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It was inevitable. With Sony, Pioneer, and others offering up drives that support DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW formats, some company was bound to take the next step and add DVD-RAM to the mix -- hence, the LG Electronics GSA-4040B. Why DVD-RAM? Many digital video recorders, such as Panasonic's DMR-E20, use the niche media to achieve superior longevity, and the GSA-4040B makes it easy to transfer DVD-RAM files to your computer. Although it delivered uneven performance in our tests, it is priced very competitively. Despite a few gripes, this drive is still the most versatile and capable optical drive you can get -- at least for now.
Setup & ease of use
It took us about 10 minutes to install the GSA-4040B -- about the same time as for any drive. Unlike many vendors, LG Electronics includes all three of the major installation accessories: mounting screws, an IDE cable, and a drive-to-sound-card audio cable. The illustrated multi-lingual setup guide describes the install process sufficiently, but it has nothing about the bundled mastering and packet-writing software. The GSA-4040B is compatible with Windows 98 SE onward, but LG Electronics does not include Mac software, and there's no mention of Mount Rainier support. The company bundles reliable software with the GSA-4040B: B's Recorder Gold 5.02 for CD/DVD mastering and B's Clip 5.02 for packet writing; NeoDVDplus 5.0 for producing VCD/DVD movies; and CyberLink's PowerDVD XP 4.0 for DVD movie and file playback. You have to install each application separately, but it's a fairly quick process.
Support for all five DVD formats is the GSA-4040B's chief distinction, but it also sports a dazzling array of feeds and speeds: 16X CD-RW, 24X CD-R, 4X DVD-R and +R, 2X DVD-RW, and 3X DVD-RAM (which is closer to 1.5X with DVD-RAM's default-verify cycle enabled). The 2.4X DVD+RW writing is a bit slow; Sony's DRU-510A and other comparable drives write +RW at 4X. DVD-RAM fans, take note: The GSA-4040B won't accept DVD-RAM's protective cartridges, which contribute to the media's 100,000-rewrite potential. Separated from its cartridge, a DVD-RAM's rewrite rating drops to about the same as DVD-/+RW media's -- around 1,000 rewrites. The physical features of the drive include the usual front-panel eject button and emergency eject port and, at the back, IDE and power connectors, digital and analogue audio ports, and drive jumpers. LG Electronics has equipped the GSA-4040B with an exceptionally quiet and sturdy media tray. But why no front-panel headphone jack or volume control? Companies may claim that people don't use these features, but we consider it a bit tight-fisted to leave them off of a premium product such as this.
The GSA-4040B performed slower than the competition in the majority of our tests, although its performance writing our 383MB test file with DVD+RW media and reading the same file with DVD-RW was above average. The drive fell behind significantly, however, when reading back our 500MB test folder from DVD+RW. The drive's throughput averaged just more than 1MB per second, while Sony's DRU-510A nearly tripled that. It's likely that BHA's packet-writing software is behind the drive's weak DVD+RW performance. All write tests are run with both the drive's recommended media submitted by the manufacturer and with Verbatim media, rated at the drive's maximum speed.
Service & support
Online support for the GSA-4040B hadn't been implemented in time for this review. If LG Electronics' support for the GSA-4020B is any indication of what's to come, information will be elusive -- but worth the search. Once you locate your product on the Web site, LG Electronics offers a good collection of firmware updates, manuals and technical help via email. LG Electronics backs the GSA-4040B with a one-year warranty.