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Plextor's PlexWriter Premium

A premium blend of CD-RW features
— 12:00 AM on July 1, 2003

Manufacturer Plextor
ModelPlexWriter Premium
Price (street)US$107

IT'S BEEN QUITE A WHILE since I've done a CD-RW drive review. In fact, the last time I did one, 24X drives were all the rage. This of course raises the question why haven't I done another one before now?

In a word, boredom. The CD-RW world has been stagnant for a while now, with nothing to get really excited about besides faster and faster burn speeds. When you're going from 1X to 2X and cutting thirty minutes or so off your burn time, that's a big deal. But think about 24X drives: The fastest burn time I got in my last review was four minutes, twelve seconds. Assuming for a moment that a 48X drive really is twice as fast, that cuts the burn time to 2:06, shaving just over two minutes off the recording time. Two minutes. Whoop-tee-frickin-doo. Unless you're running a CD burning sweatshop, two minutes just isn't that big a deal. You begin to understand why another CD-RW drive review wasn't at the top of my list.

Fortunately, Plextor has stepped up and brought something new to the table in the form of its new Plextor Premium drive. Not only does it boast the fastest speeds I've ever seen (52X CD-R burn, 32X CD-RW burn, 52X read) it also includes some innovative new features, such as the ability to create encrypted, password-protected discs, or to squeeze nearly a gigabyte of data onto a 700MB CD-R. Of course, such things can look much different in the real world than they do in a press release. Does the Plextor Premium really break new ground? Keep reading and we'll see.

The contenders
While it was the PlexWriter Premium's unique features that convinced me to do this review, I also wanted to make sure that the drive was competitive with its playmates in the 52X burner realm. To that end, I acquired a LiteOn LTR-52246S to compare to the Plextor. Both drives claim 52X CD-R record and read speeds, which is nice and even. The PlexWriter does have a higher CD-RW record speed (32X to the LiteOn's 24X) but as I'll discuss later, media availability constrained me to 24X CD-RW burn speeds anyway.

A view of the drives from the front...

From the front, we can see that the drives have the same features in the form of an eject button, a single status LED, and a headphone jack with volume control.

... and from the back

In case you were wondering, the PlexWriter is on top and the LiteOn is on bottom. Things look even more similar out back, with both drives giving you digital and analog outs, master/slave jumpers, the IDE connector and the power connector. There is an extra set of jumpers on the far left of the LiteOn drive, but they're undocumented and are probably reserved for diagnostic purposes. The PlexWriter has what looks to be a small vent up top, but the large fan that was present on the 24X PlexWriter is nowhere to be seen.

The PlexWriter's box houses the drive itself, an IDE cable, mounting screws, extra jumpers, an installation CD and (for those of you who don't have a paperclip) a tool to eject the drive tray manually. The install CD includes Plextor's own PlexTools Professional, Easy CD Creator 5 Basic and a tutorial for that program, PhotoSuite 5 SE and Retrospect Backup.

Printed documentation is significantly better than I'm used to with most optical drives, with a fold-out Quick Reference Guide with hardware and software installation instructions, as well as an "Installation and Users Manual." This last piece is impressively beefy at 73 pages, and covers installation as well as the PlexTools Professional software.