If you’re the type of shopper who insists on buying the absolute fastest components for your computer, you’ll be interested to know that Plextor’s PX-880SA DVD burner boasts a 24x DVD+/-R burn speed. That means it’s capable of writing data to DVD+R and DVD-R media at a blistering rate of 31.68 MB/sec (24 times faster than the very first DVD burners).
But if you’re the type of shopper who insists on getting the best value for your money, you’ll be interested to know that the most widely available blank DVD+R media is rated for write speeds of just 21.12 MB/sec (16 times faster than first-generation burners). What’s even more intriguing is that when we compared Plextor’s new drive to a competitor’s 22x drive, we found the supposedly slower product to be faster at burning to 16x media.
Performance isn’t the only measure of a DVD burner’s value; it’s also important to consider the drive’s feature set, and the PX-880SA has plenty to offer on that front. In addition to burning single-layer DVD media at 24x speeds, this drive can also record data to dual-layer DVD and DVD-RAM media at up to 12x speeds. (Dual-layer DVDs offer nearly twice the capacity of single-layer discs, 8.5GB versus 4.7GB, while DVD-RAM is a rewritable format.) If you like to create your own mix CDs, the Plextor can burn CD-R media at rates as high as 48x (48 x 150KB/sec or 7,200KB/sec).
The PX-880SA features a SATA (Serial ATA) interface, so it won’t be compatible with older PCs that are outfitted with PATA (Parallel ATA) interfaces. The PX-880SA also uses a SATA power connector, but you can purchase an adapter if your PC’s power supply has only the older Molex-style power connectors. (Note: Plextor’s model PX-870A comes with a PATA interface, but that drive is limited to 22x speeds.)
One of the primary means by which optical drives achieve higher read and write speeds is by spinning the disc faster – unfortunately, this process comes with the unpleasant side effect of noise. The Plextor’s chassis is designed with a pattern that regulates air flow in order to reduce its acoustic signature. We found the PX-880SA to be slightly quieter than the slower drive we used for comparison, but not remarkably so.
Plextor’s drive comes with LightScribe technology, which allows you to burn a grayscale image directly onto the opposite side of the disc. You must buy LightScribe media, which is outfitted with a special coating, and flip the disc over after you’ve burned your data to it to create the label.
Plextor bundles a copy of Roxio Creator 10 CE, an abbreviated version of Roxio Creator 2010. The software suite includes programs for ripping and burning CDs and DVDs, among other things, but its usefulness is severely limited by its reliance on an old version of Microsoft’s .NET Framework. When we installed the program on our 32-bit Vista machine, we were greeted with the error message “Installation of Roxio Creater 10 CE is interrupted and can’t be completed.” When we went to Plextor’s website for technical assistance, we were advised that the solution was to “uninstall Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1,” and then reinstall the Roxio software. Even if that works, what happens to software that depends on having the latest version of .NET installed?
The inclusion of Plextor’s own PlexUtilities is far more useful. This collection of programs allows you to benchmark the drive’s performance, run a series of diagnostic routines, and automatically download and install new versions of the drive’s firmware. It also includes PlexErase, a software program that can permanently remove all content from a disc for secure disposal; then again, we’ve found breaking the disc in half to be a pretty secure means of disposal, too.
We used the benchmarking utility Opti Drive Control 1.3 to measure the Plextor PX-880SA’s reading and writing performance. For the sake of comparison, we also benchmarked a highly regarded 22x DVD burner, Samsung’s SH-S223.
We used a pristine, factory-pressed DVD of the Criterion Collection edition of Richard III to measure both drives’ read performance. Both drives delivered remarkably similar performances with this dual-layer (7.51GB) disc, delivering average transfer rates of 8.58x. The Plextor boasted a slightly faster 1/3-stroke access time (a measurement of how fast the drive can locate and read from the disc’s first sector to the sector at 1/3 of the disc’s capacity). The PX-880SA required 145 milliseconds, compared to the Samsung’s 157ms, but the older drive bested the challenger in both random access time (113- to 116ms) and full-stroke access time (83- to 95ms… full-stroke access is measured from the disc’s first sector to its last.) The Samsung also offered a faster burst rate, 77.3MB per second compared to 67.5MB/sec (burst rate measures the highest speed at which the drive can transfer data).
But the Plextor really fell down when it came to burning to 16x media, the fastest readily available blank DVD media on the market (for the record, we used TDK media). Where Samsung’s SH-S223 started burning at 7.68x and finished at 18.27x, delivering an average write speed of 12.7x, the PX-880SA started its burn at 6.84x and finished at just 16.23x, with an average write speed of just 11.09x. Creating a test disc with 4.5GB of data using Opti Drive Control on the Plextor drive took five minutes and 35 seconds, a full 27 seconds longer than the Samsung.
It’s hard to recommend the Plextor PX-880SA given the yawning gap in price/performance ratios between it and Samsung’s SH-S223. When we wrote this review, the Samsung was street-priced at $28.99 and the Plextor PX-880SA was selling for $44.99 (we compared OEM versions, which typically don’t include any software). The Plextor is prettier and slightly quieter, but the Samsung performs so much better with the media you’re most likely to use with it.
- Very attractive bezel
- Relatively quiet
- Include PlexUtilities
- Lousy price/performance ratio
- Slower read and write speeds than Samsung’s 22x SH-S223