Use the following guidelines when choosing a CD writer:
As with CD-ROM drives, throughput is rated in comparison to standard CD-DA, which transfers 150 KB/s, and is designated 1X. CD-(M)RW drives have three speeds. Usually, but not always, the first number refers to how fast data can be written to a CD-R disc, the second to how fast data can be written to a CD-RW disc, and the third to how fast the drive can read data. For example, a Plextor 48/24/48A writes CD-R discs at 48X, rewrites CD-RW discs at 24X, and reads discs at 48X. Note that fast CD writers use "max" ratings. For example, the PlexWriter 48/24/48A writes at 48Xmax, rather than writing at 48X across the entire disc surface. Also, fast CD writers sometimes have a lower maximum write speed for audio than for data. For example, a drive might write data at 40Xmax, but CD-DA audio at only 24X.
Most CD writers use heavier heads than CD-ROM drives, and so may have relatively slow average access times. For example, the Plextor 40/12/40A burner has an average access of 120 ms, much slower than the fastest CD-ROM drives. Some CD burners shipped in 2002 or later have greatly improved average access times. For example, the Plextor 48/24/48A has average access of only 65 ms. If you use a burner primarily for duping CDs, average access is relatively unimportant. If you use it heavily for reading CDs or for packet writing, average access time is more important. Current models range from about 65 ms to more than 300 ms average access. Buy a model with average access of 100 ms or less.
We used to tell readers that, all other things being equal, creating CDs was less trouble-prone with SCSI rather than ATAPI, and Windows 2000/XP rather than Windows 9X. The second part of that advice remains true. CD burning is more reliable under Windows 2000/XP than under Windows 98/SE/Me. But the first part of that advice is obsolete. The best modern ATAPI drives, such as the PlexWriter 48/24/48A, are at least as reliable as the best SCSI CD burners. Nowadays, we regard SCSI CD burners as a niche product. About the only situation in which they are still superior to modern ATAPI burners is when you need to burn the same data to several CD writers simultaneously, as in commercial short-run duplication. If your needs are more typical, choose an ATAPI burner. Make sure that any drive you buy supports at least UDMA-2 (ATA-33).
Even on drives with BURN-Proof or similar technology, a large buffer is desirable because it helps prevent buffer underruns, whether or not those underruns are intercepted and corrected. For maximum reliability, a CD burner should have at least a 2 MB buffer, and 4 MB is better. Some current models have only 1 MB, and a few 512 KB or less.
Many drives do not support Mt. Rainier. Make sure the one you buy does.
Any burner you buy should support at least the following:
CD-DA (Audio CD), CD-ROM, CD-ROM/XA, Audio-combined CD-ROM, CD-I, CD-I Ready, CD Bridge, Video CD, CD-Extra, CD-R (Orange Book Part II), and CD-RW (Orange Book Part III)
CD-DA (Audio CD), CD-ROM, CD-ROM/XA, Audio-combined CD-ROM, CD-I, CD-I Ready, CD Bridge, Video CD, CD-Extra, CD-RW, and CD-MRW
Disc-at-Once, Session-at-Once, Track-at-Once, multisession, fixed-length packet writing, variable-length packet writing, and Mount Rainier
The software you use is as important as the CD-R hardware. Nearly all CD burners are bundled with various software, which is described in the following section. Despite the fact that it's "free," bundled software is not always the best choice.