If you burn tons of CDs and aren't ready to make the jump to a more expensive DVD burner
, upgrading your Model T burner to a state-of-the-art 52X/32X CD-R/RW drive such as MSI's CR52-M may be a good interim solution. The CR52-M is a quiet, solidly constructed drive that has a number of interesting design flourishes--most noteworthy is that it's about an inch shorter than other CD-RW drives, making it particularly well suited for mounting in mini-PCs. Unfortunately, aside from a speedy disk-image-creation score, the CR52-M lagged behind Lite-On's LTR-52327S
and Samsung's SW-252FRNS
in recording, rewriting, and extracting digital audio. Relatively slow performance and parsimonious documentation and online support make this drive appropriate for only experienced users who need to save space inside their system. Unless you've installed a CD burners before, you may want to invite a tech-savvy friend along for the ride or check out CNET's new feature on how to install an optical drive
. In any event, MSI's minimal, multilingual documentation won't be much help, as it gives only the briefest sketch of the hardware installation procedure.
To its credit, MSI does provide most of the hardware you'll need to install the drive, including mounting screws and a drive-to-sound-card audio cable. There's no IDE cable--a miserly touch--but most systems have an extra inside anyway.
Installing the bundled Nero software is the usual "choose a location and click OK" affair. Still, we wish there were an option to install all of the programs at once. The CR52-M has some unusual and handy design flourishes. Look closely, and you'll find that it's almost an inch shorter than other internal CD-RW drives, making it a good choice for compact or bread-box PCs
. The drive's eject button controls another novel feature: press and hold it for three seconds to increase the drive's default read speed, which is set at a quieter 40X, to 52X. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the activity light on the front panel doubles as a track-advance button, handy for listening to audio CDs without a software player and a rare extra in this increasingly low-margin market. We also like the exceptionally sturdy, black media tray that injects and ejects quietly and at a comfortable pace. Finally, MSI's Web site states
that the CR52-M comes with several, removable front panels in a variety of colors. However, our test model had only one in the usual PC-putty shade.
Other than those nifty features, it's business as usual: the CR52-M's front panel features a headphone jack, a volume control, an emergency-eject port, and a power LED. The back panel is home to an IDE connector, a power connector, digital and analog audio outputs, and master/slave/cable-select jumper pins. There is also a pair of test jumper pins that the manual says are for factory use only, and three mysterious jumper pins in an L-shaped configuration that aren't described in the documentation at all.
MSI bundles Nero's version 5.0 CD mastering/packet-writing software with the CR52-M; we upgraded online to the most recent 184.108.40.206 version for our tests. Nero 5.0, a former CNET Editors' Choice, is a solid and comprehensive suite that provides all the functionality a CD drive requires, though it has been supplanted by Nero 6.0 Ultra
. Users should note that the version bundled with the CR52-M will work only with MSI drives.
Between Nero, InCD's packet writer, and the EasyWrite Reader, there's a solid suite of CD-RW software with the CR52-M.
The CR52-M lagged in CNET Labs' official recording, rewriting, and digital-audio-extracting tests; however, it proved itself capable of extremely fast disk-image creation. MSI told CNET that a firmware upgrade would enhance the drive's media compatibility and read performance, and our unofficial testing confirmed this. Otherwise, our praise is minor: the CR52-M is an exceptionally quiet performer, even when reading at 52X.
CD-R tests (MB per second) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
||Write a disc image to a CD-R||
||Copy a CD image to the hard drive||
CD-RW tests (MB per second) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unless otherwise mentioned, all write tests are run with Verbatim media, rated at the drive's maximum speed. Find out more about how we test optical drives.
Digital audio extraction test (MB per second) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
||Extract an audio track from an audio CD||
MSI's online support is a scattershot affair that includes firmware upgrades
, an online forum, e-mail to tech support, a PDF manual (archived in an EXE download), and a chart of recommended CD-R/RW media for the drive. But the company's Web site lacks FAQs and general trouble-shooting advice for any of its optical products, and the included printed documentation is bare-bones. MSI simply doesn't offer much help with installation or with troubleshooting.
The CR52-M is backed by an industry-standard one-year warranty, but telephone support is available from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT on weekdays only, and there's no toll-free number. Although e-mail support is free, don't expect immediate gratification; tech support took a few days to come back with an answer to our question.
MSI's Web site has downloadable manuals, firmware updates, and the Live Monitor utility, which automatically detects driver updates.