11.14 Our Picks

Here are the CD writers and related products we recommend:

ATAPI CD-(M)RW drive

Plextor ATAPI PlexWriter. In the past, we preferred SCSI burners for their greater performance and reliability, and recommended ATAPI burners only when cost was the top priority. That changed when Plextor introduced the ATAPI 8/4/32A in early 2000, and followed it in July 2000 with the 12/10/32A. That drive was the first we'd used that had BURN-Proof technology. We found it impossible to burn coasters with that drive, even when we tried hard to do so. All recent Plextor ATAPI PlexWriters include BURN-Proof, and all are excellent products. If you want a reliable CD burner that will run for years, buy a midrange or high-end PlexWriter. Plextor PlexWriters are inexpensive, fast, and robust, and work flawlessly under Windows 98/98 SE/Me, NT/2000/XP, and Linux. You simply can't buy a better CD writer (http://www.plextor.com).

SCSI CD-(M)RW drive

Plextor PX-W4012TS PlexWriter 40/12/40S. We still have several Plextor SCSI burners around here, but we haven't installed a new one recently. Plextor ATAPI burners are simply so good that there's seldom any point to installing a SCSI unit. The sole remaining bastion of SCSI CD burners is CD-R duplicators, who burn many identical CDs simultaneously. In that environment SCSI is a must-have, but for routine CD burning an ATAPI PlexWriter is actually a better solution. If we needed a SCSI burner, we'd buy the 40/12/40S.

USB CD-(M)RW drive

Plextor USB 2.0 PlexWriter. If you need a portable CD burner to carry between machines or to use with a notebook computer, USB is generally a better choice than SCSI or FireWire, both because it costs less and because computers are more likely to have a USB port than a SCSI or FireWire port. The USB 2.0 PlexWriter model is the best USB burner on the market. In effect, it repackages the well-regarded ATAPI PlexWriter in an external enclosure. The USB 2.0 PlexWriter 24/10/40U and faster models require a USB 2.0 interface to achieve their rated performance. They also work properly with the ubiquitous USB 1.1 interface, although the slower interface limits writing and rewriting to 4X and reading to 6X. If you need a portable CD writer, the PlexWriter is the one to get.

FireWire CD-(M)RW drive

None. Our first choice, Plextor, doesn't make a FireWire model. We formerly recommended a Yamaha model, but Yamaha has departed the CD writer market. Sony and others make FireWire CD writers and several vendors bundle Plextor PlexWriter drives with external FireWire/USB 2.0 enclosures, but we have not tested any of those. If we had to choose a FireWire CD writer, we'd probably go with a PlexWriter in a third-party enclosure.

Mastering software

Ahead Software Nero Burning ROM. Roxio Easy CD Creator is bundled with most CD writers, including the Plextors, but just because it comes with a drive doesn't mean it's the best product to use. We and many others have experienced numerous problems using Easy CD under Windows 2000 and Windows XP, particularly when we also had DirectCD (Roxio's packet-writing program) loaded. Looking for better mastering software, we tried many competing products. The best we found was Nero, which is so much better than Easy CD that it's worth paying for separately. After burning a boatload of CDs with Nero on different systems with different CD writers under Windows 9X, NT, and 2000/XP, we've found that Nero is faster than Easy CD, much less likely to burn coasters when using a marginal configuration, and able to copy source discs that Easy CD chokes on (http://www.nero.com).

Packet-writing software

Ahead Software InCD. Packet-writing software provides drive-letter access to a CD burner, and allows you to move or copy files using drag-and-drop. For a long time, Adaptec/Roxio DirectCD was the dominant packet-writing software, but we had so many problems with it that we'd about given up on packet writing entirely. Ahead's InCD is a competing packet-writing program that actually works. Although we still don't use packet writing much?we prefer to burn CDs in batch mode with Nero?InCD is the product to use if you want packet-writing software.

CD-R discs

Taiyo-Yuden. We recognize that despite all we've said many people want a simple answer to the complex question of which CD-R discs to buy. If you don't have the time or patience to do your own testing, CD-R discs made by Taiyo Yuden are the best choice. They are sold under the Taiyo Yuden name and are relabeled by others.

CD-RW discs

Verbatim. We formerly recommended Ricoh CD-RW discs, but Ricoh no longer distributes CD-RW discs in the United States. Our original choice was a toss-up between Ricoh and Verbatim. We eventually chose Ricoh rather than Verbatim, but Verbatim, makes very good CD-RW discs that are readily available from online and local sources. There are four distinct types of CD-RW discs. Choose the type your CD-RW drive designed to accept. Older writers use Standard CD-RW discs that support 1X to 4X rewrites. MOre recent CD-RW drives use High Speed discs that support 4X to 12X rewrites. Most current CD-RW drives use Ultra Speed discs that support 12X, 16X, and 24X rewrites. The latest CD-RW drives support 32X rewrites, which require special 32X discs. As of July 2003, these 32X discs have not yet begun shipping in volume, so we are unable to recommend any specific brand for them. We expect Verbatim to introduce 32X CD-RW discs later in 2003, and those are what we're likely to try first.

For updated recommendations, visit: http://www.hardwareguys.com/picks/cdrw.html.