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CenDyne Lightning review: CenDyne Lightning

CenDyne Lightning

E. W. Johnson
5 min read
Editors' note:
Earlier this month, CenDyne was ordered by the Superior Court of California to shut down. The company is no longer shipping products and is not servicing warranties, honoring rebates, or providing technical support. Consumers should exercise caution before purchasing CenDyne products. Read the full story. (August 22, 2003)
With the release of its next-generation Lightning V CD-RW drive, CenDyne manages to stay one step ahead of the competition. And although it delivers only a slight increase in performance over the fastest 48X drives, its sub-$100 street price makes even the small speed bump a good deal. But like the Lightning IV before it, this drive includes bare-bones documentation and zero extra features. If you know your way around a drive, the spartan setup won't bother you, but hardware newbies should consider a product with friendlier setup documentation. Installing the Lightning V will prove easy for anyone with experience under the hood of a PC. The package includes everything you need, including a ribbon cable, an audio cable, and mounting screws. To start burning in a hurry, simply attach the drive, tweak the jumper settings, connect the cables, and turn on your PC.
But while even beginners should be able to follow the install guide, we found some of the diagrams more confusing than illustrative. The generic manual could easily apply to any optical drive; we'd prefer at least some sort of quick-start guide with easier-to-read diagrams specific to this drive. If the idea of setting jumpers and connecting cables makes you particularly anxious, we suggest a drive with instructions that are easier to follow, such as the TDK VeloCD 48X/24X/48X.

Box contents.

Quick-start guide.

The bundled Nero Burning ROM software installs itself. Simply insert the disc into the drive, and follow the onscreen instructions. If you need help, the CD includes a Nero manual.

Unfortunately, CenDyne includes few bonus features with the Lightning V. Besides the bundled burning software, the company throws in only one blank CD-R. But given the drive's low price, its lack of bonus software and features is acceptable. Plus, Nero Burning ROM offers just about every feature you could want in a burning program, such as a WAV editor, a video encoder, and a CD cover designer, all in an intuitive interface that's suitable for new users. The software CD also comes with InCD for packet writing and Adobe Acrobat Reader.
The drive uses SMART-Burn and SMART-X technologies to improve performance. The SMART-Burn system employs error-control strategies, including variable-speed writing to provide consistent burning results no matter what the condition or the characteristics of your media. It also provides buffer-underrun protection, which will save you from burning bad discs. The SMART-X monitoring system adjusts the speed of the drive during digital audio extraction or VCD (Video CD) viewing for optimum performance and error protection. The drive also supports the Mount Rainier specification, which provides easier drag-and-drop functionality for CD-RWs, as well as quick formatting.
The Lightning V, along with the Memorex internal CD-ReWritable 52X/24X/52X (which is manufactured by the same supplier), is one of the first drives to debut with 52X write and read speeds. In CNET Labs' tests, it showed only a slight increase in performance over the fastest 48X drives but consistently edged out the competing Memorex.
In write tests, the Lightning V burned a 43-minute audio CD in 1 minute, 38 seconds, a few seconds faster than the Memorex and 4 seconds faster than the TDK VeloCD 48X/24X/48X. In packet-writing tests, it fell slightly behind the similarly rated Plextor PlexWriter 48X/24X/48X and TDK; in day-to-day use, however, you'll notice little performance difference between the drives.
Write tests
Time, in minutes, to complete tasks (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Audio burn to CD-R from image on hard drive (from 43 min., 11 sec. audio CD)   
Packet-write from hard drive to CD-RW (400MB directory)   
Plextor PlexWriter 48X/24X/48X
TDK VeloCD 48X/24X/48X CD-RW
CenDyne Lightning V (52X/24X/52X)
Memorex internal CD-ReWritable (52X/24X/52X)
VisionTek Xtasy (48X/12X/48X)
Sony CRX210A1 internal CD-RW (48X/12X/48X)
Audio-extraction tests
Time, in minutes, to extract a 26-minute, 58-second audio track (shorter bars indicate better performance)

CenDyne Lightning V (52X/24X/52X)
VisionTek Xtasy (48X/12X/48X)
Memorex internal CD-ReWritable (52X/24X/52X)
TDK VeloCD 48X/24X/48X CD-RW
Plextor PlexWriter 48X/24X/48X
Sony CRX210A1 internal CD-RW (48X/12X/48X)
Read tests
Time, in minutes, to install Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition (shorter bars indicate better performance)

CenDyne Lightning V (52X/24X/52X)
Plextor PlexWriter 48X/24X/48X
Memorex internal CD-ReWritable (52X/24X/52X)
TDK VeloCD 48X/24X/48X CD-RW
Sony CRX210A1 internal CD-RW (48X/12X/48X)
VisionTek Xtasy (48X/12X/48X)

In read tests, the Lightning V bested the competition, installing Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition in 1 minute, 21 seconds, about 6 seconds faster than the Memorex drive.
The Lightning V also led the field in our DAE (digital audio extraction) tests. It ripped a 27-minute audio track in 43 seconds, the fastest time of any drive we've tested so far.
All write tests are run with both the drive's recommended media (submitted by the manufacturer) and with Verbatim media, rated at the drive's maximum speed. For more details on how we test CD-recordable drives, see CNET Labs site.

CenDyne offers better service and support than most drive manufacturers. In addition to a standard one-year warranty on parts and service, phone support is available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT (local and long-distance charges may apply). The CenDyne Web site offers a glossary, e-mail support, and a message board moderated by a CenDyne support rep. The response to our test query was both responsive and helpful. You can also find both the drive manual and Nero manual online.

CenDyne Lightning

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 7Performance 8Support 7