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OWC's Firewire DVD-R/RW SuperdriveReturn to News Page

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OWC's Firewire DVD-R/RW Superdrive
Tests with PowerBook G4 and OS X iDVD2.1

By Mike Breeden
Published: 8/2/2002

Notes on OS X 10.2 and Enabler For those that bought early and received the "enabler" for use with iDVD 2.1/OS X 10.1.5 (no longer available for reasons noted below), OWC has posted a FAQ item noting the enabler is not 10.2 compatible and how to remove it.

Update from OWC: On 8/6/2002 OWC wrote to ask me to post this important note:

    "The enabler that allows the extra Apple DVD support under OS X is being discontinued once existing units are exhausted. Specifically this will ONLY affect compatibility with DVD Player and iDVD under OS X. Only those with a legal license to have iDVD would be affected by the iDVD part, but it is disappointing on the player portion for sure.
    Our product will continue to remain fully compatibly with Apple DVD Studio Pro, iTunes, Toast5, etc."

As of 8/7/2002 OWC has sold out of those units with the Enabler. Here's another comment from OWC in a later press release:

    "Although we had received strong support from our customers for the DVD Enabler software and our iDVD support, we value our long-standing relationship with Apple Computer," said Larry O'Connor, president of OWC. "We have, therefore, agreed to honor Apple's request and have halted all sales and marketing of DVD Enabler and all support of Apple's iDVD."

Remember my comments below in the review on using iDVD2.1 with this drive depend on the enabler which is no longer available. It's really disappointing to see that feature go away... maybe Apple will eventually sell a non-neutered version of iDVD2 that works with external drives.

(The original August 2nd review text follows)

Other World Computing (OWC) recently announced a new version of their Firewire DVD-R/RW drive based on the latest version of the Pioneer "Superdrive" (the A04/104 model) for $399.97. What is unique (to date) about the OWC drive is that they also include an "enabler" for OS X to allow the drive to be used with iDVD 2.1. As most of you know, iDVD normally will not run on a system that does not have an internal DVD-R Pioneer "Superdrive" installed. (There's an error message shown that the required hardware is not found.) iDVD requires a G4 CPU. For DVD professionals, Apple's DVD Studio Pro is expensive but far more capable than iDVD and also supports external DVD recorders as well as more models of drives. However iDVD is perfect for home users that don't need the power/features of DVD Studio Pro (or the expense) and is very easy to use.

Since I already own a legal copy of iDVD2 - I used a Firewire hard drive to copy the iDVD2 folder from my G4 tower to the Powerbook G4. I wish Apple would sell a version of iDVD that supported external drives without any enablers needed, even if they charged $99 or so for it. If you bought a G4 w/Superdrive before OS X iDVD2 was released, Apple sells a $19.99 iDVD2.1 fullfillment CD for $19.99. iDVD 2.1 requires OS X 10.1 or later, see their iDVD page or the Apple Store to order it.

Due to time constraints and the fact the main reason you'd buy this drive is for DVD burning with iDVD (at least that's my main interest ;-), I didn't install/test the included Charismac Discribe 5 software. The Superdrive (inside this case) is fully supported by Discburner, iTunes, Toast5, etc. although it's only a 8x CDR/4x CDRW (max) burner.
For more info on the included Discribe 5 software, see Charismac's product page. Discribe 5 also supports burning DVDs and VideoCDs and has a long list of features, but I've had the drive only a short time and have not explored the capabilities of Discribe 5 yet.

The silver cased OWC drive is slimmer than I expected, and since it has no internal power supply/fan, it's very quiet compared to Firewire drives with fans in the case (such as my ADS Pyro model). The Superdrive however does have a fan to cool the laser and when it runs you can hear it in a quiet room, although it's not very loud. Here are photos (courtesy OWC) of the front and back of the OWC drive:

OWC drive photo
OWC drive photo

    Kit Contents:
  • Mechanism: (IDE) Pioneer DVR-104/A04 (Firmware v1.20, 2MB buffer, buffer underrun protection)
  • Case: 2 Firewire ports, Power switch (external Pwr Supply)
  • Case has no fan (but the Pioneer drive does)
  • 25 Pieces 16x CD-R Media
  • 1 Piece CD-RW Media
  • 5 Pieces DVD-R 2x Media
  • FireWire cable (6pin - 6pin)
  • Power Cable/AC Adapter
  • Charismac Discribe 5 OEM (OS 9 and OS X)
  • Software Enabler (Enables iDVD2.1/OS X support)
  • Warranty: 1 year

For those not familiar with the Pioneer DVD-R/RW Drive, here's a list of supported media and rates (per Pioneer's specs page):

    Write Speeds: (all CLV)
  • DVD-R 4.7GB General Use, just under 4.3GB formatted (2x rates)
  • DVD-RW (1x)
  • CD-R (700MB max, 8x Max)
  • CD-RW (4x Max, although high-speed CDRW discs can be used)

    Read Speeds:
  • DVD-ROM (Single layer): 6X CAV
  • DVD-ROM (Dual): 2X CLV
  • CD-ROM: 24X CAV
  • CD-R, CD-RW: 24X CAV
  • CD-Audio: 10X CAV
  • Video-CD: 4X CLV

    Access Time (Random Average*)
  • DVD: 200 Msec*
  • CD: 180 Msec
(* When DVD-ROM Single Layer disc and CD-ROM Mode 1 disc are used)

Test System used: PowerBook G4/800, 1GB RAM, OS X 10.1.5, iDVD2.1, Toast 5.1.4, iTunes 3.

Before using the OWC Firewire Superdrive with OS X iDVD2.1, you must install the Enabler package included on the CD (it's inside the Discribe 5 OS X folder). After the install you reboot and then iDVD2.1 will launch and recognize the drive. (If the enabler is not installed, iDVD2.1 will not run on systems without an internal Superdrive on the IDE bus.) BTW - The enabler does not disable the drive present check in iDVD, so the drive must be connected for iDVD to run. (The enabler is keyed to the Firewire case bridge/firmware ID as I noted above - for those wondering if the enabler alone would work with another model of Firewire drive.)

DVD Player Notes:
Since it's a new drive, I first inserted a DVD movie and ran OS X's DVD player (v3.1.1) to set the region code and to verify that even with an internal DVD drive (PB G4's combo drive) that the external FW drive would play DVD movies (without tricks like mounting a toast image.) I played the entire movie to make sure there were no problems seen.

iDVD 2.1 Tests:
My iDVD2.1 project consisted of three Quicktime 640x480 movies and a 63 photo slideshow - total encoded DVD disc data size was appx 4GB (nearly filling a DVD-R disc which is just under 4.3GB formatted capacity). I used an MP3 file for both the intro screen audio and for the slideshow of photos. Starting from scratch (no pre-encoded files), total time from to complete (encode + burn) was over 2 hours on the PowerBook G4/800.

iDVD intro screen

Important Tip: Even though I had the system set to never sleep in Energy Saver (and the drive sleep bar defaults to the same setting) - I also had to check (enable) the option to never sleep drives to prevent problems burning DVDs. The first time I used iDVD2 with the drive, I had not done that and it stopped responding before it completed the burn (about 1 minute left according to the progress bar). Running Toast 5 after this happened showed it could not find the drive. This problem reminded me of the issue with some internal Superdrives in OS X when the Energy Saver is not set to "never sleep" drives. (Old tip here from some past reports in the drive database. It seems with a disc in the drive that is not accessed for a long time [the iDVD encoding phase can take over two hours even on a very fast system depending on the number and size of files used] can cause the drive to either go to sleep or lose the connection if you don't explicitly check the Energy Saver setting to never sleep drives.

With the PB G4/800, although my project's 'estimated' time to complete was 133 minutes - actual total time was measured at over 2 1/2 hours. (Appx 155 minutes.) Burning another copy after the files were encoded took appx. 33 minutes. Total time will vary depending on files used for the project of course.

Toast 5.1.4 Notes:
The following is a screenshot of Toast 5.1.4's "Recorder Info" on the OWC drive - note the interface is shown as "unknown" (due to the enabler). The drive is usable with Toast 5, Discburner, and iTunes 3 however as the DVR-104 mechanism is supported natively since its the same drive shipped in new G4 towers and iMacs with the Superdrive option.

Toast 5.1.4 (OS X) Recorder Info
Toast 5 recorder info

As most of you already know, Toast (and Discribe 5) as well as Discburner support burning data DVD-R discs so you can use the Superdrive for backups. (Just under 4.3GB of formatted capacity vs 700MB for a CDR.) I don't own Retrospect 5 to test for support with that utility however.

iTunes 3 Notes:
Although I have not had time to burn any CDs with the drive in iTunes3, I wanted to say that the drive is shown as supported, even in the Firewire case. The iTunes3 Preferences panel, Burning section allows the drive to be selected as shown below:

iTunes3 Prefs

DVD-R Media Notes: Pioneer supports 2x DVD-R burn rates with 'supported' media - see this Pioneer page for details and a list of media brands. The pink generic DVD-R discs included with the OWC drive seemed to write at 2x rates (I had the same burn times with those and the Apple 2x DVD-R discs.) However the Pink DVD-R discs could not be read by the PowerBook G4's internal combo drive, where the Apple discs were read fine. The pink DVD-R discs would play in the SuperDrive and my home DVD player and I will try them in some other DVD ROM drives here. [Update - I could not read the Pink discs in the DVD ROM drives of a Cube (circa fall 2000) or a Pismo (circa spring 2000) - although the Apple DVD-R discs were read fine. They did plan in the home DVD player (for TV) and since they're free with the drive I can't complain really, but I'll probably continue to buy the Apple DVD-R discs in the future.
Most DVD-ROM drives made in the last year or two will read DVD-R discs, but even Apple's DVD-R discs may not be compatible with some older DVD ROM drives however (based on some reader emails). (I had a 3 year old Toshiba home DVD player that will not read any DVD-R discs - but most DVD players made in the last year or so will read them fine.)

Although I hadn't planned on buying an external DVD-R drive, I'm not sending this one back. I really like being able to use the PowerBook G4 with iDVD2. The OWC drive doesn't really cost any more than most other Firewire DVD recorders (and less than some) and is the only one to date to include the enabler for iDVD2.1 use.
DVD+R/+RW drives have higher rates for CDR/CDRW (12x/10x vs 8x/4x) and slightly higher DVD rates (2.4/2.5x vs 2x) than the Pioneer DVR-104, but they are also both more expensive and not supported by iDVD, even if mounted internally.
In my opinion, this drive is the best Firewire DVD-R drive value for Macs to date, offering unique iDVD2.1 compatibility without any real price penalty.

(As a FYI, I also burned a DVD-R data disc using EZ-CD Creator 5 on a PC notebook w/onboard Firewire in Windows XP, but the Dell 8100's Sony CRX-810E 16x10x24 CDRW/DVD combo drive would not read the Pink DVD-R disc, although the OWC Firewire drive did. I suspect Apple's DVD-R media would have been compatible with the internal Sony Combo drive, but didn't want to use up one of my few remaining Apple discs on that PC.)

4 out of 5
Overall Rating
(4 out of 5)

  • Only Firewire DVD Recorder to date to work with iDVD2.1
    [Update: the enabler is no longer included due to Apple legal pressure]
  • Costs no more than most other Firewire DVD-R/RW drives
    (and less than some models)
  • Native OS X Discburner/iTunes3/Toast5/Discribe5 support
  • Unlike internal drives, you can use it with more than one computer and leave it off when not in use (extending drive life)

  • Included Pink DVD-R discs not as compatible with DVD-ROM drives as the Apple's DVD-R media. (But worked in home DVD/TV player)
  • Although Pioneer's SuperDrive is the best supported DVD Recorder for Macs, I wish it had faster CDR/CDRW/Read speeds. (But then you really buy this drive for its DVD burning)

The OWC Firewire DVD-R/RW Drive originally sold for $399.97 in Aug. 2002.
[The bare drive sold for about $300 in 2002. OWC now sells Superdrives with 8x DVD burn rates for far less now of course. Check their current product pages for up-to-date models/pricing.] OWC also ships world-wide.

According to a July 29th, 2002 press release, OWC is also offering previous owners of their (OWC) Firewire DVD-R drives a $29 software/enabler upgrade - a very nice gesture in my opinion. (The enabler software is keyed to the case's bridge board and firmware ID I'm told.) If you purchased an OWC Firewire DVD Recorder before July 29th, 2002, contact OWC about their $29 upgrade program that was mentioned in the press release.
I believe they are also planning on selling the case kit/enabler software alone for about $149 but it's not appeared yet. (I also suggested they consider a Case kit/enabler + 40x IDE CDRW drive bundle for owners of G4 towers with a Superdrive. Swapping the Superdrive into the FW case and the 40x CDRW drive in the tower would provide far faster CD burning, reading and extraction rates than the Superdrive, and retain DVD-R burning via Firewire. Plus with the DVD-R drive in a FW case, it can be left off/disconnected when not in use, extending its life, as well as being able to be used with more than one machine.)

Other Firewire Drive Related Articles:
Many other Firewire reviews and install guides (drives/cases/controllers/CDRWs) are listed at the Firewire articles page.

You can also search the Drive Compatibility Database for thousands (7000+ and growing daily) of Mac owner reports on drives of all types and interfaces.

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