Editors' note: We have changed the editor's rating for this product. Such changes are sometimes necessary to reflect the constant improvement in technology.
Though you'll lose a few seconds each time you write a DVD with the HP dvd630e, the minutes you'll save reading or ripping them--7 minutes on a 4.5GB single-layer disc and nearly 13 minutes on double-layer discs--more than compensates. You can save a couple of bucks with LaCie's d2 double-layer drive (check back for a review of the LaCie d2 drive in mid-December) if you write more discs than you read, and videophiles might want to wait for HP's new video-capturing, double-layer dc5000 Movie Writer. But the dvd630e is an excellent choice for those backing up movie collections. Of course, internal drives such as theare faster and less expensive, but if you don't want to muck around with your computer's innards, you can't go wrong with the HP dvd630e.
Installing the black-and-silver HP dvd630e is as simple as plugging in the power cord and the USB cable--our XP test bed recognized and installed the appropriate driver without user intervention. The drive is average size for an external unit: 6 inches wide, just under 10 inches long, and about 2 inches high. Its plain-Jane design provides only an eject button and an emergency-eject port on the front and USB 2.0 and AC jacks on the back. There are no audio jacks or CD controls on the unit, so forget using the drive as an ad-hoc CD player.
Aside from its 8X DVD-R performance, the HP dvd630e's speeds and feeds are nearly all on the cutting edge for external burners: it reads CD-ROMs at 40X and DVD-ROMs at 16X, while it writes CD-Rs at 40X, CD-RWs at 24X, DVD+Rs at 16X, DVD+RW/-RWs at 4X, and double-layer DVD+RWs at 2.4X. Instead of the usual Roxio or Nero software bundles, HP opts for a combination of ArcSoft's highly capable ShowBiz DVD video-editing and video-authoring system, Sonic's competent RecordNow (including the DLA packet-writing software) for data and audio chores, and CyberLink's excellent PowerDVD 5.0 for DVD movie playback. While we really like ShowBiz DVD, RecordNow doesn't offer as many features as Roxio or Nero. Most users, however, will be quite happy with this software bundle.
The HP dvd630e, while merely an average writer for its class, is a DVD reader par excellence. Compared to the quick-writing LaCie d2, which would've posted even faster writing times if we had had the fastest supported media during testing, the HP dvd630e loses 40 seconds writing a DVD-R and 15 seconds writing a DVD+R. It more than compensates for that shortfall, however, by ripping a single-layer DVD 7 minutes faster than the LaCie d2 and ripping dual-layer discs 13 minutes faster. The drive's performance reading and writing CDs was a bit slower than the LaCie's, and the dvd630e fell nearly a minute off its competitor's pace writing DVD+RW and DVD-RW formats, but once again, the drive compensated by turning in the fastest rewritable read times we've seen.