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Sony DRU review: Sony DRU

Sony DRU

Jon L. Jacobi
5 min read
Our feelings about Sony's double-layer, multiformat DVD burner, the DRU-700A, are complicated. Don't get us wrong: We love its ability to write high-capacity 8.5GB, double-layer discs, which hold twice as much data as single-layer DVD-R and DVD+R discs and, more importantly, are big enough to fit an entire uncompressed commercial movie. We also appreciate the DRU-700A's excellent performance with single-layer DVD+/-/R/RW and CD-R/RW media. Still, the double-layer experience wasn't all we had hoped it would be: double-layer media burns at only 2.4X; at 3.32 megabytes per second, that's a relatively slow proposition, especially when compared to today's 8X (11.08-megabytes-per-second) single-layer burn speed. Furthermore, the double-layer discs we burned failed to play in many of the other PC-attached burners we tested and also bombed in a few of the set-top DVD players we tried. In other words, the double-layer movies you burn with the DRU-700A may not play in every machine. Still, at $169 after a $30 mail-in rebate (as of July 2004), the double-layer DRU-700A isn't significantly more expensive than many other 8X single-layer-only DVD burners, and it does everything they can and more.
The DRU-700A is almost identical in appearance to its forerunners in the innovative DRU-500 series, sporting the same mildly attractive, putty-colored faceplate and translucent gray-and-blue media tray; Sony includes a black replacement faceplate for those with meaner-looking PCs. The drive measures a little less than seven inches deep, making it an especially good choice for bread-box and mini PCs. Adorning its front are an emergency-eject port, a power/busy light, and an eject button--that's it; there's no volume control nor headphone jack. The back panel has the standard array of connections: analog and digital audio outputs, IDE connector, drive configuration jumpers, plus three mystery jumpers whose purpose was unclear--leave them alone.
The DRU-700A's most significant feature is its ability to write 8.5GB double-layer DVD+R discs. This more capacious DVD-recordable technology allows you to back up an entire high-bit-rate, two-hour movie without compression or alteration and archive twice the amount of data as normal single-layer DVD (read more about the pros and cons of double-layer technology in CNET's burner buying guide).
The DRU-700A also writes single-layer DVD-R and DVD+R at 8X, DVD-RW/+RW at 4X, CD-R at 40X, and CD-RW at 24X (just like the DRU-530A before it). DVD-ROM reading proceeds at a sprightly 12X, and CD-ROM reading at 40X. Those specs are totally sufficient for most users, but they're no longer state of the art: Plextor's PX-712 writes DVD+R at 12X, and 16X drives are almost here.
For the first time, Sony bundles Ahead Software's Nero 6.0 DVD/CD software suite; it's not our Editors' Choice Ultra edition, but it's still a great improvement over the underpowered Sonic MyDVD suite that shipped with the Sony DRU-530A. Nero 6.0 isn't quite as intuitive or easy to use as MyDVD, but it offers far more advanced features and a much better backup utility.
CNET Labs recently changed its burner testing methodology to more accurately reflect real-life usage, and the Sony DRU-700A did very well with the new test suite. It stacked up well against both Lite-On's new double-layer SOHW-832s and LG Electronics's single-layer 8X drive, the GSA-4082B, with a three-way tie for movie-ripping performance but pulling ahead with the fastest time writing to single-layer DVD+R media. It was equally as speedy as the SOHW-832s at ripping CD audio, but for some reason, it fell considerably off the pace when writing a full audio CD, coming in approximately two minutes slower than the others. In our two DVD-rewritable media tests, the DRU-700A finished in a virtual dead heat with its competitors.
Because double-layer media is still hard to come by and will debut with a cost of at least $10 per disc and because there is no multisession support when burning DVD-movie discs, you'll want to be very selective with what you choose to put on double-layer discs. Additionally, the sluggish 2.4X write speed translates into a long wait for discs with lots of data or a feature-length movie. Our tests drive home this point: both the DRU-700A and the Lite-On SOHW-832s took about 44 minutes, 15 seconds to burn a full 7.9GB DVD movie. (Our dual-layer tests were conducted using Sony media.)
Interestingly, the more important performance issue regarding double-layer burning seems to be with DVD playback. The double-layer DVD disc we burned with the Sony drive played in most of the set-top players we tried; however, very few PC-attached single-layer DVD recorders recognized the disc. The double-layer disc we burned with the Lite-On SOHW-832s also played in most of the set-top players we tried and was recognized in very few of the PC DVD drives. For now it seems that buyers should beware: single-layer burners often can't play burned double-layer media.
DVD movie rip/burn tests (min:sec)  (Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
4.4GB DVD movie burn test  
4.4GB DVD movie rip test (from DVD-ROM)  
Sony DRU-700A (8X DVD+R)
Lite-On 832s (8X DVD+R)
LG Electronics GSA-4082B (8X DVD+R)
LG Electronics GSA-4082B (8X DVD-R)
Lite-On 832s (8X DVD-R)
Sony DRU-700A (8X DVD-R)

CD Audio rip/burn tests (min:sec)  (Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
74:35 CD Audio burn test  
74:35 CD Audio rip test  
Lite-On 832s (40X CD-R)
Sony DRU-700A (40X CD-R)
LG Electronics GSA-4082B (24X CD-R)

RW read/write tests (min:sec)  (Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
4.22GB RW write test  
4.22GB RW read test  
Sony DRU-700A (8X DVD+RW)
Lite-On 832s (8X DVD+RW)
LG Electronics GSA-4082B (8X DVD+RW)
LG Electronics GSA-4082B (8X DVD-RW)
Lite-On 832s (8X DVD-RW)
Sony DRU-700A (8X DVD-RW)
LG Electronics GSA-4082B (3X DVD-RAM)

Unless otherwise mentioned, all write tests are run with Verbatim media, rated at the drive's maximum speed. Find out more about how we test DVD burners.
Sony backs the DRU-700A with an industry-standard one-year warranty, but the company's toll-free tech support is available only weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. PT. Sony's Web site offers abundant support in the form of a variety of FAQs, technology white papers, software updates, PDF manuals, and firmware downloads.