Iomega has a habit of launching new formats of its own before taking a while to catch up with what’s popular, open-ended and widely used. This is the case with its Super DVD range. However by including DVD-RAM support, Iomega keeps one eye out for the earliest adopters of rewriteable DVD, and can truly claim to be universal unlike the truckload of burners we’ve recently seen only supporting +/-R/W and not the caddy format.
You also need to take the time to sort out your USB cabling but it was good to finally have a USB 2.0 device to test with our Belkin PCI interface card. As you can imagine from the Iomega portable CD-RW we reviewed some time ago, the Super Drive is as portable as the average breeze block but even bricks don’t also need to be plugged into the mains, with a proprietary connector you’ll take ten minutes to install because although you get the pins to line up, you don’t want to force the plug in and risk bending them. Also the depth of the basic burner measures 240mm, but this extends to 370mm (or 14.25in) when you eject a disc, so the drive’s semi-permanent home needs a lot of clearance and swapping around with other items on your desk to fit in.
Once everything’s connected, much like installing a scanner, you load Iomega’s Hotburn software, connect the drive, it detects via USB 2.0 and you’re ready to go. Or rather we should say, if you have any hitches at all you’re directed to uninstall your existing burning software- and then you’re ready to go. This time Iomega’s chief program, Hotburn, is at least self-contained and installed without tray icon programs to slow up the testbed, unlike previous incarnations of its software. That’s not to say the other five utilities won’t leave behind icons you may want to turn off.
The Hotburn interface is intuitive enough for the casual user to guess-click their way around it. In case you feel like it’s doing too much handholding, you can switch back to a more Nero -style look, which copies Windows Explorer anyway. It’s annoying to be given the rounded-up file size figures, but then the program waits until you want to burn to warn you when the file size in Kilobytes breeches the limit. Again it’s up against three years of Nero simplicity when you’d simply look for a bar at the bottom of the screen. Remember this is the basic, enclosed package to let you create discs. The more enhanced features have to be enabled, after you click past the copyright disclaimers and warnings. To be fair, pros would already own a copy of Roxio Creator 7 Suite or Nero 6, patched to support this burner.
Performance ranged from satisfactory to slow, but that was exacerbated by one fact: No enclosed media in the box. Given that the machine supports all three formats, it was a surprise to not even receive the cheapest rewriteable of the three, a DVD+RW now sold in ten packs of £1.50 per disc in PC World’s seasonal offers. The Super Drive’s already a premium product by dint of being portable so another £5-10 on top and a blank in the box would have been good, even if the user may have had to do their own formatting. Let’s not forget we already had the USB 2.0 card as well, otherwise non-laptop users would need to fork out up to £20 more for the PCI board, or suffer USB 1.1 speed, which for DVD burning, we rejected given that CD would slow to 6-speed.
We’ll post further results as we continue testing but the Super Drive followed the usual better known brand=better speed pattern regarding media. As with most DVD Burners, fastest performance on fewest files was the order of the day, so big chunks of video or WAV audio took less time than discs full of non-sequential general data. As it’s there on your desk though, in a home environment, you could burn and carry on working or doing other things without any urgency. Those needing a true road warriors’ drive may prefer the smaller LaCie range as opposed to this workstation add-in.
To be fair to the Super DVD Writer, its bulk contributed to its quietness throughout testing, even when a mess of wires kept one of its rubber feet off my wooden table. Iomega couldn't resist one last hallmark- if you want Firewire connectivity instead, you need to buy a separate model entirely, whereas LaCie have been combining this ability for at least two years. It all depends on your requirements and whether you want entirely open options. The basic 400Mbits/sec Firewire has been affordable on PC for three years, so if you have it, then it's only a matter of seeing if there's a street price variation on either model before you make your choice. If you want it truly portable you'll pick LaCie but if you want all three rewritable formats in the one box to take from machine to machine, none of which you want to upgrade with a new internal burner, you can't entirely rule out either Super DVD Writer. Just remember the money for your own blanks and a USB 2.0 card as well if your machine is over two years old.