DVD writer manufacturers have a difficult job. Not only are the devices more complex than CD writers from a technical point of view but they have to bundle application software with them and support the variety of DVD formats. Then they also have to upgrade firmware as techniques improve. When it all comes together then you have a drive that you can use for some time. When it doesn't then you have a frustrating piece of kit whose only compensation is that it is relatively cheap.

At £90 including VAT, this Samsung external DVD writer is certainly cheap in price, but not in quality, nor in software, and not in support. Techworld reviewed a pre-release unit. It will come on sale through Maplin, and no doubt other outlets, at the end of August.

The device is a neat black unit which can be mounted vertically on a stand if you wish. Load up the CD to get the software needed. Then you connect the power cord and the USB 2.0 cable and that's all.

It is quiet and simple in operation with the usual on/off/activity light and a button-operated DVD/CD insertion tray. The accompanying CD contains a comprehensive Nero software suite which enables the device to be used for a whole variety of purposes ranging from holding masses of PowerPoint presentations to functioning as an entire family photo album and as a DVD player.

Inevitably it means that software installation takes longer than you might think. One piece of additional softare on the CD, apart from the User's Guide that is, is termed LiveUpdate. Currently firmware upgrades for the device, as for many other DVD players and writers, have to be downloaded manualy from the manufacturer's support web site. What Samsung has done is provide support functionality equivalent to Microsoft's Windows support. LiveUpdate is installed on your system and periodically checks across the Internet with Samsung's support facility for firmware upgrades.

If one is found then it is copied to your system and then downloaded to the unit. During the review period two firmware upgrades were made available:-

- Firmware version TS05 which gives improved DVD playback and has some more media added to the supported media list.
- Firmware version TS07 boosts the speed of the drive to 8x when writing on DVD+R Double Layer disks.

The ability to have this done automatically rather than manually searching for the update, copying it and then using the supplied Sfdnwin.exe application to install the upgrade in the unit's flash memory will be much appreciated.

In our tests we wrote a variety of DVD media formats: DVD +R single layer (4.7GB); DVD +R 2-layer (8.5GB); DVD -R single layer (4.7GB); DVD -R 2-layer (8.5GB). In each case the unit could read the resulting disks. The DVD player in a Toshiba notebook could read the DVD +R single layer disk but not the 2-layer one and it couldn't read the DVD -R disks. You need to be careful that destination devices for your written DVDs can read the formats you produce.

The Nero burning software - it 'fiddles' while the DVD burns - is straightforward and easy to use with progress bars and drag-and-drop file copy facilities. Burning 1.6GB on a Verbatim DVD + R disk took six minutes on the Tosh notebook. Burning 4.1GB Verbatim disk took 16 minutes.

If you wish to use DVDs for backup purposes then having an 8.5GB capacity is good and setting half an hour or so aside every so often to backup 8GB or so of data is a practical proposition. You can also use the disks for archive purposes or for carrying around humungous amounts of reference data.

OUR VERDICT

At £90 this double layer-capable DVD writer is a steal. Installation is straightforward and there is a comprehensive Nero software suite bundled with the device. Both DVD +R and -R double layer formats are supported.