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Upgrading Your Upgrades, Part 6: Replacing Your CD-RW with a Rewriteable DVD Drive

Upgrading Your Upgrades, Part 6: Replacing Your CD-RW with a Rewriteable DVD Drive

Rewriteable CD drives, better known as CD-RW drives, are now standard equipment in most new computer systems (even laptop PCs), and are among the most popular upgrades for older systems. Store shelves are full of different models that can connect with your computers ATA/IDE internal drive cable or the USB port. Theyre:

  • Cheap to buy. There are plenty of decent drives that sell for less than $100.
  • A great low-cost method for storing data. CD-R bundles purchased with a rebate often amount to 25 cents a disc or less, while CD-RW bundles generally cost only a buck or so per disc. And the media (CD-Rs especially) can be read by virtually any computer.

So, why tamper with success?

The reason it's time to toss plain old CD-RW drive technology to the curb in favor of a rewriteable DVD drive because you get more of what you want for less than ever before:

  • more capacity
  • more features
  • more software
  • backward compatibility with CD-RW drive technology

More Capacity

If youre running out of capacity when you create a mix music CD for use on your computer, or wind up playing the "CD shuffle" when its time to store the files for a big project, you need the additional capacity that DVD media provides. A typical 80-minute CD-R/RW disc holds up to 737MB of data. A recordable or rewriteable DVD, on the other hand, can hold 4,696MB (about 4.7GB) of data. In other words, a single DVD can hold what it would take 6.3 CD-Rs or CD-RWs to store.

The difference is even more striking if you use backup software with your rewriteable drive. It takes just a few DVDs to make a complete backup of a 30GB drive, but six to eight times as many CD-Rs or CD-RWs to make that same backup.

More Software Equals More Useful Features

Because most rewriteable DVD drives also support CD-R and CD-RW media, you can use your rewriteable DVD drive as a direct replacement for a CD-RW drive, and take advantage of additional software supplied to make both DVD and CD media storage more useful.

For example, HPs 200-series DVD+RW drives include software for burning CD or DVD images, a packet-writing program which enables drive letter access to rewriteable CD or DVD media, a DVD playback program, a DVD photo creator, a DVD movie editor, and a backup program which can also be used for disaster recovery (restoring a working operating system and all other files to a blank hard disk). Essentially, everything you can do with a CD-RW drive you can do with most rewriteable DVD drives, and much more besides.

The DVD Format Quandary

Unfortunately, its not as simple to choose a rewriteable DVD drive as it is to select a CD-RW drive. While CD-RW drives use a single recordable medium (CD-R) and a single rewriteable medium (CD-RW), rewriteable DVD drives can use a bewildering array of media:

  • DVD-RAM The oldest rewriteable media, DVD-RAM is very durable, but cant be read by other types of DVD drives
  • DVD-RW Its compatible with both DVD drives and with many set-top DVD players, but you must format the entire disc before you can use it (a process which can take close to an hour) and you cant selectively erase files
  • DVD-R the recordable media used by DVD-RW and a few recent DVD-RAM drives
  • DVD+RW The newest types of rewriteable DVD media, it can be used after a quick 1 to 2-minute format and can be erased selectively. The media is also purported to be a little more compatible with older set-top DVD players than DVD-RW .
  • DVD+R the recordable media used by second-generation DVD+RW players for lower-cost permanent recording and better compatibility with set-top DVD players, it costs less than DVD+RW.

Drives which can use DVD-R/RW media are sometimes referred to as "minus" drives, while those that use DVD+R/RW are called "plus" drives. The DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, and DVD-R formats are supported by the DVD Forum as official DVD formats (and are often collectively referred to as DVD-Multi). The DVD+R/RW formats are supported by the DVD+RW Alliance, which is made up of companies like Sony and Phillips, which invented CD and DVD technology.

Theres been a huge amount of ink (and pixels) expended by many partisans on both sides in their efforts to convince skeptical rewriteable DVD buyers to select one format or another. The following table can help you decide which DVD format to select depending upon your needs.

Primary Need

Best Choice

Next Choice

Recommended Interface


Backup for your own data



USB 2.0 or IEEE-1394 (Firewire) if you have more than one computer

You must read backed-up data created with a DVD-RAM drive with another DVD-RAM drive

Creating your own DVD videos for playback with older DVD set-top players





DVD+RW media is promoted as being the most compatible format for use with older players.

Low-cost permanent DVD data backups for use with other DVD drives



USB 2.0 or IEEE-1394 (Firewire) if you have more than one computer

Buy media on spindles to reduce cost per disc; DVD+R/RW offers faster writing times

Drag-and-drop file copying to DVD media with Windows Explorer




DVD+RW is a much better choice because it can be formatted much more quickly so its ready for use in just a minute or two

As you can see from this table, for most cases, DVD+R/RW is the best choice, followed by DVD-R/RW and then DVD-RAM. If you intend to purchase a single format drive, then I would definitely recommend a DVD+R/RW model. Fortunately, you can now select drives which support both DVD+R/RW and DVD-+R/RW as well as CD-R/RW media. Sony, which is one of the pioneers of the DVD+RW Alliance, has developed two drives that enable you to use your choice of any of the available formats:

  • Choose the DRU-500AX drive if you want an internal ATA/IDE drive to save money
  • Choose the DRX-500ULX if you want an external USB 2.0/IEEE-1394 (Firewire, which Sony refers to as i.Link) drive you can move between computers

Note that all of the DVD+R/RW or DVD-R/RW drives can also read and write CD-R/RW media as well. This means they can essentially replace your current CD-RW drive while offering the additional capability of DVD recording.

Making Sure Youre Ready for the Rewriteable DVD Drive of Your Choice

Before you buy any rewriteable DVD drive, use the following checklist to make sure youre ready to have a smooth transition to the world of bigger, better rewriteable drives.


Find out if the software you prefer supports the new drive. All DVD plus and minus drives come with a broad range of software, but in most cases, vendors are bundling lesser-known (and sometimes less powerful) CD/DVD mastering programs instead of Roxios Easy CD and DVD Creator (version 6) or Aheads Nero Burning ROM. If you prefer Easy CD and DVD Creator http://www.roxio.com or Nero http://www.nero.com, check the vendors website for program updates (especially if you use Nero or Easy CD Creator, version 5). Otherwise, you might be forced to learn a new program you might not like as well, simply because it works with your drive.


Make sure you have a fast connection for your drive. If youre replacing an existing internal CD-RW, DVD-ROM, or CD-ROM drive, you can swap a new ATA/IDE-connection rewriteable DVD drive for the old one. Just use the same power connector and set the Master/Slave/Cable Select jumper the same way it was on the old drive. You wont even need to change the data cable, and the existing patch cables for sending analog or digital CD music to your sound card will probably also work with the new drive.

However, if you want the extra flexibility of an external drive, dont even think about using a USB 1.1 port for the connection. While the drive will work with this slower member of the USB family, the read and write/rewrite performance will be painfully slow. Add a USB 2.0 or IEEE-1394 (Firewire) port to your computer if you dont have one, and youll get the performance you need.


Get the details about the software packaged with the drive(s) if youre considering more than one model and you want to use the software packaged with the drive. The version number and features might sway you towards selecting one drive over the other. If the drive is packaged with basic (so-called "special edition") software that lacks some features you want, contact the software vendor to find out if upgrades are available and what they cost.


Check the drive vendors website before you buy for details about technical support. Some critical issues to look for include firmware updates and updates to bundled software. A drives firmware is similar to a system BIOS chip; updates can help the drive work better with newer types of media or overcome drive or software bugs. However, some firmware updates require more steps than others. Look for drives which offer straightforward and simple-to-perform firmware updates. Since a firmware update that fails will turn your drive into an expensive paperweight, you dont want to have any problems with this process.


Check operating system support. If you use Windows 98SE or later, youll have no problems using your new DVD drive, but the original versions of Windows 98 and any Windows 95 release dont support DVD devices. If youre not in a position to upgrade to a supported Windows version right now, stick with CD-RW until you can get a newer version of Windows.

For Additional Information:

DVD+RW Drive Vendors DVD-RW Drive Vendor:
Memorex: http://www.memorex.com Pioneer: http://www.pioneerelectronics.com
Sony: http://www.sonystyle.com
HP: http://www.hp.com Dual-format Drive Vendor:
TDK: http://www.tdk.com Sony: http://www.sonystyle.com

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