LaCie Slim DVD+/-RW with LightScribe (USB 2.0)
Despite its cumbersome name, LaCie's Slim DVD+/-RW Drive with LightScribe is a marvel of mobility that can not only work with most discs on the market but also etch intricate labels onto the back surface of CDs and DVDs. We call it essential equipment for those who travel or just don't want to take up a lot of desktop space with an external DVD burner. Its price is about $50 more than that of other portable USB optical drives, but it's worth it for the ability to label discs on the go. On the other hand, you'd better have time to wait for the LightScribe etchings and the money to spend on compatible discs. Also, if you're a Mac or Linux user or you want to attach the drive via FireWire ports, you're out of luck.
The LaCie Slim DVD+/-RW with LightScribe comes ready to roll, automatically loading its drivers for Windows XP systems; one of the two included CDs has drivers for Windows 98 or Me machines. The documentation includes a helpful quick-start booklet and a thorough 34-page electronic manual. Inside the minimalist F. A. Porsche-designed case is a Toshiba SDR6572M drive with 2MB of hardware cache to smooth the wrinkles out of disc creation. All told, it weighs just 12 ounces and is shorter but thicker than a DVD-movie case. The package comes with a tiny AC adapter and a cable to power the drive from a notebook. Its travel weight is an extremely light 1.1 pounds, and the whole thing is so small that it makes our Micro Solutions Backpack DVD+/-RW drive look like a dinosaur waiting for an asteroid.
LaCie packs a good assortment of software with the Slim DVD+/-RW drive, including Roxio's Easy Media Creator 7 (the basic version), Easy CD and DVD Creator, and DVDMax movie player, as well as Sonic's SureThing CD/DVD Labeler, which works with LightScribe. During our week testing the drive, the software balked only once at creating a disc; otherwise, we had no problems. Because the disc etcher works with only PC software, the drive doesn't come with Mac or Linux drivers. For the Mac crowd, LaCie offers a similar FireWire-based drive without LightScribe at the same price.
Based on the USB 2.0 standard, the LaCie Slim DVD+/-RW Drive with LightScribe also works with the slower USB 1.1 spec. After you've burned a disc, flip it over and put it back in the burner; you can use the drive's laser to etch a label into the surface. With technology licensed by Hewlett Packard, LightScribe is nothing short of magic--it'll make most people throw away the Sharpie markers they use for labeling discs. The software lets you either supply an image or type text onto the surface. Just whip up a design (or choose from the hundreds of templates provided), select the drive as the printer, and LightScribe does the rest, etching the disc's surface with the drive's laser. Alas, your color choices are limited to black images or text on a gold background. While the etching process is easy, it's also tediously slow, taking nearly 16 minutes to etch a simple design--twice as long as burning a data CD. Plus, in an age where optical media costs pennies per disc, the technology is so new that LightScribe CDs and DVDs cost more than a dollar each. Hopefully, the price will come down as production volume increases.