Advantages Good value, space saving, can be made multi-region
Disadvantages Not a DVD-burner, but very little else at this price
|Memory / capacity|
|Ease of Installation|
|Ease of use|
I’m currently helping a colleague out by constructing a faster PC for him, as his existing one is creaking a bit, or so his son tells him!My instructions were:-
a) only if it’s not too much trouble (Me? A chance to tinker with a PC, are you kidding?)
b) don’t spend a lot (OK, how does £39 sound?)
Ever one to spot an opportunity to upgrade something of my own, I fitted the separate DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives from my ‘second best’ PC into the Dell, thereby uplifting the facilities of my friend’s computing from a mere CD-ROM to the ability to watch movies and burn CDs in one fell swoop.Before you get the impression that I’ve gone totally soft, giving my PC bits away, I then bought a new all-in-one drive for my own PC – that’s where the £39 comes!
LITEON SOH-5232K**There is also a KX version, which is external, with its own case and connections.
This is what is known as a DVD/CD-RW ‘Combo’ Drive, that is to say that it will perform as a DVD-ROM and well as being a ‘CD Burner’. Of course, unlike the outgoing duet of bits, it can’t do them both at the same time, but I really can’t remember when I needed to do that. Watching a movie, for instance, is so hungry for PC resource, that it would not be a good idea to try burning a CD at the same time anyway. Note: This is NOT a DVD Burner – these are still costing quite a bit more than £39, although the gap is closing – the latest LG brand machine which burns all three formats (DVD-R, DVD+R & DVD-RAM) can now be had for £98.Initial perusal of the newly delivered kit reveals an unremarkable ivory-cream front plate (although I think a black option can be had). What is remarkable about the case is its apparent shortness, being only 17 cm in depth. Not only is this drive saving me a drive bay, but it would be highly suited to the newer ‘mini’ desktop cases with less drive bays, since it accomplishes a lot in its small space; a more expensive DVD-burner being the only worthwhile upgrade to this.
The kit, as delivered from www.dabs.com, is the full retail version, which if you consider the £35 price tag (plus £4 handling and postage), is not at all bad, and there’s certainly enough to get you going.Along with a copy of Nero Express CD burning software, which, you are warned, is only for installation with the supplied machine, you also get a copy of Cyberlink’s PowerDVD, a software-based movie player.
The supplied disks also contain a copy of the MS-DOS utilities, which you copy to a ‘boot floppy’ in case you need to get a CD-ROM running at start-up. This may be a precaution worth taking should you ever need to install Windows again from scratch – after all, it’s on CD, and normally, the CD-ROM drive is only recognised AFTER Windows is running, so you could find yourself in a ‘Catch-22 moment’, with a blank C:\ drive, and no way of configuring it. Don’t panic, most newish PCs allow for booting up from the CD-ROM drive, but if you don’t know how to access the machine’s BIOS (that’s the screen where you can set the clock and tell if your hard drives are connected amongst other things) on boot-up, you could find yourself out in the cold. I’ve been thankful for that floppy on more than one occasion!MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS
According to the Owner’s Manual, nestled on the Nero Express disk, this drive needs to be fitted at the very least into a Pentium 166mhz machine with 32mbytes of RAM and 100mbytes of spare disk space. Anything newer than, and including, Windows 95 will do, as far as operating systems go.However, if you want to be able to play movies, then the PowerDVD software is a little more exacting. For a start you need to be running the Second Edition of Windows 98, or ME, or 2000 or XP. As per usual, users of Linux and Windows NT need to find their own salvation, but having had some Linux experience, you get used to that!
Your PC needs to be a Pentium Type II, 350mhz with 64Mbytes of RAM and 40 more Mbytes of disk space. I know this for a fact, because the machine I’m building (which is where I came in) IS a Pentium II 350mhz machine, and it will begrudgingly play movies, if a little jerkily, using PowerDVD.FITTING
As well as the bare drive, you get screws (whooooppeee!), and an audio cable for connecting the machine to your sound card via a standard four-pin plug. Don’t do my usual trick, which is to forget this until the first time you try to play a CD, and wonder why it’s silent. This lead is usually the most fiddly to fit being tucked into the murky depths of your PC case, and you really need to make it the FIRST one to be connected, before the IDE ribbon and power cables go on.There isn’t much know-how needed to fit one of these, especially if you are taking out an older unit – basically, you just reverse the process of disconnection, only with the new drive in place. Even if you have never done this before, I’d say the Quick-Install instructions are still up to the task. You need to know your ‘masters’ from your ‘slaves’ though, as you can have two drives per cable these days, as long as they don’t clash. Don’t worry, changing a drive's status is easy to fix by moving a little plastic and wire link called a ‘jumper’. Long fingernails or thin-nosed pliers are a boon here. The rear of the drive is etched with a diagram of ‘what to plug where’ anyway, and this includes the jumper positions.
Even the retail packaging has a repeat of these set-up instructions on the back for the really impatient!OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
If you already have CD Burning software that you are happy with, and my Easy CD Creator 5 is a good example, you may find yourself with software that’s never heard of the hardware, especially if it’s a latest model. Sites like Roxio’s for the Easy CD Creator carry updates, which hopefully will fix that problem. (It did).One other small point; the Roxio software, and possibly others, requires that you carry out system tests so that it can tell how fast the drive is, mainly at downloading data or music. Without this, the system runs very cautiously, thereby wasting all that ‘precious’ time saved by your new sooper-dooper hi-speed burner.
Like all other recent machines capable of playing DVD movies, Windows allows you to change the DVD Region 5 times before locking onto the last choice. This is known as RPC-2 and would appear to be yet another plot by Microsoft/The Movie Industry to stop you buying DVDs from outside of your own Region.In theory, and having used up your 5 ‘lives’, it is possible to get the vendor to reset this by returning the kit to base, and it’s likely to be a particular nuisance to those with DVD collections sporting a mixture of imports and home grown disks. Even the vendor is limited to 4 resets of the 5 choices, leaving the machine practically unusable after 20 regions have been swapped……..or SO they’d like you to think.
I downloaded a natty little utility purposely written for LiteOn machines called LTNRPC which comes in a zip file from www.rpc1.org. This not only allows you to reset the number of regional changes back to 5 every time it gets close to zero, (which in turn uses up one your precious ‘vendor resets’) but also allows you to regain the full number of vendor resets too! It does has a facility for making the DVD player ‘Region Free’, but this can create problems with certain Region 1 DVDs which have been given a ‘stronger’ encoding to prevent people like me from buying where I like.If this all sounds a bit dodgy, ask yourself, how dodgy it is for the movie industry to carve the world up and tell us where we can and can’t buy movies from, AND to manipulate the price while they’re at it. Whatever happened to that ‘free trade’ that the U.S Government is always banging on about?
IN USEThis really is a quiet unit. As it ‘revs’ up to its full 52X CD read speed, there’s no discernable vibration at all, just a whistle of the wind as the CD travels at goodness-knows how many RPM. Let’s see, a single speed disk, an audio CD for example, rotates at around 300 rpm, so nearly 16,000 seem about right! Of course, cheaper media might not be so well balanced as a branded disk. Having said that, most of my CD-Rs are ‘cheapies’ at around 25p each and they seem OK too, which is just as well, as taking them all off to Kwik-Fit for wheel-balancing is not an option!
Thanks to two other electronic features built-in to the LiteON, these being Smart-X and Smart-Burn, not only will the machine recalibrate itself on the fly for accurate yet optimum ‘read’ speeds, but also, that dreaded former creator of beer mats, ‘buffer under-run’, is largely eliminated, ironically coinciding with CD-R media now being dirt cheap. Pity they couldn’t have come up with this years ago when the blanks were expensive.CD writing is fast, maybe not at the maximum 52 times, since it would appear that the cheaper the media you use, the slower it goes, but even then, burning a 25p disk at 16 times normal speed is pretty damned quick. If you must buy ‘ultra-speed’ media at a premium price just to see if it can run as 52x, then that’s up to you. Maybe your time really IS money.
TWIDDLY BITSThe DVD section won’t handle the DVD-RAM format, which is a nuisance since my TV recorder uses this mode, but never mind, my other machine will. Apart from that, it handles just about anything else, including oddities like CD-Karaoke. Pity, that really, I was rather hoping it didn’t.
According to the www.liteonit.com web site, the machine is designed to minimise heat output, which is also important for anyone putting this into a compact PC case.Heat dissipation is becoming a real issue, and for your own sanity, sticking an extra fan inside is not to be recommended. My next ‘upgrade’ project is going to be in the field of ‘hushing’ my PCs where possible, after all, if they ARE poised to become the centre of a complete home entertainment network acting as a music juke-box and TV tuner/recorder as well as plain old PC duties, then the last thing you want in the lounge is fan and disk noise.
CONCLUSIONA great bit of kit at a good price. £35 plus carriage. I just bought a LiteON DVD ROM as well, and that was only £10 cheaper, so effectively, I guess you could say that the CD burner section of this drive only costs £10!
Space saving, where this matters. Only 17 cm deep, which is about 5 shorter than ‘normal’. Saves a drive bay compared to separate DVD and CD-RW drives, and saves space (depth-wise)Fast, but not necessarily at 52x normal speed – depends on quality of blank media being used.
LiteOn brand drives can be made ‘multi-region’ quite easily – just type ‘LTNRPC.EXE’ into Google and follow a link to a free download site. In upgrading, I’ve made sure that each of my three PCs now has at least one LiteOn DVD drive of one kind or another for this reason.You’ll have to start BUYING beer mats now!
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