Fast, easy DVD and CD burner (March 2nd, 2007)
Product Manufacturer: Sony
Price: $120 - $150 US
- Elegant, minimalist design. Complements pro Macs. Burns discs quickly. Includes USB and FirewWire. Stands horizontally or vertically. Handles most kinds of discs.
- Weak Mac software bundle, especially when compared to Windows offering.
Given that DVD burning SuperDrives are practically ubiquitous across the Macintosh lineup, and cheap upgrades are available from all quarters, what is the point of buying an external DVD burning drive? There are a few good reasons to consider it, so it is great that Sony offers Mac users a choice. The Sony DRX-803UL-T DVD Rewriteable Drive certainly has impressive specifications, and tops out at 18x DVD+R burning capability.
complementary lookThis ungainly named but elegantly designed drive features a look that complements pro Mac systems. It is ensconced in a metallic-looking plastic case with a mirrored door on the front of the drive that hides the mechanism within. On the back are one B-style USB 2.0 interface and two FireWire 400 jacks. One is a traditional six-pin configuration like you'll find on your Mac and the other is a small four-pin interface more commonly found on Sony hardware -- Sony goes by the i.link moniker just to confuse people. Curiously, the drive box indicates incorrectly that FireWire's maximum transfer speed is 4Mbps max. That is off by a factor of, oh, 100 or so.
Sony lets you orient the drive horizontally with four rubber feet preinstalled on one side or vertically with an included clear plastic stand, to minimize the amount of desk space the drive takes up. Also included are cables and a power cord, documentation, a copy of the popular Nero disc burning software for Windows, and Toast 6 Lite. An eject button rests on the drive's top or right, depending on how you have orient it.
why add a driveIf you already have a Mac with an internal SuperDrive, you may wonder why you should even think about adding another. For one thing, this drive is fast; much faster, even, than some drives installed in newer Macs. It's also very convenient to have two drives connected to a single Mac if you need to do any disc-to-disc copying, or burning while the other drive is reading another disc.
weak softwareThe Mac software included with this drive is a diet version of Roxio's popular Mac disc burning software, now two major revisions out of date, and is meager compared to the Nero bundle that PC users get. Toast 8 Titanium, the current shipping version from Roxio, is much, much more robust. What's more, Toast 6 is not a Universal binary, which puts it out of contention for the hearts and minds of any Intel-based Mac owners out there.
I definitely recommend that Sony talk to Roxio to see if they can beef up this offering. The DRX-830UL-T certainly isn't the cheapest Mac-compatible drive with these specs on the market, so it's a value proposition that may make some cost-conscious Mac users go in a different direction.
Installing the drive could not be easier. You plug in the FireWire cable to an available port on your Mac, plug the AC adapter into a wall socket, and flip the power switch. That's all there is to it. The Finder, Apple's iLife applications, and other software recognize the drive immediately, presuming your Mac meets the minimum system requirements (Mac OS X v10.2 or later).
great performance and capacityThe DRX-830UL-T sports double-layer and dual-layer burning support. That means that if you buy dual layer DVD-R or double layer DVD+R discs, you can burn more than 8GB of data to a single disc. That's impressive capacity for data storage and a terrific backup medium, especially for big Photoshop projects or some iMovie work that I've done. Right now, it is even big enough to hold my entire iPhoto library with room to spare, but not for long at the rate that I'm taking pictures.
Let's really focus on what people are likely to use such capacity for: burning copies of movies. I'll confess I've done this for the simple reason that I live with kids who are often careless with the family movies we own, even though it's frowned upon by the authorities. I prefer to rip them, using freeware software that I'll say no more about for now, then burn the contents using Roxio's software. I actually depend on a complementary product called Popcorn 2 for much of that work. Otherwise, the relative cheapness of quality single-layer DVD-R or DVD+R work makes it more economical to use those most of the time.
extensive media supportThe DRX-830UL-T sports a relative alphabet soup of writeable optical disc format support. It works with DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD+R DL, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-R DL, DVD-RAM, CD-R, CD-RW and probably a couple I've forgotten about here. Speeds range from 5x on the low end with DVD-RAW discs to 18x on the high end for DVD+R. What that means is that inn my tests, I found that using a single-layer DVD+R disc rated at 16x, I could almost fill it in about 5 minutes, 45 seconds, give or take. I'm connected to a Power Mac G5 running Mac OS X v10.4.8 with 1GB of RAM installed and no other applications open besides Toast. Working with 8GB of data and 8x DL discs took considerably longer, around 19 minutes. This is not a scientific benchmark, but it does suggest that the product works as advertised.
The 18x speed, by the way, refers specifically to burning single-layer DVD-R media. It achieves that simply by spinning 16x-rated media faster, you do not need to go out and buy special 18x discs to get the better transfer rate.
Editor's Note: I also back up my purchased movies after a few bad experiences losing movies to mysterious problems. I usually burn with other applications open and use a PowerBook G4, which is much slower than the G5. Many of the discs I burned with the DRX-830UL-T functioned ok, but slowed down or stopped and started in the middle of movies. I decided to have a second reviewer test the drive, and as you read, his experiences were very different. I also thought it was odd that we were sent Verbatim discs to test, instead of Sony discs. I'd also like to note that with Toast 7 and up, you can burn to two drives at once, so a second drive can be very useful if you own only one machine.
Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor