The NEC ND-3500A double-layer burner has two faces--literally and figuratively. For starters, the internal drive ships in two faceplate colors: black and beige. The ND-3500A also offers impressive speeds in certain areas but uninspiring performance in others. Your best bet for a fast, internal double-layer DVD burner remains the Pioneer DVR-A08XL. And if you can do without double-layer capability, the Plextor PX-712A is still one of our top choices for handling single-layer discs.
Like most internal drives, the NEC ND-3500A has a simple face, with only an emergency-eject pinhole, an eject button, and a tiny LED status light. Audiophiles will appreciate the S/PDIF digital audio-out port on the ND-3500A's back edge, though they'll have to buy their own cable since the drive doesn't ship with one.
Installing an internal drive like the ND-3500A is slightly more complicated than plugging an external USB- or FireWire-based drive into one of your computer's ports, but the ND-3500A's quick-start guide (an electronic version on the included CD) or CNET's own how-to guide can help you on that front. Despite their more complex setup, internal IDE-based drives usually deliver faster speeds than external USB drives.
NEC leaves all of the ND-3500A's software tasks up to one suite--Ulead's DVD MovieFactory 3.5 Deluxe. The bundle offers a handful of capable apps, including MovieFactory 3.5 SE and VideoStudio 8.0 SE DVD for video and DVD creation, editing, and burning; DVD Workshop 2.0 SE for more extensive DVD authoring; BurnNow for basic CD and DVD burning; and DVD Player for viewing discs. Though earlier versions of Ulead's software suite have proven capable, we still prefer Nero 6.0 for burning and creating DVDs.
Though double-layer DVD media speeds currently top out at 2.4X, the ND-3500A has the capacity to burn 4X double-layer (DL) discs once they come on the market (rumor has it that 4X DVD-R DL media will be available in the next couple of months). The drive also provides fast write speeds, burning DVD+/-Rs at 16X. Though NEC claims that the ND-3500A can maintain its 16X write speeds even on 8X DVD+/-Rs, we were able to reach only 12X on an 8X DVD-R disc and 8X on an 8X DVD+R disc. With other media types, the ND-3500A writes to DVD+/-RWs at a respectable 4X and CD-RWs at a satisfying 24X. Finally, the ND-3500A reads DVDs at a quick 16X and CDs at a rapid 48X.
CNET Labs' benchmark testing revealed that the drive is adept in only some tasks. The drive burned double-layer DVDs just a few seconds faster than the ultrafast Pioneer DVR-A08X (in our tests, we used 2.4X DL media, which the NEC and Pioneer drives write to at 4X speed). The NEC also earned one of the fastest audio CD-burning scores we've seen to date. The DVR-A08XL had the last laugh at double-layer DVD ripping, though, completing this job nearly 20 minutes faster than the ND-3500A. The NEC also faltered in our single-layer DVD rip test. The remainder of the ND-3500A's test results in audio CD ripping and DVD+/-RW reading were merely average. We're happy to report that our test disc played successfully in four out of four drives.