RAM drives, and their discs cost a bit more than those for DVD-R/RW drives, but for many people DVD+R/RW is the best compromise. Hybrid DVD+/-R/RW drives can use -R/RW discs or +R/RW discs, but the drives themselves cost significantly more than single-standard drives. Accordingly, we recommend choosing one of the following drives, balancing your own priorities.

DVD-RAM drive

Toshiba or Hitachi. Both of these companies produce top-notch ATAPI DVD-RAM drives. Price, performance, and features vary between models, but if you need a high-capacity optical rewriter for archiving data, you're likely to be happy with a current model from either company. DVD-RAM is a poor choice for general-purpose DVD writing. But for storing data (as opposed to video), we think DVD-RAM is the best choice, and we believe that Toshiba and Hitachi make the best DVD-RAM drives available.

DVD-R/RW drive

Pioneer. Pioneer invented DVD-R, and its DVD-R/RW drives are first-rate. If you record primarily video, a Pioneer DVD-R/RW drive may be your best choice. Although for various technical reasons DVD-R/RW is inferior to DVD-RAM or DVD+R/RW for storing data, a DVD-R/RW drive unquestionably offers more flexibility than a DVD-RAM drive. If DVD-R/RW is right for you, we think you'll be happy with a current Pioneer model.

DVD+RW drive

Plextor. Plextor was very late to market with a DVD writer, finally shipping its PX-504A DVD+R/RW drive in March 2003. During a telephone conversation with a Plextor executive in 2000, Robert asked when Plextor would begin offering DVD writers. The response was that Plextor would not offer a DVD writer until it believed that one of the competing DVD standards had won. By shipping a DVD+R/RW drive, Plextor has come down firmly in the DVD+R/RW camp, and we can't argue with that judgment. Our experience with Plextor DVD writers has been uniformly excellent. DVD+R/RW writers have similar specifications and performance, but some other DVD writers are much more sensitive to media variations than Plextor writers. On that basis, and based on Plextor's traditional robustness and quality, we recommend (and use) Plextor DVD+R/RW drives as the best general-purpose DVD writers available.

To view our current specific recommendations by make and model, visit: http://www.hardwareguys.com/picks/dvd.html.