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Samsung's SW-240 and SM-332 optical drives

To combo, or not to combo
— 12:00 AM on September 9, 2002

Price (street)US$65 (SW-240)
US$99 (SM-332)

IT'S PROBABLY going to be a while before DVD writers really make a dent in the market, even among enthusiasts. Until then, CD-RW drives are pushing recording times lower and manufacturers are busting out combo drives that pack CD-RW and DVD technology in a single 5 1/4" inch package.

I remember being floored by recording speeds when I went from a lowly 2X Mitsumi to my current 8X Sony CD-RW drive, but these new drives are pushing 40X recording speeds. Just think how quickly you'll be able to burn audio CDs, VCDs, and ISO images. Don't forget all those personal backups; that's what everyone buys burners for these days, right?

A lot of optical drives may look very similar, but performance can vary quite a bit, despite advertised speeds. Today we're looking at two optical drives from Samsung, a screaming-fast 40X CD-RW, and an all-in-one CD-RW/DVD combo drive that's no slouch in the speed department, either. How do the drives compare? Which is faster where? Read on to find out.

SW-240 CD-RW
Samsung's SW-240 is a straight CD-R/RW drive that comes in at a blistering 40/12/40 for CD record/rewrite/read speeds. The drive features an 8MB buffer and supports all the packet writing and buffer underrun protection features you'd expect from a modern optical drive. Samsung seems to be especially proud of its vibration and noise reduction technologies intended to keep the drive running quietly and jitter-free at high speeds.

I can't speak for vibration, but the SW-240 makes a lot less noise than my 2-year-old Creative 52X CDROM drive running at 40X. If you do a lot of work with optical drives running at full speed, you'll definitely appreciate the SW-240's relatively quiet performance.

Speeds right on the front panel

Samsung manages to sneak in a surprisingly distinctive front panel look with the SW-240, even though they don't offer any new or exciting front-panel functionality. Really, there's not a whole lot you need on a drive face.

I used to think it would be cool to have a little row of LEDs to show a burn's progress, but as drive speeds reach 40X for CD-R discs, I'm not sure it's even worth it anymore. Sure, I would have loved one on my old 2X Mitsumi, but these new drives are just too fast for such a feature to be really useful.

Nothing to see here, move along

There are no surprises at the back of the drive, where you'll find a standard set of connectors and jumpers. Samsung throws in IDE and audio cables, and a copy of Ahead's Nero burning software, which is incidentally what I use in my main PC. There's also a pretty beefy manual in the box, but that's because all the instructions are printed in ten languages. Polish, anyone?