Plextor's PlexWriter Premium should be a power user's dream, with its unprecedented control over normally untweakable features such as laser strength, how far to overburn, and tray-eject speed. The drive's SecuRec password protection for CD-Rs is a great way to keep sensitive data from prying eyes, and Plextor's unique and powerful PlexTools software is a joy to use. Unfortunately, the drive performed far below the expectations raised by its 52X/32X/52X ratings, and the 1GB-on-a-disc GigaRec feature writes at only 8X. For $129, we expect top-flight performance, but the Premium doesn't deliver it.
Installing the Premium drive is as easy as setting up any internal drive: pop open the case, screw the drive into a free bay, attach the IDE and power cables, close everything up, and install the software--about a 15-minute procedure. The drive's manual and the quick-start guide are concise and informative; even beginners should have no problem figuring out the process. Plextor doesn't include a drive-to-sound-card cable, but most software plays CDs digitally across the IDE bus anyway. The company does include mounting screws, a handy emergency-eject tool, and an IDE cable for those rare systems without one. The Premium works with Windows 95 and later, and it supports Mount Rainier (Philips's CD-RW-as-floppy initiative), but background formatting has yet to be implemented, and EasyWrite MRW certification has not yet been secured.
Even beginners should have no problem with the PlexWriter Premium's routine, well-documented installation.
The front panel of the Premium is the typical putty color and sports a headphone jack, a rotary volume control, a Power/busy light, an emergency-eject port, and a tray-eject button. The back panel has all of the standard connectors: digital and analog audio ports, drive jumpers, and IDE and power connectors. The Premium is solidly built; Plextor has even reinforced the drive door to prevent the rare disintegrating CD from shooting out at you.
Once you dig into the guts of the Premium, there's enough to keep you exploring the possibilities for a week. One of the most intriguing features, at least initially, is GigaRec, which ups data density, letting you pack about 114 minutes of audio or 1GB of data onto a standard 700MB CD. GigaRec's usefulness is limited, however, because most currently available players and drives are unable to read GigaRec discs; the higher the density, the lower the possibility of its being read. Also, during our initial tests, GigaRec could write at only a slothful 4X, and at a half-hour per disc, we quickly grew tired of it. However, Plextor has since issued a firmware upgrade that boosts GigaRec's write speed to 8X, making the technology a bit more useful.
GigaRec will boost your data density, but writing with it is slow going.
Plextor's SecuRec feature is more intriguing and practical. It lets you password-protect your CD-Rs (but not CD-RWs) to keep sensitive data away from prying eyes. One caveat: You must be running PlexTools and using a Plextor drive to read a SecuRec-protected disc.