Tired of seeing the same old players participate in the solid state drive wars? If so, you'll be glad to know another warrior is entering the battlefield. That warrior is Lite-On, and come CES, the company that's perhaps best known for manufacturing affordable optical drives (dating back to when optical drives weren't necessarily affordable) will try its hand at making consumer grade SSDs.
Are you wondering whether it’s finally time to spring for a Blu-ray burner? Lite-On’s iHBS212 might provide the best argument yet for taking the plunge. That’s certainly the case if cost is a deciding factor. At $160, the iHBS212 is the least expensive Blu-ray burner we’ve tested yet. That’s $40 less than our Best of the Best pick, Plextor’s B940SA—a savings you could put toward the purchase of Blu-ray media. And the two drives have virtually identical write-speed ratings: 12x BD-R, 16x DVD+/-R, 8x DVD+/-R DL, to name a few key specs. In fact, it’s likely the drives contain identical parts, given that Lite-On and Plextor use the same manufacturing line.
But even drives produced on the same line can achieve differentiation by way of firmware and performance tweaks, as happens to be the case here. While Plextor’s drive is tuned to reach 12x BD-R write speeds with both Panasonic and Sony media, the Lite-On iHBS212 favors only the latter brand. When testing the iHBS212 with a Sony disc, the drive managed to write 22.5GB worth of data in 12:04 (min:sec). With a Verbatim disc, our standard for drive testing, the iHBS212 filled a single-layer BD-R in 23:12. Those numbers aren’t as impressive as Plextor’s 12x drive: 10:57 and 11:13 for Sony and Verbatim, respectively.
Lite-On’s iHAS424 is the first 24x DVD burner we’ve tested so far, and sadly, the experience doesn’t sell us on the speed bump. Currently, DVD+R media is capped at 16x speeds, but drive makers will nevertheless tweak their hardware to exceed that limit. Often such “over-speeding” techniques are restricted to higher-quality, name-brand media to ensure reliability—in Lite-On’s case that means DVD+R discs bearing the Taiyo Yuden brand. With anything else, you’re stuck at regular-ol’ 16x.
This was the caliber of performance we experienced in our tests, since we always use Verbatim media (manufactured by Mitsubishi) to evaluate optical drives. The iHAS424 filled a single-layer DVD+R disc in 5:53 (min:sec), with an average write speed of 11.66x. That’s more than a minute slower than Samsung’s SH-S223 22x drive (4:46), which happens to be tuned for Verbatim media, but not necessarily other brands (the upshot is that speed claims above 16x only apply to specific types of media). In DVD+R reads, the Lite-On and Samsung drives were more simpatico, with times of 4:56 and 4:55, respectively.
We suppose when your bread and butter is $35 optical drives, a faltering economy doesn't hit you as hard. Or so it would seem, based on Lite-On's performance in 2009.
The optical drive maker reported consolidated revenues up 2 percent sequentially and 32 percent on year to $303.1 million in December 2009. Ending the year on a high note, that was a best month for Lite-On in '09.
But it wasn't just low-priced optical drives that drove revenue up. The company also attributed the growth to increasing shipments of power supply and LED products, noting that the two segments grew 20 percent and 67 percent on year, respectively, in December.
Now that Lite-On is sharing the same drive manufacturing line as Plextor (not to mention Sony, HP, and Philips), you might wonder whether there is any difference between this 22x DVD burner and the Plextor PX-850SA 22x burner we reviewed in March. In fact, the two burners are virtually the same in terms of parts and mechanics, so differences really come down to the firmware each company uses and the tweaks and optimizations each makes to the final product.
The first thing we discovered is that Lite-On didn’t tweak this drive with an over-speed feature. So, like the Plextor PX-850SA, the burner stayed within the confines of the DVD+R media’s 16x rating, writing 4.38GB of data to a single-layer disc in 5:43 (min:sec). Samsung’s SH-S223, which can reach 20x-plus speeds when writing to 16x media, was almost a minute faster, at 4:46.
Earlier this week Lite-On announced a new line of internal DVD writers it says will be the fastest on the market with a 24X rated write speed. The new drives will come in three different versions, with all three sporting Lite-On's SmartErase data erasing feature. Lite-On's fastest model, the iHAS624, will be the only one to come with the company's LabelTag feature, which allows users to create label tags on the data side of the disc.
"PLDS is proud to manufacture the fastest 24X writers in the market, especially with included technologies such as LabelTag," said Christine Hsing, Marketing Manager at PLDS. "LabelTag provides a cost-effective and flexible method for professional disc labeling, a great solution for today’s busy professional, and people on-the-go."
Lite-On says that users can still add data after using its LabelTag technology, which works on any standard recordable media. Two of the drives -- the iHAP424 and iHAS624 -- will also support LightScribe.
The iHAS324 with SmartErase will be available in March, the iHAP424 with SmarErase and Lightscribe by the end of March, and the iHAS624 with SmartEarase, LightScribe, and LabelTag by mid-May. No word yet on pricing.
While Blu-ray continues to inch into living rooms amid lower prices, it won't be long until the high definition format becomes a mainstream feature in PCs, says Lite-On. The optical drive maker predicts 2009 as the year BD combo drives are a standard option in new PCs, with BD burners becoming commonplace by 2011.
By Lite-On's count, BD-ROM drives, BD combo drives, and BD burners are already showing signs of significant growth as the total number of global shipments has increased from 700,000 units in 2007 to 1.7 million in the first of 2008 alone.
But it all comes down to price, and OEMs will continue to charge between $100-$200 for BD combo drives in 2009, according to DigiTimes. Lite-On says the price of BD burners is expected to drop to between $50-$100 in 2011.
It doesn’t matter a lick to us that Blu-ray has prevailed in the high-def format war if the hardware remains expensive and uninspiring. We have to admit, we thought the tide was turning when we reviewed LG’s GGW-H20L Blu-ray burner back in December. That drive represented a dramatic price drop (falling to $500 from its predecessor’s $1,200 price tag in a matter of months—and now settled at $400 MSRP), and its 6x rating for BD-R media resulted in burn times we could actually live with (22.5GB in a little over 20 minutes).
Sadly, Lite On has not followed LG’s lead. Instead, they've released a drive that's made zero strides since its aged predecessor.
One of the most obvious differences between an external optical drive and its internal brethren is in appearance. A device that’s going to sit out in the open for anyone to see, after all, has to look the part. Lite-On’s latest EZ-Dub optical drive accomplishes this with a fashionable white and black aesthetic that would surely do Apple proud. It’s an update from the more staid look of the previous EZ-Dub model, which was also nearly two inches longer and a half-inch taller. As with the older model, this EZ-Dub comes with a stand, so you can set the drive on its side to save desktop space.
As far as Blu-ray burners go, Lite-On’s Triple Writer comes across as the most forward-looking, with the simple inclusion of a serial ATA interface—a feature that’s been sorely lacking in all the other Blu-ray drives we’ve tested. Really, it should be standard issue with any so-called next-gen device, as parallel support will only get more scarce over time.