Verbatim CD-RW 48X/16X/48X EIDE review: Verbatim CD-RW 48X/16X/48X EIDE

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The Good Fairly portable, rugged, and fast; affordable; easy to install.

The Bad Unstable USB 1.1 support; noisy; poor documentation; no audio cable; lousy Web resources; no Mac software; 2MB buffer.

The Bottom Line This convenient external USB CD-RW drive is easy to set up, but glitches and confusing manuals limit its success.

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5.9 Overall
  • Setup 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6
  • Support 5

Feel nauseous at the thought of ripping open your PC and fiddling with wires and drive bays? Consider Verbatim's speedy external CD-RW drive, which plugs into a free USB 2.0 port. But although relatively hassle-free, Verbatim's 48X/16X/48X drive is saddled with an incomplete manual and undocumented software (notably, Ahead's InCD packet writer), and it can crash your PC if you run it from a USB 1.1 port. It's also annoying--the drive sounds like a car revving whenever it accesses a disc. You don't get a USB 2.0 card with the drive or an audio cable to connect the drive to your sound card. Then again, for $129 ($99 with a rebate), the drive's pretty darn cheap. If you can put up with its limits and quirks, it might be a solution, especially if you're technophobic or need a drive that can be used with multiple systems.

Box contents (manual not shown).
Installing the Verbatim drive is simple. Turn on your PC, then turn on the drive and connect it to your PC's USB 2.0 port via the included USB cable. Windows 2000 and XP will instantly recognize the drive and assign it a drive letter. Pop in the supplied CD, and you can quickly install the accompanying Nero Express CD-burning program, the InCD packet writer (for CD-RWs), and some additional "lite" video- and audio-editing tools.

This whole process would be even simpler if Verbatim provided an organized, complete manual. Instead, you get a sloppy, generic booklet that is sometimes too technical ("verify you have a valid ASPI layer"), yet lacks useful information, such as how to install the supplied USB drivers for Windows 98 and Me. Other irritants: a too-short USB cable and burning/writing programs that lack a live update feature.

In day-to-day use, the Verbatim is like most CD-RW drives. It reads a full complement of CD formats without a hiccup and can read and write to CD-RWs formatted with other packet writers. But quirks large and small will nip at your heels. We used certified 48X Verbatim CD-R media in informal tests, but the drive could never burn discs faster than 40X. Plug the drive into a USB 1.1 port, for instance, and you can burn CD-Rs (very slowly), but if you try to write to a CD-RW, your PC may freeze, spit out a blue screen of death, then reboot. If you use 1X to 4X CD-RW media, you can write to disc, but the files may be corrupted.

Like any modern CD-RW drive, the Verbatim works with Windows 98 SE or later, except for NT and Windows 2000 Professional Server. (An internal version of the drive shipped in May and connects to the PC's standard EIDE controller.) Although aimed at PC users, the Verbatim drive works with the Mac; OS 8.6 and 9.x drivers are included, but you're on your own for CD-R burning and CD-RW packet-writing software.

There's nothing spectacular about the drive itself; it includes a headphone jack and volume control up front, along with a track-advance button. In the back is a tiny power switch, a USB port, and a mini stereo-out jack that connects to your sound card's audio-in port. (For some reason, Verbatim doesn't supply an audio cable.)

The software bundle, on the other hand, is better than most. Nero Express, a simpler but capable version of Nero Burning ROM, lets you burn all manner of CDs, including data, audio, super/video CDs, bootable data discs, and MP3 discs. Ahead's InCD handles the CD-RW-writing chores adequately and can easily read DirectCD-formatted discs. One notable plus: the included CD Speed utility, which runs drive- and CD-quality tests, examines drive performance, buffer-underrun protection, transfer rate, DAE, spin-up time, and lots more.

External drives always perform more slowly than their internal counterparts, and the Verbatim is no exception. In CNET Labs' tests with other 48X units, the drive trailed when it came to burning CD-Rs and installing programs from CD-ROM, placed third when writing data to CD-RW, and landed smack in the middle of the crowd when it came to digital audio extraction. In short, the Verbatim isn't a speed demon, but most users will find the drive fast enough.

Write tests
Time, in minutes, to complete tasks (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Audio burn to CD-R from image on hard drive (from 43 min., 11 sec. audio CD)   
Packet-write from hard drive to CD-RW (400MB directory)   
TDK VeloCD 48X/24X/48X CD-RW
Plextor PlexWriter 48X/24X/48X
CenDyne Lightning IV (48X/12X/48X)
VisionTek Xtasy (48X/12X/48X)
Verbatim external CD-RW (48X/16X/48X)
Sony CRX210A1 internal CD-RW (48X/12X/48X)
Read tests
Time, in minutes, to install Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition (shorter bars indicate better performance)

Plextor PlexWriter 48X/24X/48X
TDK VeloCD 48X/24X/48X CD-RW
CenDyne Lightning IV (48X/12X/48X)
Sony CRX210A1 internal CD-RW (48X/12X/48X)
VisionTek Xtasy (48X/12X/48X)
Verbatim external CD-RW (48X/16X/48X)
Audio-extraction tests
Time, in minutes, to extract a 26-minute, 58-second audio track (shorter bars indicate better performance)

CenDyne Lightning IV (48X/12X/48X)
VisionTek Xtasy (48X/12X/48X)
TDK VeloCD 48X/24X/48X CD-RW
Verbatim external CD-RW (48X/16X/48X)
Plextor PlexWriter 48X/24X/48X
Sony CRX210A1 internal CD-RW (48X/12X/48X)
All write tests are run with both the drive's recommended media (submitted by the manufacturer), rated at the drive's maximum speed. For more details on how we test CD-recordable drives, see the CNET Labs site.

If this drive's manual is bad, the Verbatim Web site is worse. When you click the Support link on one of Verbatim's sites, you get a "Page under construction" screen. If you select the Support link on another site, you get a handful of generic Q&As. There's also no true searchable knowledge base.

Yes, you get a standard one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with this Verbatim drive, as well as free phone support for a year, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT, via a toll-free number. But given the company's lack of attention to its online support, have a tech-savvy friend on call to help you with any drive troubles, just in case.