I’m not sure how NEC does it, but whenever there’s a new DVD writing standard, it’s always an NEC drive that lands on my desk first. So, picking up where the very capable ND-2510A left off, is the ND-3500A. Now, the ND-2510A was the first dual layer compatible drive that I got my hands on, but other than that, the specs were pretty much identical to the older ND-2500A. The ND-3500A on the other hand, is a much more revolutionary device.
Although I’ve looked at a couple of DVD writers that sported 12-speed DVD+R capability, NEC chose to skip 12-speed altogether and jump straight onto 16-speed. But the ND-3500A isn’t just rated at 16-speed for DVD+R writing, it can also write at 16-speed to DVD-R discs, if you can find any fast enough media. But it doesn’t end there either – this is also the first drive I’ve looked at that can burn DVD+R DL dual layer discs at four-speed, instead of the excruciatingly slow 2.4-speed that keeps you waiting for over 40 minutes.
So, running down the full specification – the ND-3500A will burn DVD+R/-R discs at 16-speed, DVD+RW/-RW media at four-speed, DVD+R DL discs at four-speed. NEC has also beefed up the CD performance, with CD-R writing now up to 48-speed from the previous generation drive’s 40-speed, while CD-RW performance is up from 16-speed to 24-speed.
Physically, the ND-3500A looks very plain. The headphone socket and volume wheel seen on previous NEC drives have disappeared, and now there’s just a single eject button, an indicator light and a manual eject hole in evidence.
The drive I looked at was a bare unit, but NEC will be offering a retail boxed version for a price premium. Inside the box you’ll find an IDE cable, an audio cable, mounting screws and a full suite of software including NeroExpress 6, Nero Back-IT-Up and Showtime. Personally, I’d go for the bare drive, since I’ve already got all the software and cables that I need.
Luckily, the ND-3500A arrived on the same day that I received a package of 16-speed DVD+R media from Verbatim. This meant that I could test the drive properly, rather than just assuming that it would be fast writing DVD+R discs. As it turned out though, the ND-3500A wasn’t any faster writing at 16-speed than the Plextor PX-712A was writing at 12-speed. In fact, burning 4.3GB of digital images at 16-speed took over a minute longer than it did on the Plextor at 12-speed. I wasn’t happy with this result, but unfortunately I’d used my last 16-speed disc, so I couldn’t run the test again. However, it’s worth remembering that Plextor drives have a reputation for being very fast, and their price reflects this.
Although the ND-3500A supports 16-speed DVD-R writing, I couldn’t get hold of any 16-speed media to test this. However, it came as a pleasant surprise that the drive was happy to write at 12-speed to eight-speed DVD-R media, and once again the times were not far off the 16-speed results. In fact all three of the DVD-R tests came in well under seven minutes, making this the fastest DVD-R drive I’ve seen.
Again, I was unable to get fast enough media to test the four-speed DVD+R DL capability of the drive. But once again, I was happy to note that the ND-3500A will write at four-speed to 2.4-speed media. This meant that I could burn 8GB of data in around 25 minutes instead of over 40 minutes. This is a major breakthrough for the dual layer format, and has pretty much convinced me to put my money on the table for a new DVD writer now. The ND-3500A managed to burn two files making up a total of 7.9GB in 25 minutes 39 seconds, while the same test took 41 minutes eight seconds on the previous generation ND-2510A drive.