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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.
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.
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.
Power users will also love Plextor's PlexTools Professional 2.01, the company's jack-of-all-trades software package. Not only does it master data and audio CDs, it extracts audio to both MP3 and WMA formats; provides access to the VariRec laser power settings, SecuRec, and GigaRec; displays info on inserted media; lets you set the inject/eject speed of the disc tray; and more. PlexTools' interface isn't as slick or as showy as the one you'll find in the Roxio Easy CD Creator software, which Plextor also bundles, but for those who want to get things done quickly, PlexTools is the superior application.
Aside from posting the second-fastest time ever for installing Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition, the Premium was a disappointment in our tests. Using Roxio Easy CD Creator, it took nearly a minute longer than many similarly rated drives to write our large audio test file to CD-R. It also lagged noticeably in our packet-writing test--despite its industry-first 32X CD-RW rating. No 32X CD-RW media was available for testing, but with 24X media the Premium proved considerably slower than the competition.
The drive's writing woes are likely due to a combination of firmware and software issues; the bundled Roxio DirectCD program seems to bring out the worst in the Premium. After installing Plextor's 1.03 firmware upgrade, we did a quick, unofficial retest using Ahead Software's InCD (not included) and shaved nearly a minute and a half off the official packet-writing times, although other 24X-rated drives were still faster. Using PlexTools to write an audio CD took less than two minutes, but this was still slower than other, less-expensive drives in its class.
|Write tests (Shorter bars indicate better performance)|
|Time to install Microsoft Office 2000 SBE (Shorter bars indicate better performance)|
|DAE (digital audio extraction; 26-minute, 58-second track) (Shorter bars indicate better performance)|
All write tests are run with both the drive's recommended media (submitted by the manufacturer) and with "--="">&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Everbatim%2Ecom" target="_blank">Verbatim media, rated at the drive's maximum speed. For more details on how we test CD-recordable drives, see the CNET Labs site.
Plextor backs the Premium with the industry-standard, one-year warranty. Toll-free phone support is available Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT. Although the warranty is unremarkable, the company's online support is among the best in the industry, with software and firmware downloads, e-mail support, FAQs, and helpful technology articles on a range of CD/DVD-related topics.
To find out more about how this product's warranty really stacks up and what you should look for in a vendor's service and support, take a look at our hardware warranty explainer.