As the DVD-standards wars continue to rage, vendors are finally crying uncle and shipping drives that handle both DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW media. Verbatim's entrant into this suddenly crowded market, the Producer 44, is built on NEC hardware--like TDK's competing . The drives' capabilities are similar: 4X DVD-R/+R burning, 2/2.4 DVD-RW/+RW writing, and 16X/10X CD-R/CD-RW burning and writing. Both have puny 2MB buffers. But the Producer 44, while competitive when writing DVD+R/-R, falls behind the 440N Indi when writing to DVD-rewritable media. Verbatim also provides so-so documentation and neglects to include a data cable. Nevertheless, the Producer 44 is a bargain: $299 for the internal drive reviewed here (an external FireWire/USB 2.0 drive goes for $399). Despite a similar performance and being built on similar hardware, the Producer 44's low price and bundled backup software ultimately give it a leg up on the 440N Indi. But take note: Sony's DRU-510A might be the best deal of all; it's more expensive, but it offers 4X DVD+RW/+R/-R writing and all-around superior performance.
If you've ever added an internal drive, you'll have no problem installing the Producer 44, but rookies are advised to get help from a PC-savvy buddy. The connectors and the switches on the back of the drive are labeled, and the slim install manual lays out the basic steps well enough, although some illustrations are so fuzzy they're nearly unreadable. The drive supports Windows Me, NT (SP4), 2000, or XP but not Windows 95/98 or Macs. Connect the drive and turn on the PC, and it's instantly found by the PC.
In a perplexing move, the manual warns users not to use DVD-RW media in a DVD+RW drive and vice versa--even though this is a dual-mode drive. The manual also mentions an included 40-pin IDE cable, but we never found it (Verbatim confirmed that it doesn't include one with this model).
Software installation is straightforward: pop in each of the three discs, click a button or two, and follow the prompts. One hitch: All the software manuals are PDF files, but you don't get a copy of Acrobat Reader. On the plus side, when you install the Nero InCD packet-writing software, it detects other packet writers on your PC and reminds you to uninstall them. There's no live update feature, so you'll have to download updates separately for every single application. Verbatim would be wise to check out Norton Utilities' excellent one-stop live update feature.
Although Verbatim earns kudos for including video tutorials on using Nero, MyDVD, and other tools, the lessons are fairly shallow, and they aren't interactive--you're looking over the shoulder of someone who's working. One unintentionally comic lesson: a tutorial on how to find the drive's serial number.
They're not interactive, but the supplied tutorials show you how to burn discs, build movies, and more.
According to Verbatim, with the Producer 44, you can take all your home video and "be the producer of a Hollywood production." Uh, right. In reality, to capture video from an external source, you'll need additional hardware, such as Adaptec's VideOh. The video programs you do get--NeroVision Express and--are rather limited. And the included copy of NeroVision is completely useless, as it doesn't even ship with the necessary MPEG-2 codecs for creating video CDs or DVDs (they'll run you an extra $16 and $24, respectively). MyDVD is easy to use, but it has modest capabilities: you can assemble clips, trim footage, create simple menus and backgrounds, and burn the result to disc. , for CD and DVD burning, and InCD, the included packet-writing application, are both solid programs. InCD can't repair discs like can, but it does offer a killer set of disc diagnostics.
Unlike many CD and DVD writers, the Producer 44 comes with backup software--well, 30-day fully functional demos. You get NTI'sand DriveBackup software, and both are a snap to use. With Backup Now, you pick files and folders from a Windows Explorer-like tree, select a destination, choose the method (All, Differential, Incremental), and click start. It's simple and fast, and the programs automatically span discs; let you mix media types, such as DVD-R and DVD+R; and more. Restoring files appears to be just as easy, but we got errors when attempting to restore from either the backup catalog or the first backup file. At post time, NTI was researching the problem.
Backing up with NTI's Backup Now is a prompted, point-and-click process.
What happens when you put the Producer 44 on the CNET Labs' racetrack? Sometimes it zooms past the competition, and sometimes it falls flat on its face. The Producer 44's performance with DVD-RW and DVD-R media was slower than with DVD+RW and DVD+R, but that's typical of dual-format drives. The drive took first prize for writing to CD-RW and was right behind the leader in burning movies. But it was dead last when writing data to or reading it from any kind of rewritable DVD.