Bye-bye CD-RW?

A CD burner used to be the only practical and affordable option for a rewritable optical drive. That has changed radically. Selecting DVD burners over older CD-RWs is becoming a no-brainer, with the future clearly moving to DVD. And now multiple generations of DVD burners are available, giving you a range of speeds and prices to choose from.

Today, a top 52X/24X/52X CD-RW drive costs less than US$150. But for $100 more, you can get a DVD burner with CD-RW functionality. If you add another $50, you can buy a fast, new rewritable DVD drive like Pioneer's DVR-A05.

DVD offers plenty of benefits. While standard CDs store up to 700MB of data, DVD discs hold a whopping 4.7GB per side. That means enough capacity for a full-length DVD-quality movie, fewer discs to swap during backups, and less wasted space on the shelf.

CD media is still cheaper than DVD media, but both 2X DVD-Rs and 1X DVD-RWs have dropped well below $2 apiece, putting them on a par with CD-R/RW in cost per GB. Though 4X DVD-R and DVD+RW/+R media are pricier, all DVD media costs are falling with no end in sight.

Most Cons Gone

High-end CD-RW drives are faster with CD media than rewritable DVD drives, which max out at 24X for CD-R and 10X for CD-RW, with typical speeds of 16X/10X. If you burn lots of music CDs, a fast CD-RW drive might be best. You would notice the difference if you're upgrading from, say, a 16X CD-RW drive--our tests show that a 52X model cuts the burning time in half.

But burning DVDs at 4X is every bit as fast as, if not faster than, 52X maximum CD-R recording, which varies from 16X to 52X depending on the laser's position on the disc. (Note that 1X for DVDs means 1.385-MBps throughput, while 1X for CDs means 150 KBps.)

And though a format war is still in progress, it should not dissuade you from buying a DVD burner. Any recent DVD movie player will play the four most common formats (DVD-RW/-R and DVD+RW/+R), and many will even play DVD-RAM discs. However, you can hedge your bets with a multiformat DVD+RW/+R/-RW/-R drive such as the speedy, top-rated $350 Sony DRU-500A.

Because users now have real choices, bargain hunters who don't need that many formats can opt for older drives like Pioneer's DVR-A03 (DVD-RW/-R), priced at just $200. Owners of DVD-RAM video recorders should consider DVD-RAM/-RW/-R drives such as Panasonic's LF-D521 (less than $300 on the street; older drives hover around $200). DVD-RAM also holds appeal for users who back up lots of data: These discs are rated for 100,000 rewrites, versus the other formats' 1000.

Software, too, is no longer a worry. Mastering packages like Easy CD Creator handle all DVD formats, and entry-level DVD movie authoring packages such as Sonic's MyDVD are simple to use and produce excellent results.

Sooner or Later

Unless price is your main concern, rewritable DVD is now the right choice, both for an upgrade and as a new PC's optical drive. And while you could save $50 to maybe $100 (and perhaps get faster rewritable DVD speeds) by waiting until year's end, think of all the home-movie fun you'll have missed--and all the disc swapping you wouldn't.

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Jon L. Jacobi

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