Plextor's reputation for building fast, versatile drives continues with the PX-712A. It's not only a champ for its speed at reading and writing DVDs, it's also the only burner that can shoehorn more than 200MB of extra data on an ordinary CD. Plextor's generous software bundle includes Roxio Easy CD and DVD Creator, though not the latest and greatest version (as evidenced by the bug we encountered when installing it). You also get PlexTools, a dream utility for tinkerers and power users alike. Plextor's solid warranty includes toll-free phone support, a rarity for optical drives. The Plextor PX-712A is the ultimate single-layer DVD burner. Although the PX-712A is packed with features designed to appeal to advanced users, we admire the way Plextor acknowledges novices. The drive includes an illustrated quick-reference guide that not only covers installation but also provides a brief overview of each of the bundled software apps. Even more impressive is the 125-page printed manual, by far the most comprehensive we've seen bundled with any optical drive. If you start out a novice, you'll be an expert by the time you read through it.
There's nothing difficult about installing the Plextor PX-712A. Just set the jumpers and pop it in a drive bay. Software installation is more time-consuming but only because there's so much software to load. Each of the six programs must be installed separately, and there's some rebooting involved. In fact, after loading Roxio Easy CD and DVD Creator 6.0 and rebooting per its instructions, a dialog box appeared informing us that we needed to reboot again. We did, only to see the same dialog box again. We had to visit Roxio's Web site to find a fix for this bug.The Plextor PX-712A's front bezel has a grayish tint--a slight mismatch for the off-white color common to many PCs. The bezel is, however, a bit snazzier than most, thanks to the black-plastic accent that adorns the disc tray.
A multiformat drive, the PX-712A burns DVD+R media at 12X (on 8X media), DVD-R at 8X, and both rewritable formats (DVD-RW and DVD+RW) at 4X. It burns CD-RW media at an impressive 24X. The drive's benefits, however, extend beyond mere speed. For starters, it offers a Silent mode designed to minimize drive noise. It works but slows down the drive. The PlexTools utility used to enable this feature also gives you full control over speed settings (though you can't manually control the speed while in Silent mode). You can even adjust how quickly the disc tray loads and ejects.
The PX-712A's other noteworthy features include SecuRec, which creates password-protected CD-Rs, and GigaRec, which enables you to fit up to 913MB of data on a standard 700MB CD. But while these discs play fine in Plextor drives, they're not guaranteed to work in other drives and players.
In addition to Roxio Easy CD and DVD Creator 6.0, Plextor provides PhotoSuite 5.0 SE for editing digital photos; DVDMax Player 2.0, a basic DVD player; the aforementioned PlexTools utility, which enables you to change drive settings, analyze disc errors, measure performance, and more; and a 30-day trial version of Dantz Retrospect Backup. This is a generous, well-rounded software bundle, but naturally we'd prefer the newer version (7.0) of the Roxio suite.CNET Labs recently changed its burner-testing methodology to more accurately reflect real-life usage, and the Plextor PX-712A shines in several key tests. For instance, it is the fastest at reading DVD-rewritable media and one of the fastest at burning single-layer movies on blank DVDs; it also has one of the fastest single-layer movie-rip times we've seen. The PX-712A also logs one of the top scores in our CD-audio burn test. In short, if you're shopping for a fast single-layer DVD burner, this is it.