Plextor PlexCombo 20/10/40-12A EIDE
From the start, Plextor does things right by providing a data cable; blank CD-Rs and CD-RWs; software; an illustrated quick-start guide; and a thorough, illustrated printed manual. Slide the drive into a free bay; connect the power, data, and audio cables; turn on your PC; and the drive is immediately recognized by Windows XP. Next, pop in the CD to install Easy CD Creator 5.0 Basic, Direct CD, a DVD movie player, and some miscellaneous tools--that's it.
Plextor always supplies thorough documentation and includes tips on how to maximize performance. Two key tips from the company: install the drive as a master unit, and enable DMA. Since DMA is enabled by default in Microsoft's latest OS, Windows XP users can ignore the latter.
Like any modern CD-RW drive, the PlexCombo incorporates Burn-Proof technology, so you'll never suffer a buffer underrun and trash a blank CD-R. There's also a built-in diagnostic program that can zero in on drive problems. Running it, however, means opening your PC, unplugging cables, changing jumpers, and more; it's not for casual users.
Getting down to business
With new, high-speed media, the PlexCombo burns CD-Rs at a maximum rate of 20X and CD-RWs at up to 10X. It can read CDs at 40X and DVDs at 12X. For most users, 20X is plenty fast. On CNET Labs' tests, the PlexCombo was able to burn 43 minutes, 11 seconds' worth of tunes in about 3.5 minutes. That's a respectable score when you consider that the VisionTek Xtasy--the reigning speed champ, with a write speed of 48X--completed the same test in less than 2 minutes. You have to decide if the extra minute or two per disc is worth giving up for DVD functionality and other features, but for many users, it's a small price to pay.
We saw similar results on our rewrite tests, where the PlexCombo wrote 400MB to a CD-RW in 8 minutes, 21 seconds, which was about 3 minutes slower on average than 12X rewriters we've reviewed recently.
Where the PlexCombo really impressed us was on our two read tests. Despite its 40X-rated read speed, it outperformed a number of its 48X-rated counterparts. It ripped a 27-minute audio track in 56 seconds, which was 19 seconds faster than the TDK VeloCD 40/12/48 and 41 seconds faster than the TEAC CD-W540E. And when it came to installing Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition, it edged out the VisionTek Xtasy by 9 seconds.
In our informal tests, the PlexCombo was rock solid, playing DVD movies without a hiccup and formatting CD-RWs fairly quickly (in 12 to 15 minutes). Equally important, the PlexCombo can read a slew of CD and DVD formats, including DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, and DVD+RW.
Quibbles and glitches
You won't be bowled over by Plextor's software bundle. Roxio's Easy CD Creator 5.0 Basic lacks some useful tools found in the full package, such as SoundStream for digitizing analog audio. Plextor tosses in Oak Technologies SimpliCD to pick up the slack, but the program duplicates many of Easy CD Creator Basic's other features.
On the other hand, you will like Plextor's one-year warranty and lifetime tech help. Phone support is toll-free, Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT, and e-mail questions are answered within a day. Better still, in our tests, tech support was fast and usually accurate.
Although the PlexCombo isn't an Editors' Choice--it's a transitional product that will be replaced when rewritable DVD drives drop in price--it does solve a pressing problem for some users who need the ability to burn CDs and read DVDs in a single drive.
Time, in minutes, to complete tasks (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time, in minutes, to extract a 26-minute, 58-second audio track (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time, in minutes, to install Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition (shorter bars indicate better performance)
The PlexCombo posted respectable scores on our CD-burning tests, well within the range of a typical 20X drive. Rated 40X for reading CDs, it was more impressive on our read tests, even beating out some 48X drives when it came to extracting digital audio and installing Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition.