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Michelle Manafy

synopsis: All in all, TEAC's latest entry in the CD-R/RW race runs like a workhorse. While BURN-Proof assures a lack of wasted discs, it reins in the new drive's gains in speed, and should be used advisedly. The TEAC CD-W516E's bundle leaves some room for improvement, despite its wise choice of Roxio as its bundle-mate. However, the ease of installation and useful manual do move this drive ahead of the pack.

price: $279

TEAC America
Data Storage Division Headquarters
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, CA 90640
Fax 323/727-7672

691 South Milpitas Boulevard
Milpitas, CA 95035
800/442-7274, 408/945-8600
Fax 408/262-2533

Sanyo Corporation
900 N. Arlington Heights Road
Suite 300
Itasaca, IL 60143
Fax 630/775-0044

July 2001 | I recently initiated my 66-year-old father-in-law to the pleasures and perils of CD-burning. He was, in theory, familiar with the concept, if only through his scanning of EMedia's pages for my byline. However, the reality of using a CD to accomplish what his trusty 5 1/4-inch floppies did clearly stunned him. After a few tutorials, he got the hang of the process and grew to appreciate the astronomical increase in capacity, but one thing I could not convince him of was that CD-R discs are disposable. I pointed out how cheap they are and tried an analogy: "Tom, think of it like a zip-lock bag," I said. "You wouldn't reuse a zip-lock, would you?" "Yes," he replied straight-faced, "wouldn't you?"

Obviously, we come to the CD-writing table with entirely different expectations. I want something fast, cheap, and convenient. Tom, on the other hand, likes all that, but above all he wants to get the most for his money and create a perfect disc every time: waste not, want not. So it goes, as drive speeds steadily climb, there is a group of users out there whose priorities haven't changed: They want something that pops in and out of any computer and works, period.

While it is widely accepted that 1.44MB 3 1/2-inch floppy disks (much less 800K 5 1/4s) no longer meet capacity demands, a multitude of formats vie for the universal acceptance they enjoyed. Yes, consumers have grown accustomed to CDs, due in no small part to the fact that almost all software is delivered on disc these days, but do they feel that CDs have the ease and ever-important reliability that magnetic media provided? While CD-burning technology has not yet reached the comforting invisibility achieved by magnetic disks, BURN-Proof has arguably allowed it to take a step in that direction.

Speed might be of the essence, but there's nothing quite like a sure thing. Despite the wind-in-your-hair feeling that racing along at 16X provides, it can't compare to the buzzkill that follows when a buffer underrun causes your session to jerk to a halt. And while there are times when getting the disc burned in five minutes or less might make all the difference, there are undoubtedly other times when getting the disc burned right the first time is all that matters.

In the past, one of the primary problems in increasing CD write speeds was buffer underrun. However, on its latest 16x10x40 drive, TEAC proudly proclaims that it "Prevents Buffer Underruns." This is no small claim to the Toms of the world who long for each and every burn to work successfully. TEAC's bold claim is made possible by the inclusion of Sanyo's BURN-Proof technology in the CD-W516E. [See sidebar in Bennett's 12X CD-R/RW Drive Roundup, March 2001, p. 56–Ed.]

up and burning

TEAC made a wise choice in its inclusion of BURN-Proof and also in choosing Roxio as its bundle-mate. But the bundle itself is nothing but perfunctory, including the unremarkable-looking TEAC CD-W516E internal IDE CD-R/RW drive, a basic OEM edition of Easy CD Creator 5, one TEAC CD-R disc, one TEAC CD-RW disc, interface and audio cables, and a user's manual.

I'm a fan of paper users' manuals and can affirm that TEAC did a fine job with this one. The directions were clear, the pictures were useful and accurate to the set-up process, and hardware installation went remarkably smoothly, taking only a matter of minutes. One note about the manual: It specifically states that the drive should be configured as the slave to an existing CD or DVD-ROM drive, but the factory setting on the jumper was in the master position.

Software installation was also a breeze, though my setup presented TEAC with an unforeseen scenario: I already had the platinum version of Easy CD Creator 5 installed on my 300mHz Pentium II machine (128MB of PC 133 RAM). The manual provided no guidance on how to get my computer to recognize the drive; in fact, it suffers from the complete omission of a troubleshooting section. I feel confident that a trip to Roxio's Web site would have solved the problem, but assuming that having superior software already installed is not a problem most consumers would have, I uninstalled my version and installed the provided basic edition. My PC immediately recognized the drive, and software and drive functioned without fail.

basically good

It is possible consumers wouldn't miss what they don't know they don't have, but the stripped-down version of Easy CD Creator 5 continues to lack–like previous OEM editions–a few of CD-R's most popular features. Most notable for the consumer set were the MP3 and SoundStream options; for the business set, Roxio's Take Two three-step backup program was left out. The fact that these disabled features and others are present on the Easy CD Creator menus, but only in that eerie, grayed-out ghost of software's future way, just makes one long for the full-featured version–clearly Roxio's intention. Clicking anywhere near one of these omitted features results in a swell sales pitch for the upgrade, which is probably worth the $79 for any serious audio burner and anyone longing for these Roxio gems. For those looking to use their burner as removable storage and to burn the occasional audio disc, the basic edition is quite sufficient.

the business of burning

I came into the CD-burning game in the 8X round, so I don't have a 1X perspective. As such, anything slower than 8X strikes me as painfully slow. But I also came into this with a wealth of written and human resources available to provide me with the wisdom that, to avoid burning coasters and to maximize burn speeds, I should limit my computer's activities to nothing more taxing than the act of burning itself. With the vaunted BURN-Proof technology in place, however, I felt I could take hitherto unknown liberties with my computer while burning: I took notes on my computer and took screen shots (pasting them into Paint) while performing my first test. That's right, I had not one but two computer programs running at the same time I burned a 636MB disc. And I must say the drive did pretty well, performing at just over 12X.

This, however, is not the most that I might demand of my computer, so I opened and closed programs and files at a dizzying speed, filling the machine with as many ghosts as I could summon. Then, I popped in another 16X-certified disc and tried again, this time with AutoCAD rendering a file in the background. The sound of BURN-Proof pulsing the TEAC drive on and off was about as comforting as that of the dentist's drill. And though I had to endure the first 4X burn of my CD-R career, I successfully produced a 694MB data CD, readable in my myriad CD devices.

For digital audio extraction, performance varied from 8X to 16X, which in terms of a single track is really only a matter of seconds. Making a music disc with Easy CD Creator is a simple affair, though again I missed some of the features offered in the Platinum edition. The disc played back in all of the computer, audio, and portable CD-playback devices in which it was tested. The most disappointing aspect of creating this disc was in the slow burn speed, 8X, which was likely a result of leaving the BURN-Proof option on. A copy of that disc, made with Roxio's CD Copier function with buffer-underrun production on, was produced at 12X and was also perfectly playable.

burning without a net

If BURN-Proof is guilty of anything, it's erring on the side of caution. But caution, or at least an overwhelming need for certainty of burning success, is what compels consumers to desire the security of buffer-underrun protection that BURN-Proof provides. However, in order to prove that the TEAC CD-W516E could live up to its 16X claim, I had to forgo the safety net and burn a couple of discs with buffer-underrun protection off.

Where this kind of speed really comes into its own is with applications like DirectCD, included with the basic bundled Easy CD Creator. At this speed, and with the comfort of BURN-Proof, dragging and dropping files while working in other programs seems perfectly natural. I named and formatted a disc in about a minute and a half and then, while running memory-intensive Adobe PhotoShop, I opened, saved, and copied several images to the disc, averaging about 12X speed. The speed at which drives move today closely approximates the familiar experience of dragging and dropping files into different areas of a network or onto other removable media.

While CD-RW might be desirous of this role in the optical camp, its acceptance has been wanting. The price of the discs and their marginal place in terms of archiving (even for incremental archiving, one rarely needs to rewrite) has prevented them from surpassing DirectCD-written CD-Rs in usability. And though CD-RW write speeds have improved over the years, they still fall nearly 40% short of their CD-R counterparts–a differential that will only increase as CD-R speeds accelerate to 20X and 24X. While the TEAC CD-W516E performs its rewriting tasks at 10X, speed itself does not succeed in increasing my enthusiasm for CD-RW in general (TEAC's previous generation of CD-R drives also offered 10X rewrite).

The TEAC CD-W516E also boasts a 40X Max read speed, which more than suffices for most uses, including less-demanding games. However, most users considering this drive as an internal add-on probably have a faster CD-ROM drive already installed for applications like gaming or accessing multimedia CD-ROMs.

All in all, TEAC's latest entry in the CD-R/RW race runs like a workhorse. While BURN-Proof assures a lack of wasted discs, it reins in the new drive's gains in speed, which makes it a tool that should be used with caution. The TEAC CD-W516E's bundle leaves some room for improvement, but the ease and speed of installation move it ahead of the pack.

Michelle Manafy is associate editor of EMedia Magazine.

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