The Lite-On SOHW-832S is an internal drive with an ATAPI/E-IDE interface. If you're feeling brave and would like to install the drive yourself, check out CNET's feature on how to install an internal burner. If you don't have room for the drive or you'd rather not monkey around inside your PC, you can opt for the $199.99 external USB model, the SOHW-832SX, which is due to ship in July 2004.
The drive has a beige bezel and includes both a headphone jack and a volume control for listening to audio CDs directly from the drive, but not DVDs--for that you'll need the headphone jack on your speakers or sound card. A single LED lights up green when the drive is reading and red when it's writing. Like any other internal drive, the SOHW-832S is a breeze to install if you're comfortable fooling with the inside of a PC. Experienced users can probably skip the illustrated quick-start poster altogether. We did, and we were able to get the drive installed and running inside of five minutes. The drive's master/slave jumper is clearly marked, and the instructions wisely suggest leaving it set to master on whatever IDE channel you're going to use. Novices unfamiliar with such terminology can find a more complete manual, as a PDF file, on both software CDs. While the full manual has more complete installation instructions, it's a generic guide that doesn't mention the SOHW-832S, or any other model, by name. Worse still, the guide contains no information on double-layer recording, so you're left in the dark regarding software support, blank media, set-top compatibility, and other important issues; Jim Taylor's DVD FAQ is a good place to go for this kind of information.
The SOHW-832S is capable of burning DVD+R and DVD-R media at 8X speeds and DVD+RW and DVD-RW media at 4X. Of greater significance, the drive is among the first to support double-layer (DL) burning, meaning it can store upwards of 8.5GB of data--or four hours of MPEG-2 video--on one side of a DVD+R DL disc. (It's worth noting that the SOHW-832S, as with all other first-generation double-layer drives, tops out at 2.4X for DL media.) Commercial DVDs are produced on double-layer discs (also known as DVD-9), which is why it's difficult to fit a copy of one on a single-layer DVD. The SOHW-832S reads DVD-ROM at 12X and CD-ROM at 40X, specs which are totally sufficient for most users but no longer state of the art--Plextor's PX-712 writes DVD+R at 12X, and 16X drives are almost here.
While no drivers are required for the SOHW-832S itself, the drive comes with two bundled applications to install: CyberLink PowerDVD 5.0 and Nero OEM Suite. We expected to have to download patches for Nero, which was notoriously buggy upon its release, but the OEM version included here was already up-to-date, though slightly newer patches were available.
To handle your CD and DVD burning needs, Lite-On provides Nero OEM Suite, which packs many--but not all--of the components of Nero 6.0 Ultra Edition. For instance, while it includes Nero Express 6.0 for burning audio and data discs and NeroVision Express 2.0 for authoring DVDs and VideoCDs, it lacks Nero Recode 2.0--a utility designed specifically for copying unprotected DVDs. The suite does include Nero ShowTime for watching movies, which makes the inclusion of CyberLink PowerDVD 5.0--a standalone DVD player--rather superfluous. We'd much rather have the full version of Nero 6.0.
Although Nero Express seemed to have no trouble recognizing DL media, the NeroVision module reported that our DL disc had only 4.7GB of space available--until we got to the final step of the authoring wizard, at which point it informed us our project would fit on a DL disc. It is because of minor anomalies such as this that we wish Lite-On had provided more comprehensive, DL-specific documentation.
CNET Labs recently changed its burner testing methodology to more accurately reflect real-life usage, and the Lite-On SOHW-832S performed admirably with the new test suite. In fact, it stood toe-to-toe with Sony's new double-layer DRU-700A drive and LG Electronics' single-layer 8X drive, the GSA-4082B, ripping movies and audio CDs just as quickly as the Sony and tying the second-place LG in writing to single-layer DVD+R media. It outpaced the Sony and tied with the LG in writing audio CDs, and it equaled both drives in our rewritable DVD media tests.
Because there is no multisession support when burning DVD-movie discs, and with double-layer media debuting at $10 and up, you'll want to pick carefully what you choose to burn to double-layer discs. Additionally, the sluggish 2.4X write speed translates into a long wait for discs with lots of data or a feature-length movie. Our tests drive home this point: both the DRU-700A and the SOHW-832S took about 44 minutes, 15 seconds to burn a full 7.9GB DVD movie.
Interestingly, the more important performance issue regarding double-layer burning seems to be with DVD playback. The double-layer disc we burned with the SOHW-832S played in most of the set-top players we tried, but it was recognized in only about 30 percent of the PC-attached single-layer DVD recorders we tested. The DL DVD disc we burned with the Sony DRU-700A also played in most of our set-top players, and it fared slightly better than the SOHW-832S with PC DVD recorders. We've tested only a few DL burners, but for now it seems that buyers should beware: single-layer burners often can't play burned double-layer media.
|4.4GB DVD movie burn test||4.4GB DVD movie rip test (from DVD-ROM)|
|74:35 CD audio burn test||74:35 CD audio rip test|
|4.22GB RW write test||4.22GB RW read test|
The SOHW-832S's warranty covers parts and labor for one year--a fact we learned only by contacting the company, as it wasn't listed on the drive box, the quick-start poster, or even the Lite-On Web site. Speaking of which, the address for Lite-On's international Web site is plastered on the box and the drive itself, but you need to visit the North American site to find tech support. Unfortunately, there's not much useful information there, save for the toll-free phone number to Lite-On's 24/7 live help line. The site's FAQ barely mentions double-layer burning, and we found only generic troubleshooting help--nothing specific to the SOHW-832S.
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.