CD burners have become so popular that these days they are a dime a dozen. Well, they aren’t really that inexpensive, but they are definitely to the point where just about anyone can afford one and they are included in most pre-built computer systems. Because the technology is so inexpensive, manufacturers have begun providing multipurpose drives that can not only play and burn CDs but also play DVDs. This bodes well for both consumers and software developers because now, any software packages that provide large amounts of data (such as multimedia encyclopedias like Microsoft’s Encarta) can be put on a single DVD rather than a large number of CDs. When shopping for a combo drive, you might want to take a look at the SD-R1312 CD-R/RW and DVD-ROM Combination Drive from Toshiba.
The SD-R1312 comes as a kit, which includes the Toshiba CD-R/RW and DVD-ROM Internal ATAPI drive, 1 CD-R blank media, 1 CD-RW blank media, CyberLink’s DVD software player, VOB InstantCD burning software, IDE bus and audio cables, mounting screws, an installation instruction manual, and a quick start guide. I tested the SD-R1312 under Windows XP and installation was pretty easy, although because this is an internal drive, you do need to open the computer case. The installation instructions were a bit sparse so someone who doesn’t know anything about the inside of a computer might get a bit lost. More pictures and illustrations would definitely help here. But I personally didn’t have any trouble installing the drive and everything was ready in a couple of minutes. Upon powering up the computer, Windows XP automatically recognized the drive. No driver software needed.
Initially, I tried using the built-in CD burning features of Windows XP to test the drive. It performed very well. The fast transfer rates and 2 MB buffer memory made sure that I didn’t suffer any coasters, and that still holds true after about three months of use. The SD-R1312 supports a variety of read and write formats. The drive writes the following formats: CD-R, CD-RW: Disc at once, Track at once, Session at once, Packet write, CD-DA, CD+(E)G, CD-MIDI, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, Mixed Mode CD, CD-I, CD-I Bridge (Photo-CD, Video-CD), Multi-session CD (Photo-CD, CD-Extra, Portfolio). The drive reads the following formats: DVD: DVD-ROM (DVD-5, DVD-9, DVD-10, DVD-18), DVD-R (Ver. 1.0, Ver. 2.0 – Read, Single border), DVD-RAM (Ver. 2.1); CD: CD-DA, CD+(E)G, CD-MIDI, CD-Text, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, CD-I, CD-I Bridge (Photo-CD, Video-CD), Multi-session (Photo-CD, CD-Extra, CD-R, CD-RW, Portfolio), CD-R (read), CD-RW (read).
In addition to the drive, the package includes a couple of software programs. Unfortunately, these aren’t anything spectacular and you can definitely find better alternatives on the market. For CD burning, you get Instant CD/DVD Version 6.5 from VOB Computer Systems. Personally, I would have rather seen Roxio’s Easy CD Creator or (even better) the latest version of Nero from Ahead Software. Those are both great packages and very widely used. Most people are already familiar with these applications, so there would most likely be no need to learn how to use something new. For viewing DVDs, you get PowerDVD XP Version 4.0 from Cyberlink. This software application is actually quite good except for one glaring omission. It only provides DVD audio playback in stereo. The software doesn’t provide surround-sound, although you can get this upgrade option for an additional cost. Now I realize not everyone needs surround-sound, but if people are going to go through the trouble of watching DVD movies on their PC, they probably have a surround-sound speaker system as well and having this option included would have been much nicer.
Aside from my gripes about the bundled software, however, Toshiba’s SD-R1312 drive itself is quite nice. It performs very well, lets you burn CDs and lets you access your DVDs all from a single drive. It’s also very inexpensive and is perfect for those that aren’t quite ready for a DVD burner. If you don’t mind spending a little more money though, then you may actually want to take a look at Toshiba’s SD-R5112 DVD Burner. This drive will let you read and write both CDs as well as DVDs. I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet, but if/when I do, I’ll be sure to let you know more.