Installation is easy for upgraders
Like other Sony drives we've reviewed, the CRX210A1 arrives with generic, dated, terse, and scattered documentation. There's a one-page quick-start sheet for installing the drive, while software manuals (in HTML or PDF format) hide on the CD or under Windows' Start menu. But experienced users looking to upgrade a doddering, old CD-RW will find setup pretty easy. Just find a free bay; slide in the Sony drive; and connect the data, audio, and power cables. Next, install the supplied B's Recorder Gold CD-burning software and Clip packet-writing program for CD-RWs, then you're done. The drive works with Windows 98 SE, Me, 2000, and XP.
The bundled Recorder Gold and Clip software may drive you a little batty. Recorder features a clumsy interface with confusing prompts, and the program neither calculates how much space the files you want to burn will consume nor automatically truncates long filenames. The equally brainless Clip packet-writing program fails to note potential conflicts with XP's own CD-writing feature. Instead, you must use the software's eject function. Fortunately, you can always switch to your own preferred CD-burning application. To find out which we recommend, read our review of seven CD-creation apps.
The Sony drive supposedly has an edge, thanks to its 48X turbo mode. By default, the drive burns CD-Rs at 40X, but if you press the eject button for 5 seconds, it ups the rate to 48X. In CNET Labs' tests, the drive kept pace with competing 48X drives such as the CenDyne Lightning IV and the VisionTek Xtasy when it came to burning CD-Rs--as long as we remembered to enter turbo mode. It took 1 minute, 50 seconds to burn a 43-minute audio CD, compared with 1 minute, 47 seconds for the CenDyne Lightning IV. In packet-writing tests, Sony's drive lagged as much as 42 percent behind its peers, taking 6 minutes, 49 seconds to write 400MB to CD-RW.
A bigger beef: why do you have to turn on a turbo mode at all? With competing drives, 48X is the default burn speed; if you put in slower media, the drive downshifts. With Sony's approach, you may accidentally eject the disc. And once you finish burning a copy, the drive reverts to 40X--a hassle if you want to burn multiple 48X discs.
So-so service and support
Sony backs the drive with a one-year warranty. Phone support is available Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT, but you'd never know it--this information is nowhere to be found online. Sony's poorly organized support site has FAQs for the drive, but many are irrelevant, such as the commentary on Mac issues, Sony's Memory Stick, and CD Right (a program that isn't included in the bundle).
In sum, Sony's 48X drive has an audience: fairly savvy users looking for a brand-name bargain who don't need much tech support. But that's a small group, and we suggest even they consider the CenDyne instead or wait until more comprehensive 48X drive packages hit the market.
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 Sony CDRX210A1 internal CD-RW keeps pace with competing 48X drives when it comes to burning CD-Rs, but it falls far behind when writing to CD-RW media. (Note: Because of software limitations, B's Recorder Gold prevented the Sony from copying an audio image from the hard drive to CD-R; instead, we used Nero Burning Rom 5.5 to complete the test.)
All write tests were run with both the drive's recommended media (submitted by the manufacturer) and with Verbatim media, rated at the drive's maximum speed.