OWC Pioneer DVR-109 DVD Drive
Company: Other World Computing
If you’ve got an older Mac or a lower-end newer Mac you may be looking at iDVD and thinking “I sure would like to use iDVD but I’ve got a combo drive!” Or perhaps you just happen to be one of those people who just have to have the maximum performance from your computer’s drive. In either case you’re not stuck buying a new machine to get that DVD burning capability. Well you’re not stuck if you’ve got around eighty bucks and a screwdriver lying about.
To increase the utility and functionality of your Mac (and I suppose Windows box) all you need to do, in theory, is add Other World Computing’s Pioneer DVR-109 drive. The drive features specifications beyond the abilities of drives currently shipping in Macs so a look at the features is in order. What you get with the DVR-109 Dual layer DVD Recordable Drive is as follows:
6x DVD+R DL – Dual Layer
6x DVD-R DL – Dual Layer
All that babble adds up to one thing: the drive is much faster and more capable than the drives shipping in all but the very latest Macs.
With the stated capabilities duly listed the time is right to review the dive in earnest. To really give the drive a true test (lie coming up) I deleted every bit of my data and installed the drive and then reinstalled the system using the new drive. All this (lie alert!) just for the benefit of the legions of MyMac.com readers.*
The best place to begin is with the installation. If you know your way around the guts of your machine you won’t need any help. If you’re part of the majority who only open the machine for the occasional pass with an air can or to jam a memory stick or two it is probably a good idea to review the instructions before beginning. At this point you might whip out the directions included with the drive and be sorely disappointed to find that they are just a repackage of the very generic, mostly useless directions from Pioneer. Belay that disappointment matey! Turns out that there are excellent instructions, specific to any particular Mac, to be found on OWC’s web site. I swapped the drive without referring to the instructions (it is my personal goal to never read instructions again) and found the process, while not terribly challenging, a decidedly unpleasant experience. When I discovered OWC’s online instructions I was chagrined to find their method was much easier.
After the drive was fully installed I went about the business of installing a fresh copy of Panther. This, I surmised, was a test of interest to folks who might be replacing a non-working drive. The installation went flawlessly, a few disk swaps and a reboot later I was happily computing. To further test the drive I decided to copy my iTunes library from my G5 to the G4 and then copy it once again. The results were impressive, the G5 took some seven minutes and thirty seconds to write the DVD. I then transferred the data to the G4. The drive reads DVD discs at 12X but without knowing what X is it was difficult for me to say if it seemed to be a speedy or lamentably slow process. All I can really say is that the process was not long enough for me to become annoyed by the wait. Then it came time to burn the 2 gigs back to a DVD using the test system and here things get interesting.
The rub is that the drive is not fully Mac OS X compatible. Obviously there is some compatibility, I got the system loaded for example, but when it came to burning something the process seemed hopeless. I’d stick the disc in and the finder would pop open asking me what I wanted to do. I’d say “burn a DVD” which really didn’t help because I don’t have voice recognition on that computer. After establishing that the new drive did not turn my computer into something from Star Trek I started clicking things and further instructing the computer. Like the quick growing Bradford Pear all my attempts were fruitless. Hours of frustration resulted in a visit to OWC’s website. There it was revealed that if I installed a donation ware patch called PatchBurn 3 my problems would be over. Once installed the drive functioned as expected burning the 2 gigabytes of data in 4 minutes and nine seconds. That is fairly impressive performance but probably not all the drive is actually capable of. The drive can supposedly burn a full DVD (4.7GB) in about 7 minutes (the time it took the G5 to burn 2 GBs) so I suspect the G4 is the bottleneck. Sure the processor has been upgraded from the original 400 MHz to a full Gigahertz (with an OWC Mercury upgrade card) but there are system bus and other issues. In short the computer probably throttled the performance of the drive your mileage may vary.
For those of you interested in the dual layer burning capabilities (that is you want to cram fairly large 8.5 Gigs of data on the media) you’ll need to resort to using a third party program unless you have upgraded to Tiger**. OWC realizes this and all packages come with a copy of DragonBurn to allow you to burn both layers. The program unquestionably works (there are other programs that feature similar functionality) but, and this is no reflection on OWC, it would be nice if you could pull it off without resorting to a third party application.
So, in the end, how does the DVR-109 fare? Well the drive is certainly fast, so if speed is your need you’re all set. The price of entry is almost insignificant, you’ll pay more for a copy of iLife and, while I made it harder than it needed to be, installation on a G4 is pretty straightforward. On the negative side we have the necessary use of a patch (I couldn’t get DragonBurn to work without it), the use of third party programs for full functionality and the fact that you have to physically install the thing rather than just use Firewire. Sure the installation isn’t difficult but an installed drive can be used with one computer a FireWire drive can travel with you. Since the issue of physical installation has been raised it should be noted that OWC also offers a FireWire drive with identical specs for a few more ducats.
MyMac Rating 3.5 out of 5
Pros: very fast, can store large amounts of data on a single disc.
Cons: not fully Mac compatible out of the box
*Okay, that’s not really they way it went down. I have two hard drives installed on my G4 Sawtooth. On the second drive I had the operating system while the first drive was completely empty. When I installed the DVR-109 I opened the case beyond 90 degrees. This created a tug on the connectors for the second hard drive. When I closed the machine (naturally) the second drive and my operating system were gone. No biggie, I figured it had something to do with the new burner and thought myself a clever reviewer for a little while.
**This review was conducted using Panther. The use of third party programs or plug-ins may not be required when using Tiger from the website I was unable to ascertain if anything had changed with the release of Tiger.