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Panasonic LF-D521U DVD burner II review: Panasonic LF-D521U DVD burner II

Panasonic LF-D521U DVD burner II

Jon L. Jacobi
4 min read
With the rest of the DVD-recordable industry already moving toward 4X DVD-burning technology, why would Panasonic wait until now to release its 2X LF-D521U DVD burner II? This $399 drive makes little sense for the average user, considering the availability of faster drives for considerably less money. However, the device plays well to DVD-RAM aficionados (who'll appreciate the format's 100,000 rewrite rating and data-verification ability), especially to owners of DVD-RAM video recorders such as Panasonic's own DMR-E30. The drive's deep-dish media tray accepts DVD-RAMs with their protective cartridges and includes special software for editing video-recorded discs on your computer. To install the LF-D521U, you need a screwdriver and a lot of patience. The operating instructions and the installation manual prove difficult to fathom, thanks to a brain-dead layout decision; whole pages and even small paragraphs of the manual alternate between English, French, and German. If you don't know how to install an internal drive, you're better off surfing the Web for a good set of instructions and relying on the label on top of the drive for jumper and connector information.
In addition to the drive, the box includes an audio cable, an emergency-eject tool, and mounting screws. The company neglects to supply an IDE cable, but most users will just attach the drive to an existing cord. The LF-D521U works with Windows 98, Me, NT, 2000, and XP.
The LF-D521U writes DVD-R at 2X, DVD-RW at 1X, and DVD-RAM at 2X; those are fairly slow speeds for DVD-R and DVD-RW, especially compared to those of the Sony DRU-500A and the Pioneer DVR-A05. This Panasonic burns CD-Rs at 16X and CD-RWs at 8X, and it reads CD-ROMs at 32X--not state-of-the-art CD performance but fast enough for the average user. Please note, however, that the 2X DVD-RAM rating is a bit misleading. Because DVD-RAM technology features a read-after-write verification cycle to ensure data integrity for mission-critical applications such as backup and archiving, it effectively halves the DVD-RAM write speed. This will not affect DVD-R and DVD-RW performance.
The front panel of the LF-D521U lacks a headphone jack, a volume control, and a track-advance button, so you won't be able to use the drive as a CD player unless you have the proper software. Technically minded DVD-RAM users might not mind this inconvenience, but we find those omissions stingy for such an expensive drive. The compulsory Eject button is provided, as is an emergency-eject port and a power/busy light.
The back panel, on the other hand, comes fully stocked with both digital- and analog-audio ports and drive jumpers, as well as IDE and power connectors. And unlike recent competitors, the LF-D521U sticks with a deep-dish media tray that will accept DVD-RAMs in their cartridges; cheaper, shallow trays force you to remove them.

Sonic MyDVD 3.5.

The LF-D521U's software bundle includes Sonic MyDVD 3.5 for DVD-movie authoring; WinDVD 4.0 for DVD-movie playback; B's Recorder Gold 5.0 for mastering data CDs and DVDs; B's Recorder Clip 5.0 for packet writing; and Panasonic's own FileSafe for backup to DVD-RAM. The company also includes its DVD-MovieAlbumSE 3.0 for editing video created by consumer recorders such as Panasonic's aforementioned DMR-E30. A DVD-RAM driver is also provided and is required for DVD-RAM packet writing. All these apps proved stable and competent in our tests, but we'd like to see a more recent DVD-authoring package--such as MyDVD Plus 4.0--included.
With its 2X DVD-R performance and added 1X DVD-RW capability, the LF-D521U offers big improvements over its predecessor. But when it came to burning movies, the LF-D521U lagged behind the 4X Sony DRU-500A and the Pioneer DVR-A05. This Panasonic also writes to DVD-RW slower than the Sony and the Pioneer but delivered scores generally on a par with its last-generation ratings. The one bright spot: The LF-D521U proved to be a surprisingly facile reader.
Movie write tests
Rate, in megabytes per second, at which a movie is written to write-once media (longer bars indicate better performance)

Pioneer DVR-A05 DVD-RW
Sony DRU-500A (DVD-RW)
Sony DRU-500A (DVD+RW)
HP DVD-Writer DVD200i (DVD+RW)
Philips DVDRW228 (DVD+RW)
Panasonic LF-D521U (DVD-RW)
Write tests
Time in minutes (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Write a 383MB file to rewritable media   
Write a 500MB directory to rewritable media   
Sony DRU-500A (DVD+RW)
Philips DVDRW228 (DVD+RW)
Pioneer DVR-A05 DVD-RW
HP DVD-Writer DVD200i (DVD+RW)
Panasonic LF-D521U (DVD-RW)
Panasonic LF-D521U (DVD-RAM)
Read tests
Time in minutes (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Copy a 383MB file from rewritable media to the hard drive   
Copy a 500MB directory from rewritable media to the hard drive   
Panasonic LF-D521U (DVD-RAM)
Pioneer DVR-A05 DVD-RW
Sony DRU-500A (DVD+RW)
Philips DVDRW228 (DVD+RW)
HP DVD-Writer DVD200i (DVD+RW)
Panasonic LF-D521U (DVD-RW)
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 writing from hard drive to CD-RW (400MB directory)   
Panasonic LF-D521U
Pioneer DVR-A05 DVD-RW
Philips DVDRW228 (DVD+RW)
Sony DRU-500A (DVD+RW/-RW)
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 optical drives, see CNET Labs' site.
The LF-D521U comes with a one-year warranty, which is standard for the industry. Toll-free phone support is available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT. As of press time, Panasonic offered no online support for the LF-D521U; even finding help for storage products on the company's Web site proved a bit difficult. (Hint: Look under Industrial/Computer Components.)

Panasonic LF-D521U DVD burner II

Score Breakdown

Setup 5Features 7Performance 6Support 6