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The Overheating SuperDrive Saga: Apple's Response
Pioneer's recent announcement that its DVD burners can overheat when used with new, high-speed media has stirred up many unresolved issues. Foremost among them deals with the burners that Apple sells under the SuperDrive name. Will Apple release a firmware updater for its drives? If so, when?
This afternoon, I spoke with Greg Joswiak, hardware marketing director at Apple Computer, regarding these issues. Here's the scoop.
First of all, if your SuperDrive-equipped Mac is a 17-inch iMac, an eMac, or one of the new, dual-processor Power Mac G4 (Mirrored Drive Doors) towers that was introduced in August, you will not have to update your drive's firmware. The SuperDrives in these Macs already contain firmware that prevents the overheating problem.
If you have an older SuperDrive-equipped Mac, you probably will need to update your firmware. In October, Apple will deliver an updater that will be available through the Mac OS's Software Update feature. You'll also be able to download the updater, which will be available for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X.
To determine whether your drive will need updating, open the Apple System Profiler utility and then click the Devices and Volumes tab. Next, click the small triangle next to the entry that reads CD-RW/DVD-R. If the Vendor Identification area does not say Pioneer, then you do not need the update. (Apple buys DVD burners from companies other than Pioneer—an interesting tidbit that I wasn't aware of until now.)
If the Vendor Identification area does say Pioneer, look at the Product Identification and Device Revision areas. If it says DVR-103 and the revision number is 1.90, you do not need the update. (If you have an earlier version number, such as 1.49, you do need the update.) If the Product Identification area says DVR-104 and the revision number is A227 or higher, you do not need the update.
If you don't feel like using Apple System Profiler to do all this detective work, then just wait until October and use the Mac OS's Software Update feature to tell you whether or not you need the update.
And in the meantime, avoid using the 4x DVD-R and 2x DVD-RW media. That part, at least, is easy: this high-speed media isn't yet widely available.
Overheating SuperDrives: More Details
Here's some follow-up information on the overheating SuperDrive DVD burner issue that I reported on yesterday.
What's the deal behind the new, high-speed media? In mid-August, the DVD Forum—a standards group comprised of major players in the DVD business—finalized its official specification for 4x DVD-R media and 2x DVD-RW media.
Can I buy this media now? No. It isn't expected to be available until October.
So why did Pioneer announce the problem yesterday? I'm guessing that the company discovered the problem while doing initial tests on high-speed media. Pioneer wisely decided to let people know now rather then let them find out the hard way.
Why can high-speed media fry my burner? To quote a news item in New Scientist magazine, "The laser in all DVD drives always tests a blank disk before recording, to set the correct burn power. But Pioneer's laser does not recognise the new blanks, so keeps on trying, gets hot and burns out in around five minutes."
After I update my drive's firmware, will I be able to burn at 4x? Sorry, no. According to Pioneer senior vice president Andy Parsons, "This is not possible, as a higher power laser and other new supporting [circuits] would be needed to increase recording speeds beyond 2x on existing products—firmware alone can't do that."
Pioneer Electronics, manufacturers of the DVD-R/W burner that Apple calls the SuperDrive, today announced that several of its DVD burners, including the SuperDrive, could be damaged when used with the newest generation of high-speed DVD blank media.
The complete story is a bit complicated, but it's worth reading through this. The drive you save could be your own.
First, some background on the media. Manufacturers of blank DVD media are beginning to ship blanks that can be burned at double (2x) or quadruple (4x) speeds. Although these media aren't widely available yet, they will be in October. You'll soon be able to buy DVD-R blanks that can burn at 4x, and DVD-R/W blanks that can burn at 2x. (You won't necessarily be able to burn at the that speed, however, as noted in my update of September 18.)
Now here's the problem. According to Pioneer, when you insert one of these high-speed blanks into a Pioneer DVD burner, the burner can become "confused" and lock up. If you don't promptly remove the media (by powering down and then restarting with the mouse button pressed), the drive's optical pickup assembly can overheat and fail. (The pickup assembly is the drive's laser, lens, and associated circuitry.) Pioneer estimates that this overheating could take place in as little as five minutes.
So what's the resolution? For Mac users, that answer is a bit hazy. Pioneer is releasing updater software that tweaks the internal firmware in its drives so that they are able to use the high-speed media. This firmware updater will be available for download from Pioneer's Web site; you'll also be able to order it on a CD-ROM.
But this updater will not work with SuperDrives, since they contain Apple's firmware. According to Pioneer senior vice president Andy Parsons, "Apple is aware of the issue, and we expect they will have a solution soon." Parsons emphasized that he was not speaking on behalf of Apple, and that any updater announcements would have to come from Apple itself. In any case, those of us with SuperDrives will have to wait for Apple to deliver a firmware update.
This is all a bit convoluted, so let's summarize your updating options.
You have an external FireWire DVD burner. You can update your firmware immediately, but you'll need a FireWire-equipped Windows computer to do it. Download the Windows updater from Pioneer's site, and then connect your drive to the Windows computer and run the updater.
You have an internal Pioneer DVD burner, but it isn't a SuperDrive. You'll need to wait for Pioneer to complete the Mac version of its firmware updater. Pioneer hasn't said when this updater will be available.
You have an internal SuperDrive. You'll need to wait for Apple to release a firmware updater.
Pioneer's Andy Parsons stressed to me that this is a problem specific to Pioneer drives—it doesn't reflect a flaw with the new high-speed media or with the DVD specification. Pioneer deserves credit for being proactive on this issue; now let's hope that both Apple and Pioneer deliver Mac updaters promptly.
In the meantime, avoid the new 4x DVD-R media or 2x DVD-RW media.
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