|Introduction and Specifications|
We've taken a look at quite a few dual format DVD burners over the last few months, and found some to be better than others for various reasons. Most, if not all, of the drives we've reviewed shined in one area, but were lacking in another. Whether it be slower CD-R burning speeds, lack of options, or slow access times, we keep pressing on trying to find that one drive that will cover all the basics well. Don't take this the wrong way, however, as we have generally been impressed by of what we've seen in the past, and the Plextor 708A still reigns supreme as our burner of choice (a drive, by the way, that we gave a 9.5 and an Editor's Choice award last December).
Today, we're going to take an in-depth look at Asus' 8X Dual Format DVD / CD Burner. It's the first drive we've received so far that burns DVDs at both 8X DVD+R and 8X DVD-R. Thus, there are no handicaps depending on which media you've purchased, assuming you can actually find 8X media, that is. It may be a little surprising to find this drive coming from Asus, however, as generally one expects the "big guns" of the market to come out with the more advanced drives, with the rest playing catch-up. Asus, highly regarded for their excellent motherboards and video cards, has stepped up to the plate, looking to hit one out of the park with their offering of the DRW-0804P 8X Dual Format DVD Drive. Will this drive go the distance, or fall just short on the warning track?
CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE
You'll only be able to get so far with the DRW-0804P without some cables and software, so Asus wisely included a little of both. After removing the drive from the padded inserts, which are used to stabilize the drive during shipping and handling, we rummaged through the contents of the box to catalog its accessories, which included:
The place where many new users will want to start will be the User's Manual, which covers basic operations and installation instructions. It covers the various options well, with large pictures, so that nothing is left to the DIY builder's imagination. For the more experienced user, the quick installation guide should suffice, although I would highly expect that installing a new drive is all but a second-hand operation by now. Still, it can't hurt for a quick reference of the jumper settings at the very least. To get said drive installed, we've got a typical 40-pin IDE cable, and mounting screws, as well as an audio cable, which we've seen less of in our last few reviews. Asus has also included an emergency ejection pin with added instructions on how and when to use such a device (and all these years I've been using a straightened out paper clip, for shame). It seemed to be a mostly complete set of tools, but the only software we received was an installation CD for Nero Burning Rom 6. Admittedly one of the best CD/DVD authoring tools on the market, we have absolutely no issue with the inclusion of a full working version of Nero. We were concerned, however, with the lack of any media to actually use Nero with. Alas, not including any blank media is one of the means of keeping prices down, and I guess it could be assumed that anybody buying a new drive will shell out the additional money for a spindle of CD-Rs or DVD-Rs as well.
|Drive Quality and Features|
Our first impressions start with the front panel of the DRW-0804P, appropriately so since it will be the only portion of the drive that we will see on a regular basis. As shown in the picture, the front plate is cast in bone-white, so it will not exactly match standard beige cases (remember those?) Checking in recently on Newegg.com, we've found out that Asus should also be releasing a black bezel model sometime around the time this article is published, albeit at a slightly higher price. The main points of the front panel are enumerated as follows: 1) a emergency eject pinhole, 2) a LED indicator, 3) the drive tray, and 4) the load/eject button. The drive tray and eject/load button are straightforward: hit the button to open the tray, insert CD-ROM or DVD, hit button a second time to load the disc. I think we've all got that down by now. The LED indicator is just that - it indicates what status the drive is currently in. When not lit, there are no discs currently in the drive. A yellow light indicates a disc in the drive, yet not being accessed, which turns green when reading or writing. Finally, we've got the pinhole, that when combined with the included emergency eject pin can be used to manually eject a CD should there be a lack of power to the drive, or other malfunction. Please note, however, that this should never be used when the drive is powered and/or the disc is spinning.
The back of the drive houses the various interfaces that we will use to connect the drive to other system components. The four pins (1) to the far left are for the audio output, and this is where the provided audio cable will be plugged in. The next set of pins (2) are the configuration jumper, which allows the drive to be set as the Master, Slave, or left as Cable Select. The final two connectors are used for attaching the 40-pin IDE cable (4) and an unused power plug (5) from the power supply unit. The circular arrangement of slots (5) comprise an air vent for the escape of heat from the drive, especially when used for an extended period of time at high speeds. We've been seeing these kind of vents more and more with newer drives, and it should help extend the life of such components.
Overall, the drive seemed to be of good construction, and we didn't get any odd noises when tilting the drive on an angle. The tray was set solidly on the tracks, and didn't feel like it could easily be broken during normal use. Like the bezel, the tray was cast in white, and can accommodate both 8cm and 12cm discs. One thing to note was the insulation that was placed around the door, and can be seen in the close-up on the right. This layer of insulation is used to cut down on the noise created by the spinning discs from reaching the user. Combined with Asus' Double Dynamic Suspension System II (DDSSII), we found that normal operation of the drive was indeed quiet and unobtrusive.
The drive can be mounted either horizontally or vertically, although most cases will probably be using the orientation shown above. In a typical case, the drive would be mounted into an open 5 1/4" bay, using the four mounting screws to attach the drive to the chassis. The user's manual covers a number of scenarios depending on the number and type of drives already in the system. In our test system, we have a Western Digital
|Testing Routine and Initial Benchmarks|
Asus DRW-0804P 8x DVD+/-R/RW
Plextor PX-708A 8x DVD+/-R/RW
Asus P4P800 Deluxe (i865PE) Motherboard
Pentium 4C 2.4GHz CPU
512MB Kingston HyperX PC3500 DDR
BFG 5900XT OC Video
On-board ADI AD1985 SoundMAX Audio
20GB Western Digital ATA100 Hard Drive
Standard Floppy Drive
Windows XP Professional SP1
Utilities and Media Used For Testing:
Nero InfoTool can give us a quick reference screen showing the various reading and writing capabilities of CD and DVD drives. We've taken screenshots that show the various disc formats that are supported when being used as a CD or DVD drive.
There's not much that the Asus DRW-0804P doesn't support. A quick run through of the checkboxes shows that the only formats that can't be read by the DRW-0804P are CD+G, normally used for Karaoke CDs, DVD-RAM, and Mount Rainier. While not having Mount Rainier support may have seemed like a big deal a year or two ago, this
SiSoft SANDRA 2004 SP1:
Next, we ran the CD/DVD-ROM benchmark from SiSoft Sandra 2004. Using this benchmark, we were looking to compare the performance of the DRW-0804P with Plextor's PX-708A. To run these two tests, we needed to create two discs that had large files on them. We used a CD-R with a single 698MB AVI file for the CD Data test, and then a DVD+R with multiple large AVI files totaling 4.3GB. Each disc was read, benchmarked, and then a score was shown comparing the performance to other drives in Sandra's database.
Read Performance - CD Data
Although the two drives may differ in CD writing speed, the read speed is exactly the same with both drives rated at 40x. We had expected the CD benchmarks to be similar, and that's exactly what we got. The PX-708A was a few KB/s faster than the DRW-0804P, a negligible difference. The buffered reads on the PX-708A were larger, but so was the average access time at more than 45 milliseconds slower than the DRW-0804P. Also note that the drive speed does not accurately reflect the maximum speed of the drive, but rather the initial speed, explaining why 18x was listed rather than the actual rating of each drive.
Read Performance - DVD Data
In the DVD Performance test, we saw the Asus DRW-0804P take a huge lead over the Plextor PX-708A, leading by a whopping 25%. Since both drives were rated with the same read speed, we found this to be quite an issue, and re-ran the benchmark on each drive two more times. Each attempt came out with the same results. We also saw a quicker initial access speed for the DRW-0804P at 29x (rated as a CD speed) and, once again, a quicker average access time, although this time the difference was smaller.
|CD/DVD Performance Testing with Nero|
Nero CD-DVD Speed - CD Data Test:
Our first tests with Nero CD-DVD Speed were focused on CD-ROM performance when using both CD-R media as well as a typical printed audio CD. In our first test, we loaded a 701MB Memorex CD-R full of MP3s into each drive and let CD-DVD Speed run through its cycle of tests.
The two graphs look nearly the same, with almost identical starting, ending, and average speeds. Each drive wound up slightly higher than the 40x listed in the specifications, with the PX-708A ending just shy of 43x and the DRW-0804P at 42x. Contrary to what we saw in the Sandra benchmark, the seek times were generally much better on the PX-708A, 30ms faster at random and 1/3 strokes and triple that at full stroke. The Burst Rate on the Plextor drive was also much greater than that found on the Asus (21MB/s > 14MB/s).
Nero CD-DVD Speed - CD Audio Test:
For the next round, we popped in a printed audio CD, Prodigy's Fat of the Land, to see how these would be handled. We were also able to test each drive's audio extraction performance in the process. During the test, audio sectors were extracted to the
The performance on each drive dropped off a bit from the original test, with a more profound hit on the Plextor drive than on the Asus DRW 0804P. The Asus 0804P came the closest to achieving a 40x read, although we saw slight dips in the graph, apparently where each audio track began. Access times were also slightly better on each drive, and CPU utilization remained roughly the same. Both drives were able to achieve a perfect 10 in Digital Audio Extraction.
Nero CD-DVD Speed - DVD Data Test:
In the next two tests we focused on the drive's DVD reading performance. Each drive is configured to perform differently based on whether a DVD movie or DVD data disk is inserted in the drive. We started by placing in a DVD+R containing over 4.3 GB of AVI files.
When reading DVD+R discs on the Asus DRW-0804P, the rotation speed held steady as the transfer rate went from 3.46x up to just beyond 8x, with an average rate of 6.24x. The Plextor drive started off at about the same speed, about 3.35x and also marched on up to just over 8x, its rating for reading DVD+R discs. As we've seen with the CD reading tests, access times were always better with Plextor's PX-708A, almost halving the DRW-0804P at full stroke. Seek times for both drives were well within expected limits. CPU usage was much higher than before, especially when reading at 8x, where both drives were using about 50% of available resources.
Nero CD-DVD Speed - DVD Movie Playback Test:
In the final Nero CD-DVD Speed test we wanted to check the performance with a double-layered movie DVD. We inserted a copy of Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and clicked on the Start button to get the results.
The two drives differ in the way that DVD-Movies are read, although neither is technically considered better than the other. Asus continues to use CAV for reading this disc format, while Plextor implements CLV
|Burning Times and Conclusion|
Nero CD-R Writing Times:
Although DVD burning will undoubtedly be the primary concern for the buyer, CD-Rs are getting cheaper and cheaper, and are today's floppy disk. Thus, we started our speed tests using Nero Burning ROM 6 to burn 701MBs of MP3 music files from the
As we originally reported with in the PX-708A review, Plextor didn't skimp when they finalized the specifications of that drive. The PX-708A burns CD-Rs at a speedy 40x - apparently one of the few DVD burners to do so. Therefore, we were a bit disappointed when we found out that the DRW-0804P was rated for 24x CD-R writing. Burning the exact same set of files on each drive had the Plextor PX-708A coming in nearly 50% faster than the DRW-0804P.
Nero DVD+R Writing Times:
Next, we set out to
A major obstacle for us in this showcase, was simply coming up with 8X media to use for this exact test. While we were able to test the Plextor PX-708A in the past, we did so using Memorex DVD+R discs rated at only 4X. This was accomplished by Plextor's PoweREC
Overall, we were impressed by the Asus DRW-0804P. The drive was constructed well, and the combination of sound insulation and DDSSII made for quiet operation while reading or writing data. We were also quite impressed with how it fared when compared to Plextor's popular PX-708A in the benchmarks, putting up numbers that were equal to, and sometimes even better than, our previous pick for an Editor's Choice award. The Asus DRW-0804P even offers an additional improvement over Plextor's model, that being 8x burning of both DVD+R and DVD-R formats.
So what's the downside with the DRW-0804P? Not much, but we did see some high seek times in the Nero CD/DVD Speed tests, especially when compared to the PX-708A. The CD writing speed was limited to only 24x, which, in and of itself, doesn't seem to be a serious issue. In fact, Plextor's DVD burner seemed to be one of the few drives we've reviewed that went as high as 40x; most others were at 24x or even as low as 16x. Four and a half minutes to burn a full CD won't put off too many users. What we were taken aback by was the full 30 seconds or so longer that the DRW-0804P took to burn a DVD at 8x. Again, it's not the end of the world to wait the additional time, but it's hard to justify this difference in performance. This could solely be an issue with the media used, so until we experiment with some other 8x DVD+R media, we won't labor on this too much.
What we're left with is a great performing drive, supporting 8x dual format media, that's hampered by slower seek times and possibly some media issues. Retailing for about $110 at the time of this writing, we feel confident in recommending this drive to upgraders or first-time buyers looking for a drive to handle all of their CD / DVD burning needs. The only problem will be finding 8x media, but that will change in time.
We give the Asus DRW-0804P8X DVD+/-R/RW CD-R/RW drive an 8.5 on the HotHardware Heat Meter.