The $249 Plextor's ATAPI IDE interface lets you install the drive by itself (on its own drive-controller channel) or paired with another IDE drive. Typical ATAPI IDE drive installations will take a bit more time and effort than attaching an external USB or FireWire (IEEE 1394) device, but the Plextor kit contains everything you need: the drive, extensive manuals, a 40-pin signal cable, mounting screws, a software CD, and a blank CD-R and CD-RW. The only thing we missed was a CD audio cable, so you may have to shell out a few extra bucks for one of your own.
Lots o' fixings
Plextor includes ample documentation, which makes installation easy, even for beginners. You'll find an operations manual for drive installation, a comprehensive user guide for the Plextor Manager 2000 premastering/recording software tools, and even a handy quick-start foldout guide. Installation takes a little more than 20 minutes. After you place the drive in an available bay, connect it to the proper IDE channel, and reboot the system, Windows recognizes the drive at start-up; then you can install the Plextor Manager software. The only way you'll run into trouble is if the drive is jumpered improperly or if all of your IDE connections are in use.
The PlexWriter's software suite is more comprehensive than those provided with the other drives in this roundup. Roxio's Easy CD Creator 4.0 provides all the necessary tools for premastering data and music CDs. DirectCD 3.0x lets you packet-write CD-RWs. In addition, the Plextor Manager software lets you play and record music and video, capture audio, view and manipulate CD audio, duplicate discs, and manage the drive properties.
A day at the races
In CNET Labs' tests, the PlexWriter matched or outperformed the other drives in just about every area. The 400MB packet-writing test from hard drive to CD-RW took 7.2 minutes (the Plextor was edged out by only the TEAC D-W516E, at 7 minutes). Burning 500MB in a single session to CD-R took about 4.1 minutes, and burning a 43-minute audio CD took an impressive 3.4 minutes; in both tests, the PlexWriter was the fastest of the four drives compared. In read tests, the PlexWriter installed Office 2000 SBE in only 3.2 minutes--just a hair behind the TEAC's 3.1 minutes--while in the digital audio extraction (DAE) test, the PlexWriter tied with the LaCie at 1.2 minutes to extract a 27-minute audio track.
The Plextor PlexWriter 16/10/40A comes with adequate support, starting with a short (albeit typical) one-year warranty. Toll-free phone support is available in North America but only during business hours (Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT). Fax support (via a toll number) is also available. Plextor's Web site offers e-mail support and FAQs and covers typical problems with drive installation and use and compatibility issues.
A clear winner
Plextor's competitively priced PlexWriter 16/10/40A rewritable drive is a product that seems to do everything well, making it the clear Editors' Choice in our roundup. Novices will appreciate the comprehensive documentation, and experienced users will like the additional tools bundled in the software. Just be sure to have a CD audio cable handy.