External DVD Writer – Build vs Buy?

Categories: Apple/Mac, How-to's, Technology

I’ve been on the hunt to get an external DVD burner for my machines. The problem: I got one PC running Windows 2000 , one Mac running OS X Panther (10.3.9) and another machine which I’m running Linux DSL on. but I only wanted to buy one burner and i’ve been trying to scrounge on the spending too… so after hunting about and finding that the cheapest I was going to find one for was about $150 +tax, I decided to simply put one together myself. Not too difficult actually as long as you pick the right parts. According to all the shops on College street, that both the LG GSA-H22N and the Pioneer DVR-111D are supported on MAC and Windows, so since the former was $10 bucks cheaper, ended up with a LG-GSA-H22N external drive – an 18x +/- DVD-RW writer. First problem – it’s not possible to find 18x DVDs so I had to settle for 16x discs anyway…
The encloser I bought was a bit of a heavy duty one, built-in fan, two firewire ports and a USB2.0 port plus external audio and video outputs. Total, I ended up spending about $90 bucks so not really that much of a saving – although mine will have more options on the ports (not common finding both Firewire and USB)
Putting it together was a snap – unscrew the enclosure, fit the cables and then screw it back together – 5, maybe 10 minutes tops. But i got no joy… the first attempt – I tried burning at 16X using Nero 6 on my Windows machine and it failed with a ‘buffer overrun’ error. So I tried it again at 8X. It worked this time, but obviously it wasn’t satisfying! So I tried a third time and fourth time at 16X. The third time worked, but nope to the fourth. 33% burn rate ain’t that too good…

Well, I figured if it worked well on the MAC it might be ok. No joy there either. The MAC could detect that I put in a DVD-RW device when using either Firewire and USB (in fact using USB, it could specifically detect that it was the LG GSA-H22N), but it also indicated ‘Not Supported’. No programs, Finder, iTunes, or even DiskUtility could make use of the device. I don’t have Toast so I’m not sure if that would’ve solved the problem. but since Toast costs about $99, purchasing it would’ve defeated the reason for building this myself.

So off I went to the handy Genius Bar at the local Apple Store. According to them, I should’ve picked up the Pioneer since it is natively supported in the Mac OSX while LG is not – which definitely needs Toast.

Well, annoyed now, I went back up to the College Street and exchanged the writer for the Pioneer. Guess what? didn’t work either! Again, the System Profiler was able to detect the device, but again it was labeled as ‘Not Supported’ and i couldn’t burn with any programs although, I was able to read discs. Well the Genius (i’m starting to think not so genius’) bar guys at the Apple store had no idea of what to do. They claim that it should work. According to their docs and lists, the Pioneer DVR-111D is supported. In fact they were able to get it to work despite the ‘Not Supported’ tag, with their machines, but they were all running Tiger (10.4) so that might be the difference.

So after a bit more research on the web, I determined that the last option was to try out PatchBurn. I downloaded and ran PatchBurn 3.1.5 and presto – the Pioneer drive was detected. Simply had to select create profile and then in the Expert Mode select ‘Install support for iDVD4’ (which creates two files, ‘Hurz’ and ‘Pfurz’ in your home directory) and then my drive was ready to go! I fired up iDVD4, created a mini project and burned. By default, iDVD doesn’t support external drives (this has nothing to do with the Pioneer), but if you hold down both the CTRL key and the Apple key, and then double click on the burn icon, the dialog box will come up. Works great for me.

Plus all the tests on the Windows machine have worked too – no dropped burns.

here’s the list of what was needed:

  • I’m running OSX 10.3.9
  • Pioneer DVR-111D external drive
  • external drive enclosure
  • Patchburn 3.1.5

All in all I spent a fair bit of time getting this to work – mostly just because of the trips back and forth to the Computer shops and to the Genius Bar. The total time for building and installing, was less than an hour. But there is nothing guaranteeing that if I had bought an out of the box external drive, that it would’ve worked either. If anyone out there is looking for an external drive, now that you know the above, building your own wouldn’t be a bad way to go.
Next step, getting it to work on my Linux Box…


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