Meet the new generation of DVD burners. Known as dual-layer or double-layer drives (both DL for short), these bad boys can pack 8.5GB onto a single disc-twice what you're accustomed to getting with older DVD technology.
Of course, you'll have to pony up a little more for the new hardware and media, whose write speeds aren't yet up to the 16x speeds you can expect with tried-and-true write-once DVD technology. But all that room can be handy for big multimedia files, training videos or backing up loads of important data.
Keep in mind, all these devices can also burn various older discs, including CDs and rewritable DVDs, at varying speeds. You're not stuck with just DL media.
Competing plus and dash standards will still haunt the market, and rewritable DL DVDs are expected in coming months. Today's DVD+R DL standard is known as double-layer, while DVD-R DL is known as dual-layer. What's the difference? That's it-different names and incompatible write styles, so be careful to match disc and drive types.
That said, some drives, like the $109 (all prices street) internal Plextor PX-740A, write both types of DL discs. The PX-740A also features a chart-topping 8x write speed. Even more flexible is the $210 external Sony DRX-800UL. It not only writes in both DL formats, but also comes equipped with USB 2.0 and FireWire connections, making it easier to shuttle the drive among a variety of computers.
Want an internal or external drive? Internal drives, like the super-affordable $75 Samsung TS-H552U, require opening up your computer for installation. If you don't like the sound of that, check into an external drive like the $160 USB 2.0 Iomega Super DVD Writer 16x16. External drives tend to cost a little more, but they're also portable and can be shared around a small office or taken on the road if need be.
Some drives come with extras. The $119 internal BenQ DW1625 supports Hewlett-Packard's LightScribe technology, a direct disc labeling system that burns silk-screen-quality labels right onto specially coated LightScribe-compatible discs. HP's $170 dvd640e also features LightScribe in a portable external form with convenient USB and FireWire connections. LightScribe-compatible discs do come at a slight cost premium, but it's a convenient way to mark your discs and keep track of your media or backup archives--no inkjet, paper label or Sharpie required.
Prices on both the drives and media will come down a bit as they continue to infiltrate the market. Per-disc DL prices are currently in the $5 to $10 range. The standards war will go on for some time. You can always hedge your bets by picking up a multi-format drive, but don't expect either the plus or dash types to disappear anytime soon.