Conclusion: Some Detail Problems Spoil The Overall Picture
Although we had to conduct an inordinate number of test runs in this round-up, it was worth our while: in the end we were able to separate the wheat from the chaff. That wouldn't have been possible without such a stringent testing procedure, because, if there's one thing all 11 drives excel at, it's burning DVDs and CDs for computers.
The differences start whenever you use the drive for other applications. For example, Gigabyte and NU are ideal if you use CDs frequently; their CD performance is head and shoulders above the competition. Not that Sony and LG aren't also good, but they just aren't as consistent.
The undisputed King of Rippers (if you can even say that, legally) is the LG GSA-4040B, followed by Gigabyte and NU Tech. The best audio grabbers were the Pioneer, Teac and LG; Sony also put up a good fight.
Sony doesn't take any medals in this round-up because its scores in the various disciplines are too inconsistent. Either it's the top or a flop. The search times and transfer rates for DVDs were disappointing, while the DRX-510UL needs twice as long as the competitors to read out a complete DVD. Admittedly, it does recognize a wide range of media and extracts audio in a heartbeat. Nonetheless, the overall impression is a mixed one, especially since the drive is the most expensive one we tested.
We were thoroughly satisfied with the Pioneer drive, although its twin, the Teac, offered mediocre DVD transfer rates and CD performance. The performance of both is too poor for ripping, although they're almost perfect for audio grabbing. Almost, that is, because of the difficulties they had reading our Mode-2 CD (SVCD).
While HP, Mitsumi and Traxdata do everything they're supposed to, they don't really excel at it. The HPs lack minus support - literally: the two burners couldn't even read two Imation DVD-Rs. None of the DVD+Rs we burned in any of these three drives worked in four of the nine DVD players. Nor could any of the three drives handle our scratched DVD.
The only devices left - other than the relatively quick, low-error LG - are those from Philips and NU Tech. While both failed to stomach our scratched DVD, NU offers better handling: the DDW-081 is the fastest at recognizing a disc under Windows after the tray closes. It is also the fastest at burning CDs and can even provide 8x speed if need be.
Our recommendation goes to two drives: the LG GSA-4040B and the Pioneer DVR-A06. LG doesn't suffer from any big defects, except for the fact that some DVD players can't read its +Rs, and offers unparalleled features, outstanding flexibility, including DVD-RAM support, good performance, solid support and the lowest price around. Pioneer doesn't quite pass the DVD check, either, but it offers regular firmware updates and good performance in all disciplines.
Overall, you might have expected more from these drives. None of them allow you to watch burned DVDs in all nine of the hi-fi DVD players. Those that would allow it failed to read the scratched DVD and only support DVD+. Some manufacturers sacrificed details to work in their pet features. By the time we do the next round-up, the drive makers ought to have taken care of these niggling little embarrassments.