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Toshiba drive burns DVDs on the run

The company says it is the first to hit the market with a DVD-rewritable drive for notebooks. The drive supports DVD-R and DVD-RW formats, as well as CD-RW.

Toshiba's new DVD burner is designed to turn notebook PCs into portable multimedia studios.

The new Toshiba SD-R6012 drive, launched Monday, supports DVD-R and DVD-RW formats as well as the CD-RW format, allowing it to record data on both DVD and CD discs. The storage device division of Toshiba America Information Systems said it is first to hit the market with a DVD-rewritable drive for notebooks.

But other companies, such as Pioneer Electronics, are also working on DVD burners for laptops. Mary Craig, an analyst with research firm Gartner, said that about nine major manufacturers were developing DVD-rewritable notebook drives. She predicts these will eventually replace slim CD-RW drives, which she expects to fall out of production by the end of the second quarter next year. Craig added that manufacturers would continue to make DVD-ROM and combination CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives.

"The CD-RW format has hit the wall in terms of speed," said Craig. "In the mobile PC space, price sensitivity is very high, and there is more money in drives with new formats."

Two rival groups of manufacturers are battling to establish a DVD-rewritable standard in the industry. Each group supports different and incompatible formats, which analysts have said has led to consumer confusion and dissatisfaction, and stifled growth. Several companies have tried to bring the two sides together, but talks have been slow.

In the meantime, companies have been developing and selling products based on their respective formats in hopes of capitalizing on the growing popularity of digital imaging and editing, which is spurring demand for DVD burners.

Pioneer has said its expects to launch its mobile DVD-rewritable drive in the later part of the fourth quarter.

Pioneer spokesman Andy Parsons said that company's drive for notebooks will write to discs at 2x speed, which is twice as fast as the Toshiba drive. Parsons estimates that it will take only half an hour of write-time to fill a disc.

Toshiba's new SD-R6012 drive, which is available now to manufacturers, will soon appear in high-end notebooks, allowing consumers to use the portable machines to store data on DVDs and burn home movies. As previously reported, Toshiba will introduce such a notebook with its holiday product-line refresh. The company did not announce pricing for the internal drive.

"Our new lightweight combination drive brings DVD recording to the mobile world, providing users with a stepping stone to move from CD to DVD technology for creating and storing family photos, files, videos and other memories people don't want to lose," Maciek Brzeski, vice president of marketing at the Toshiba storage device division, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the company's storage division also announced a similar drive, the SD-R5002, for desktop PCs. The drive is available now for $349, directly from Toshiba and also at retail, the company said. While the SD-R5002 can be installed into existing desktops, the SD-R6012 drive for notebooks must be designed into a new system.

Toshiba's new notebook drive will help DVD burners move closer to the mainstream. On the desktop side, DVD burners have become more affordable over time, thanks to price cuts by companies such as Hewlett-Packard. HP recently dropped prices on its drives by $100. They now start at $349.

But the DVD-burner manufacturers are currently waging a battle between DVD-RW and DVD+RW formats, reminiscent of the VHS versus Betamax conflict that preceded the widespread adoption of VCRs.

Most see this format battle as the biggest hurdle to the adoption of DVD burners by consumers. Some manufacturers, such as Sony, have attempted to sidestep the conflict by introducing drives that support both formats.

The SD-R6012 notebook drive writes DVDs at 1X speeds and CDs at up to 16x speeds. It reads DVDs at 8X and CDs at 24X speeds. DVD-RW discs cost about $10 each.