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A wee bit costly
DVD-RAM drives are somewhat expensive. Given that, Toshiba's $439 SD-W2002 leans toward the affordable side. The drive comes with one single-sided, rewritable 4.7GB DVD-RAM disc; extra media (4.7GB or 9.4GB) runs about $25 to $50, or around $5.30 per gigabyte.
The compatibility issues are complicated, albeit typical for DVD-RAM. The SD-W2002 can read just about every type of optical media, including DVD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, and DVD video discs. And it can read and write to the older 2.6GB and 5.2GB DVD-RAM discs as well. Unfortunately, DVD-RAM discs cannot be played in most other optical drives. Both single- and double-sided discs can be read on other DVD-RAM drives but not on the older drives that write to smaller-capacity DVD-RAM discs. Also, some fourth-generation and newer DVD-ROM drives (most drives sold after mid-1999) can read the 4.7GB discs but not the 9.4GB double-sided discs. This means that sharing these discs could be difficult; thus, DVD-RAM's better suited for personal backup than for porting files from place to place.
Installing the SD-W2002 is simple, especially if you've had some experience inside your PC. The installation guide walks you through the steps in some detail, but inexperienced users may need additional help. It took about two minutes to install the drive in a Windows 98 system (once the cover was off). Setup requires no driver software; once you install the drive, attach the EIDE, power, and audio cables, and power up, Windows automatically recognizes the drive and assigns a drive letter.
The installation guide briefly covers the included software, which you can use to format discs, back up your system, or watch DVD movies. If DVD-RAM discs are not preformatted, you can quickly and easily format them with the UDF file system using the included VOB InstaWrite software utility. The drive kit also contains VOB InstantBackup and CyberLink PowerDVD software. PowerDVD is a software MPEG-2 decoder that allows you to play DVD movies on the PC without additional hardware. On our 733MHz system, the image quality was smooth but not very crisp--not up to the level that you'd get from a hardware decoder card.
Read and write performance outpaced those of the other non-SCSI DVD-RAM drives we've reviewed. In CNET Labs' tests, the SD-W2002's write performance was in line with the LaCie DVD-RAM External IEEE 1394 FireWire drive's, whereas its read performance was twice as fast. But it still couldn't beat SCSI; the Panasonic LF-D201U drive's write performance was twice as fast as the SD-W2002's, but it posted slower read scores.
The SD-W2002 has a standard one-year warranty that covers repair or replacement of the drive, if necessary. Tech support for Toshiba's storage division is available by e-mail or phone. Phone support hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT; unfortunately, the call's on your dime. Toshiba offers little support for this drive on its Web site: just a few troubleshooting tips, FAQs, and technical papers.
If the shoe fits
The Toshiba SD-W2002's price lies beyond what the average consumer might expect to pay for extra storage. But considering its speed and the affordability of the media, it's a good solution for professionals who need to back up or archive large amounts of data regularly. Those of us with less data will be satisfied with the 650MB per disc offered by CD-R/RW drives.
Time, in minutes, to complete tasks (shorter bars indicate better performance)
The EIDE-connected Toshiba was no match for the SCSI-connected Panasonic LF-D201U drive when it came to writing tasks, but it was quicker reading from CD-ROM.