LiteOn 16x DVD/RW SOHW-1633S Dual Layer

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, January 2005, send e-mail
Manufactured by: Lite-On Inc., go to the web site
Requires: Available internal IDE connection, Windows 98SE or higher
MSRP: $69.99

Seventy bucks for a 16x DVD-RW optical drive? Does it even work? It's too inexpensive and it has to be junk, right? Wrong! Lite-On, just like all the other optical drive makers, has figured out the 'magic' formula for cost effective mass production of all the components which go into good quality optical drives. As a matter of fact, the big computer and electronics discounters sell this drive for a few dollars less than list price (and ain't that just good for us all!). With hard drives getting larger almost every month, our backup capacity needs have to increase correspondingly. With the pervasiveness of DVD video and DVD players in general, sharing everything from home movies to data files of all sorts is the most common sort of occurrence too. Did I mention that most decent quality DVD recordable media is now almost competitively priced with CD media? It's true. Economical, high speed DVD recording is here.

Installing these drives is pure simplicity these days. For the benefit of novices, all you have to do is attach a couple of mounting rails, set the master/slave jumper, slide the drive into an empty bay, then connect the IDE, audio and power cables. We checked for firmware updates on the Lite-On web site but the drive was already running the latest version.

Rated speeds for the drive are:

  • CD-ROM: 48x
  • CD-R: 48x
  • CD-RW: 24x
  • DVD-ROM: 16x
  • DVD+/-R: 16x
  • DVD+/-RW: 4x
  • DVD-R DL: 2.4x

The drive supports the following disc formats:

  • CD-ROM
  • CD-R
  • CD-RW
  • DVD-R
  • DVD+R
  • DVD+R Dual Layer (DL)
  • DVD-RW
  • DVD+RW
  • CD-ROM
  • CD-Rom XA Mode 1 & 2
  • CD-Text, Photo CD
  • Single session, Multi Session
  • CD-DA (Audio)
  • CD-Extra

During the course of using the drive for recurring day-to-day tasks, I made sure that all recordings consisted of full discs in order to provide speed and recording time results that could be fairly compared to the results from other drives. I kept a running record of speeds and timings using Nero v6.6. Recording times averaged out quite well over about a month of almost daily use, but the 2.4x recording speed for dual layer discs remains a disappointment and can really turn DL backup tasks into a chore. All other recording times looked very good and for the most part compared very favorably to our other 16x drives. For example, our new-ish Sony DRU-710A does CD-Rs in 3:15, a full 35 seconds slower than the Lite-On. On the other hand, the Sony will do a DVD+RW in about 10:15, more than two minutes faster the Lite-On. We also compared our LG Electronics Super-Multi GSA-4160B which was much slower than the Lite-On in every format. We also have a Pioneer DVR-A08XLA that we regularly use to create presentation CDs and DVDs. The Pioneer costs $50-$60 more and has an abysmal 4:05 CD-R recording time (1:25 slower than the Lite-On) and a DVD+R recording time of 6:45 which is a full 1:10 slower than the Lite-On. We clocked the following recording times:

  • DVD-R (single layer): 8:45
  • DVD+R (single layer): 5:35
  • DVD+R DL (dual layer): 44:00
  • DVD+RW: 12:35
  • DVD-RW: 13:25
  • CD-RW: 4:18
  • CD-R: 2:40

The drive is rated to write CD-R media at 48x maximum, rewrite Ultra-Speed CD-RW media at 24x maximum, and read CD-ROM media at 48x maximum. In use I had no problems writing CD-R consistently at or very near 48x when using most name brand media and discount media from Ritek. The best I could squeeze out of Maxell and TDK CD-RWs was 12x (usually fast enough for my purposes), with much better results (between 16x-22x) using Verbatim, Ritek and Memorex media. Straight data backup copying was another matter with consistently short recording times for full 4.7GB DVD+Rs using Maxell, TDK and Verbatim media.

Cons: Although 2x and 4x DVD media is cheap and plentiful, 8x, 12x and 16x media is expensive and scarce. That's unpleasant and we're really not sure why the lower speed inventory in the retail channels has been so poorly managed. The only reason that 8x, 12, and 16x media is scarce is that so much slower inventory remains to be sold. Fast recorders are all well and good, but remain needlessly frustrating because you can't take full advantage of them for lack of fast media. The drive is supplied with a single, analog audio cable that is not fitted with a locking tab. No digital audio cable is supplied. Both curious omissions make no sense in a drive this good. Some problems writing to Memorex Dual Layer discs, but other Memorex formats worked very well. Poor DL recording time is due to the only real drawback of this drive: DL recording speed is a pokey 2.4x.

Pros: Digital audio extraction works well and CD ripping is as fast as it gets without stepping up to one of the pricier Plextor drives. Analog audio connections are also clean, making CD listening an enjoyable experience. The drive is relatively quiet which also makes for a more enjoyable CD listening experience (your case or power supply fans are likely to be much louder than the Lite-On). This is mature technology and you might as well step into it while the manufacturers fight over the next set of high capacity recording standards (25GB Blu-Ray and HD-DVD). Backups are a breeze with Retrospect Backup, Nero BackItUp and any other backup utility which can make use of optical drives. No buffer underrun problems with Lite-On's SmartBurn technology. The bundled Nero Express v6.3 from Ahead Software is terrific. If you're looking for a DVD/RW drive that can outperform most of its competitors, this is it and the price is right. Highly recommended.

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