DVD-RAM drives group test review

DVD drives with write functions
Photo of DVD-RAM drives group test
£375

Creative has been around the sound and multimedia world for many years and, with the SoundBlaster range, established the industry standard for sound cards. Creative was amongst the first to introduce CDROM drives to the PC and the original SoundBlaster Pro had a separate connector for a CD drive. The Creative 1220S is the company’s latest DVD-RAM drive and connects using the small Adaptec 2902 SCSI interface card and cable supplied with the drive. If you’re into SCSI and already have a controller, then you can save a slot on your motherboard.

Once the hardware is installed Windows recognises the drive as an additional CDROM drive, while running the installation software creates another icon on the filing system for removable media. When you use a CD or DVD-ROM in the drive, access is gained through the CD icon. But if you use removable DVD-RAM media then this is accessed through the other icon. DVD-RAM discs need to be formatted in the same way as a large floppy before they can be used, and once you’ve done this (it’s very quick), the drive is then available to the filing system and you can open and save files exactly as you would on a hard drive. Creative’s offering is a well-built drive that turned in a good performance at a pretty competitive price.Hitachi has produced CD and DVD drives for a while and the GF range is its latest offering in the DVD-RAM sector. It comes in two versions; the GF-1050 for connection via SCSI and the one we’ve reviewed here, the GF-1000, which is an IDE version.

This drive is unique in our group test in having an IDE interface and, as it will fulfil all the functions of a CDROM drive, you could swap it out for your existing drive with the minimum of fuss. However, if you’ve enough room for another drive in your box, then it will install with little trouble. Remember that it’s best to attach slower devices like CDs, etc. on the second IDE port and leave the primary interface for hard drives. If you’re doing this and keeping your existing CD then this drive will need to be set up as a Slave drive to your existing Master drive; this is as simple as setting a jumper at the rear of the drive.

Installing the software sets up the same dual icons as we’ve seen before and with the UDF filing system, data can be written and read in the normal manner. Mechanically, this drive is not as smooth as the others we’ve tested and is noisier, although this didn’t cause any read/write problems. Although not as fast as the SCSI drives we’ve tested here, this drive will perform fast enough for most users. Simple to fit, without the need for any extra cards in your system, this is an economical and quick way to get up and running with DVD-RAM.The DVD-RAM drives on test fall into three categories. If you’re looking for an external unit then LaCie’s is your only choice. It’s on the expensive side but is well built and one of the fastest on test. For someone who wants to upgrade their existing PC without the expense of fitting an extra card or doing too much surgery inside the box, then swap out or add the Hitachi to your system. With only 512KB of cache compared to 2MB on all the other drives, it may not give you the fastest performance, but it will work fine at a reasonable cost

The third category consists of the Panasonic, Creative and Toshiba drives, and there is little to choose between them in terms of performance (although the Creative is the fastest if you include CD read speed). The Toshiba has a better method of integrating with the filing system, using just a single icon, and has the novel ability to prepare DVD-RAM discs for use in other drives. That leaves us with the Panasonic, which is well built, performs well and is compatible with earlier PD media.

We can expect to be looking at DVD-RAM drives again in the next few months, as most of the manufacturers will have new drives out with almost double the capacity. At 4.7GB per side these will be able to hold feature length movies, so watch out – home DVD video recording could be just around the corner. Some late news; new G4 Macs are now being fitted with Panasonic DVD-RAM drives as standard.This drive stands quite literally apart from the others, as it is an external unit. If you’re only using DVD-RAM with one computer then this is not much of an advantage – however, with a SCSI connection an external unit can be moved around from one machine to another. Since its interface is usable on both PC and MAC, this drive is ideal for a design studio or publishing house.

The drive appears to be a Panasonic unit, similar to the one elsewhere in this review, and comes fitted in one of Lacie’s external system units. This is a clever design enabling multiple external drive boxes to be built into a stack, tidying up all those cables into one tower. Lacie goes to some lengths to make certain that you can connect the drive, supplying an Adaptec 2930B SCSI card and dual software for both MAC and PC.

When we installed the card it was immediately recognised by Windows. We then chose a SCSI identity for the drive and set termination to ‘on’. Once we restarted the system the SCSI device was detected and ran perfectly. This drive comes with a good manual and is built for professional use; it may be expensive but does use one of the best performing drives available. A serious bit of kit but at a price.Several years ago Panasonic produced a CD drive designed to use PD cartridges; these are almost identical to the latest DVD-RAM media but had a capacity of 650MB. Not bad at the time but small by today’s DVD standards. This cartridge style is still used for DVD-RAM and the Panasonic drive is backwardly compatible with the earlier PD units. If you’ve got a collection of PD discs then you’ll be able to use them with this drive.

The unit we tested had a SCSI interface but no card – this is a cheap way to distribute drives to anyone with an existing SCSI setup, but if you’ve not got one then you’ll need to buy a SCSI card – about £50 for something reasonable. Physically the drive is robust and we can see why LaCie chose Panasonic for its external unit. One novel feature is the loading method; discs and cartridges are not dropped into a caddy but effectively posted into an aperture at the front. In use this is very effective and enables easy removal of media from the drive.

Installation was straightforward and everything worked first time. Panasonic uses the dual icon method to access either CD or DVD-RAM media and as the PD format is UDF-compliant these are usable via the DVD-RAM icon. This is a well-built drive that performs as well if not better than any of the others in this review. If you’re looking for PD compatibility then this is your only choice and you’ll be getting one of the best DVD-RAM drives too.The ST-W1111 is Toshiba’s latest DVD-RAM drive and is faster with a bigger buffer than its predecessor, the SD-W1110. The drive we tested came without a SCSI card so we connected it to our existing SCSI controller. As with all the drives in our review we had no trouble installing it. Provided the identity of the drive is set to a spare number and, if your drive is the furthest away from the controller you’ve remembered to turn on termination, then everything works.

Toshiba uses different software to set up its drives, and instead of creating two icons in the filing system, the Instant Write software has only one drive designation. If you’re using a CD in the drive then you see a CD icon and when you insert a DVD-RAM cartridge the icon changes to a DVD drive. This is a nice idea but we did experience some difficulty with UDF compatibility between discs formatted with this software and those using Write DVD.

One interesting feature that Toshiba has included in the software is the ability to ‘Fixate’ the disc. After all your data has been added to the DVD-RAM a fixated disc can be removed from the caddy and used in a standard DVD-ROM or even a DVD-Video player.Get ready; the year 2000 is going to be the year of DVD. While the movie giants have been arguing over disc formats and various schemes to protect their distribution and source material on DVD-ROM, another format has been gaining ground, so here we’re taking a look at five DVD-RAM drives that are available now and at realistic prices.

DVD-RAM is available with a capacity of 2.6GB on either side of a double-sided cartridge. There’s still a disc inside but the cartridge gives some protection from sticky fingers and improves stability. Single-sided media for these drives is readily available at around £20, double-sided nearer to £30, and they use the now common Universal Disc Format (UDF). Windows 98 supports reading from UDF file structures over a range of storage devices, and utilities such as Software Architects Write DVD are usually supplied with DVD-RAM drives to prepare the media and support UDF writing. When the removable cartridge is inserted and formatted it appears to the filing system as another hard drive, and files can be read, created and deleted from any application that uses the Windows filing system. Click the ‘NEXT’ link below to find out more.

Company: Creative