If it's time to update your ageing optical drive with something flashier but you don't have the budget for bells and whistles, consider the Asus DRW-1608P. This CD/DVD drive is inexpensive, handles a wide range of CD and DVD media (including both +R and -R double-layer DVDs) and performs comparably to other drives in its class. Asus even includes Ulead DVD-Video and Nero CD/DVD-Audio utilities to sweeten the deal. For installation novices, the lack of comprehensive documentation could be intimidating, but a tech-savvy friend can get you going.
The Asus DRW-1608P is available in three colours -- white, beige and black. The drive's faceplate looks just like those of countless other optical drives, offering a motorised drive tray, an Eject button and a Busy (activity) LED. Music aficionados will be disappointed by the lack of a separate volume control or headphone jack. A quick glance at the back of the drive reveals a standard set of analogue audio connections as well as jumper settings, a 40-pin ATAPI IDE interface and a full-size power connector. The drive lacks a digital audio output.
Almost everything you need for a new installation is right in the box, including a 40-pin signal cable, a 4-pin analogue audio cable, mounting screws and even a small emergency-eject tool. The only thing missing is a detailed installation guide. Instead, you get a single pamphlet-size page of instruction that doesn't provide details on the ATAPI master/slave jumper process, nor any advice on primary/secondary IDE-channel installations. For experienced users, installation is standard. Once you've installed the drive and rebooted your computer, Windows will detect the drive and install the appropriate drivers.
The low price of the Asus DRW-1608P belies its versatility -- it supports a full suite of disc formats, including both +R and -R double-layer discs. (The -R spec has been approved by the DVD Forum, but Asus is still testing its -R firmware upgrade. Once the firmware upgrade has been approved, Asus will post it on its Web site.) The Asus ships with two handy applications, Ulead's DVD MovieFactory 3.5 SE and Nero's CD/DVD-writer suite (for data archives, backups, music preparation and other popular disc-writing tasks). It's not the best bundle we've ever seen, but it's certainly useful.
Although the Asus DRW-1608P does not excel in any particular area, it held its own overall against numerous (and pricier) competitors in CNET Labs' tests. In 16X +R and -R burning, the DRW-1608P led the pack, burning a 4.4GB video file in just 5 minutes, 41 seconds and 5 minutes, 56 seconds, respectively, edging out the Sony DRU-800A. The Asus ripped the same 4.4GB video in a poky 13 minutes, 55 seconds, which was faster than the Memorex 16x16x (15 minutes, 58 seconds) but far behind the Plextor PX-716A (a speedy 6 minutes, 5 seconds).
In double-layer +R burning, the 6x DRW-1608P soundly trounced the 4x drives but lagged behind the 6x Plextor, burning the 7.9GB disc in 18 minutes, 49 seconds and ripping it in 26 minutes, 47 seconds. The Asus DRW-1608P was the quickest of the group at writing -RW discs but the slowest at writing +RW discs. Finally, the Asus DRW-1608P scored last at both burning and ripping audio CDs, so music enthusiasts may want to consider the Samsung WriteMaster TS-H552B instead.