I love the product reviews on sites like Tom’s Hardware, Ars Technica and AnandTech
There is something irrationally satisfying about getting a lot of details and test results on a product that, more likely than not, I will never use. So I’ve decided to write a hardware product review. However this will not be one of those long, drawn out reviews where you have to click through dozens of pages. That isn’t why you come to StorageMojo. At least I hope it isn’t, since you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Upgrading the corporate mainframe
Technically, it is the LLC mainframe. Which, despite being oodles more powerful than the VAX 11/780 (5 MHz 32-bit processor, 2 MB RAM, 13.3 MB/sec system bus, $185,000) I started out selling back in 1981, looks like a notebook computer. It is also the StorageMojo labs test system.

Lab testbed configuration
OK, it is a notebook computer. A MacBook 2 GHZ Core Duo with 2 GB of RAM (the max), a 120 GB SATA 2.5″ drive, single layer DVD burner, external 22″ DVI LCD monitor (yes, DVI is noticeably better than VGA), sitting on a laptop stand with two USB powered fans for cooling, running Mac OS 10.4.8.

I recently added a combo external drive enclosure, a cute Newer Technology miniStack V2, a quiet box about the size of 4 CD jewel cases with a 160 GB PATA drive and a 3 port USB2 hub and a 2 port FireWire hub. BTW, 400 Mb/s FireWire is noticeably faster than 480 Mb/s USB2. Weird, huh?

The test product: Samsung LightScribe 18X Super-WriteMaster Double Layer DVD+RW IDE/ATAPI Drive
I decided to blow the StorageMojo annual lab budget ($35) on this baby because I hadn’t seen a LightScribe enabled DVD burner for such a low price. I picked it up at Microcenter.com, the online presence of the Micro Center stores. Also, I wanted a dual-layer DVD burner for some reason. In the Mac world, the Panasonic drives that Apple uses seem to be most popular and most expensive.

Lightscribe enables your disk burner to inscribe a monochrome label on a lightscribe writable CD or DVD. I understand it is a slow process – 20 minutes per disk – but it gives more professional results than the Sharpie I usually use. It also cost just $5 more than the non-LightScribe version of the same Samsung drive. So, WTH!

Always read the specs
The Micro Center website was clear about this drive:

Supported Windows Operating Systems: Microsoft Windows 98se, ME, 2000, XP

No Mac support promised, by them or Samsung. It can get lonely, here on Planet Mac.

It took two business days for the drive to arrive using the cheapest delivery. Opened the box, and there, nestled in the bio-degradable foam chips, a plastic bag held the bare drive, along with a sheet of instructions in 17 languages, a solitary CD containing six Nero “softwares” including Express, BackItUp, Showtime and Lightscribe – all for Windows – and four screws.

I’d had a Plumax 5.25″ combo FireWire/USB 2.0 enclosure kicking around for just such an occasion. I took it apart, found three internal connectors – power, PATA, audio – and connected them up. Tip, start with the big one. The connectors are all different and keyed, so it is hard to get them wrong.

Then screw the case onto the drive. Put the top on, connect power and FireWire, hit the power switch and do the smoke test. Passed!

Integration of unsupported OEM device with Mac OS X
Now came the part I’d been waiting for. Would this $35 unsupported drive (+ $30 for the case – try Mwave.com) work? After all, obtaining and installing drivers is one of the joys of Windows maintenance. This beast has no Mac drivers.

Brought up iTunes. Put in a CD of Al Green Is Love/Full of Fire, two LPs on one CD, to rip. A long pause. Was it going to CDDB for track names or unsupported device hell? Turned out to be CDDB. Ripped about 40% faster than the internal Mac drive, peaking at 16x, even though the specs say 48x reading, and the Core Duo wasn’t max’d.

Now for CD burning
Cued up my latest mix, a mind-expanding brew of Jack Johnson, Fela Kuti, Kentucky Headhunters, Peter Green, Freddie King, Radio Dogma, Traffic and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Hit “Burn” and after asking me if I wanted to use the internal or external drive, burn it did. Twice as fast as the internal burner. Three minutes for 78 minutes of music. Not 48x, but what StorageMojo reader believes storage specs anyway? See Lies, Damned Lies and Storage Performance for a thorough debunking.

DVD-R burn test
Created a Burn Folder on my external USB 2.0 drive of about 3.5 GB and 7,000 files. Selected the folder, hit “Burn” and away it went. Took about 15 minutes, which may partly be due to USB 2.0 hard drive. Also, it only does 8x on DVD-R media.

LightScribe and dual-layer burning
Didn’t test those: no LightScribe or dual-layer dvd. LightScribe software for the Mac is readily available on the web – just search “lightscribe mac” on Google.

I have no reason to doubt that dual-layer burning will work just as well as everything else has with this “unsupported” drive. I will test both and update this post later.

The StorageMojo take
One Mac tagline is “it just works.” That is certainly true in this case. While I tested only one of many DVD burners, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t also true of other ATAPI burners.

I’m a fan of Samsung products in general and the LightScribe 18X Super-WriteMaster Double Layer DVD+RW IDE/ATAPI Drive has again confirmed that they produce good kit at good prices. The ease of “integrating” this unsupported drive with the Mac OS points to the good work of the Mac OS X engineering team and the fine folks at the the IEEE 1394 committee.

If you are still paying Symantec for lame virus-protection, you might ask yourself why. The Intel Macs are great machines, run Windows if need be, and can take advantage of geek toys like cheap OEM DVD burners.

Comments welcome, as always. Moderation turned on because moderation is a virtue, except in the defense of liberty.

Update on Microcenter’s service: I ordered two items – another storage product, natch – and only the DVD burner arrived in the box. I thought maybe they shipped from differentl places, but after a week I realized they hadn’t. Called Microcenter, told them the problem, they said no problem, and a few hours later I got the ship notice for the second product. No hassle. Kudos to Microcenter for fixing a mistake so painlessly.