If you're looking for an external burner with excellent all-around performance, Plextor's PX-740UF is an attractive, albeit pricey, option. It garnered top-flight scores in nearly all our ripping, burning, and rewriting tests. It also offers FireWire and USB 2.0 connectivity, though Mac users may bemoan the lack of software for their platform. Still, the PX-740UF is worth consideration by Apple users who have their own software (such as) or can live with OS X's native disc-burning tools.
Since the PX-740UF is an external burner, installation is a breeze. Connect the supplied AC adapter, run the USB or FireWire cable to your PC, and voilà--nearly instant optical writing. The Nero 6 OEM suite that Plextor bundles with the drive installs easily and includes Express 6 for disc mastering; NeroVision Express 2 SE for video editing and DVD authoring; Nero PhotoShow Express for photo slide shows; InCD 4.2 for packet writing; Nero ShowTime for DVD movie and video playback; and Nero Toolkit for drive testing, disc info, and the like. The full retail version of Nero is on its seventh iteration, but version 6 still provides plenty of power and features for the average user.
Plextor's Web site describes the PX-740UF as both stylish and black. Our test drive had more of a charcoal-gray color, and though it's no ugly duckling, we're not quite willing to describe the slightly boxy, 6.58-by-2.09-by-9.98-inch drive as stylish. Blandly handsome would be a more appropriate description, we think. Whether you find it stylish or dull, the drive is ruggedly built and should stand up to a fair amount of abuse.
It's always nice to have your cake and eat it too, and the Plextor PX-740UF's performance lets you do just that. Where some burners are great at ripping but lousy at writing, or vice versa, the PX-740UF is good at just about everything. It wrote a 4.4GB movie to a single-layer DVD+R in a fast 5 minutes, 45 seconds and a 7.9GB movie to a double-layer DVD+R in 14 minutes, 47 seconds. It ripped a single-layer disc in 6 minutes, 6 seconds and a double-layer disc in 11 minutes, 47 seconds--all excellent performances. It was less stellar at ripping but still gave one of the 10 best performances we've seen. The PX-740UF handled rewritable media admirably, taking 6 minutes, 25 seconds to read from a +RW disc and 7 minutes, 29 seconds to write to one.