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First things first, this is a very slow DVD writer, at least it is by modern standards. In fact it’s been many months since I’ve seen test results as slow as those turned in by the HP dvd640i, but this drive isn’t about raw performance. In fact, despite it’s undoubtedly tardy behaviour it has one trick up it’s sleeve that no other DVD writer I’ve reviewed has exhibited – LightScribe functionality.
I first saw LightScribe in action back in October 2004 when I attended an HP product showcase in Monte Carlo. It was something that definitely caught my attention – something that isn’t easy when you’ve been covering technology for as long as I have. Basically LightScribe is a method of printing labels onto optical discs without using either a printer or a label.
Using special LightScribe media, the HP dvd640i can etch an image or text onto the top of a disc. The etching is done using the laser inside the drive and it means that even notebook users can create professional looking discs while they're on the move. The results are, in my opinion at least, pretty damn impressive and you also don’t have to worry about sticky labels peeling off inside your CD player.
Because HP invented the LightScribe technology, it had an exclusive period where no other optical drive manufacturer was allowed to produce a drive, but I fully expect to see every DVD writer supporting LightScribe in the future, after all any extra functionality is good for the end user.
Using Verbatim branded LightScribe CD-R media I dropped a JPEG image into the supplied labelling software and set it burning. It took a not insignificant 33 minutes and 11 seconds to burn the image onto the disc, so it’s not something you’d be able to do in a hurry. That said, the less complicated the design, the less time the burn will take, but even at just over half an hour I don’t think it’s too bad – I’d just go and grab a cup of coffee, or even just get on with something else while the disc is being labelled.
The dvd640i comes in a full retail box – inside you’ll find the drive itself, three multi-lingual paper manuals, a quick start guide and some mounting screws. There are three discs included – an HP driver disc which is needed to enable the LightScribe features, a copy of Sure Thing disc labelling software (with LightScribe support) and a blank LightScribe CD-R disc (supplied by Verbatim). Unfortunately there is no IDE cable, which is disappointing for a retail boxed product like this.