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This review actually began late last year, when Mix evaluated the Rimage 360i DVD/CD duplicator, which yielded inconsistent performance. (See sidebar.) We talked to developers at Rimage, and they felt this particular unit was not suited to the rigors of heavy professional use; they asked us to check out the midline ($3,995) DVD/CD 2000i system.

Housed in a 16×21×20-inch, 58-pound metal enclosure, the 2000i is built like a tank. The design has a 100-disc capacity and incorporates pro features such as a metal worm drive that moves the robotic arm along a linear axis rather than the semi-circular motion employed in many other duplicators, Communication to your host PC (software is provided) is via FireWire and USB, and a PCI FireWire card is included to ease the simple install process.

The DVD version pairs twin Plextor PX-716A DVD drives and a proprietary HP-designed inkjet printer for print-to-disc functions. The printer (also offered stand-alone as the Rimage 480i) is capable of photo-quality resolution up to 4,800 dpi, thanks to its 3-picoliter micro-droplet ink jets. The system has no stand-alone capabilities and must be used with a host PC.

The unit ships with a comprehensive suite of tools for disc content mastering/duplication (QuickDisk), label creation (CD Designer), global system management control (System Manager) and system control/monitoring/logging (Production Server). The latter also has a job streaming feature, where masters can be interspersed into the blank media stack for automatic job changeovers. Some slick tricks in QuickDisk include bar code support and a mail merge — style function that can individualize each disc by inserting text from a list. Optional Office Net software (installed on a host PC) lets you send jobs over a network.

QuickDisk and CD Designer’s production capabilities are serviceable, but won’t replace more intensive apps such as Adobe Photoshop and higher-end authoring tools. However, the disc master can exist as a physical CD or DVD that’s cached before duplication starts or can be read from a standard disc image file, and complex graphics designs can easily be imported for printing. Originally, the 2000i also shipped with Mac OS X software, but this has been discontinued. Third-party Mac Discribe software for the 2000i is still offered

Setup was straightforward and easy: Install the software, insert the print cartridges, connect the FireWire and USB cables and/or card, drop the disc bin into place and select the 480i as your printer. The proprietary Rimage inkjet carts are available separately or in Media Kits bundled with 600 Rimage-branded (Taiyo Yuden) CDs or DVDs.

Starting with a PC (AMD Athlon 2.2GHz with 1GB RAM and Windows 2000), I loaded a DVD for a 100-disc run. Two of the discs were bad — even the best media yields a few coasters — but I liked the fact that the 2000i recognized these as such and printed “reject” across them so they wouldn’t be confused with the good DVDs. And the inkjet print quality was excellent.

The Rimage DVD media was 8x speed — okay, but not blazing. A second DVD job was equally smooth, as were a couple of CD jobs. The latter ran at 48x on Imation and TDK media. A later DVD run resulted in about 20-percent coasters. Rimage’s tech support told me one of their batches of DVD media was defective and sent me replacement DVDs. Repeating the run with new media, the failure rate went down to between 10 and 15 percent — better, but not pretty. Another call to tech support suggested lowering the duplication speed and/or selecting verification on each disc — both significantly slowed down the duplication time. This didn’t change the failure rate, which was still about 10 to 12 percent. Also, the robotics occasionally failed to grab a feed disc, which would pause the duplication — no disaster, but if this occurred during an overnight run, your discs wouldn’t be ready by morning.

The issues with the robotic arm gripping the feed discs continued to the point where every job had to be monitored. Occasionally, the arm gripped two discs, causing a jam. Tech support suggested reinstalling the firmware, but problems continued. Another quirk? The printer door would sometimes fail to close, causing the robotic arm to jam. Besides aborting the job, the only remedy was to reboot the entire system. If I owned a 2000i, I’d remove this (mostly unnecessary) door.

I also tried variations, including a print-only run, followed by duplication, but problems with disc failures and the robotics continued. Eventually, one drive robotics became completely unreliable, producing 60 to 80-percent write failures or not responding.

Wondering if my results were typical, I talked to other 2000i users. The majority were quite positive, offering comments such as “real workhorse” and, “We love it.” However, one production company I spoke to had “nothing but problems” and sent the unit back.

To be fair, the 2000i we tested failed during the warranty period. The 2000i includes a one-year parts/labor agreement, where you pay shipping back to Rimage in Minneapolis, with a typical 15-day response. Several optional extended warranties are offered, including overnight shipping of loaner units during repairs; a “Depot Repair” plan, where your unit is expedited through service and returned within five days; and extended second-year coverage. Based on our experiences with the 2000i and 360i, we’d say one of these plans is recommended.

Rimage, 952/944-8144,

The 360i desktop duplicator can burn/print 25 CDs or DVDs per batch. Priced at $1,703, it ships with an integrated software package for labeling and managing production runs and uses a Plextor 716A burner and HP print technology. Minimum PC requirements are a 800MHz Pentium III with 256MB RAM. My test system was a 4.2GHz Pentium with 1 GB of RAM.

With its white, molded plastic case and purple disc-loading access door, the 360i resembles a small 19×20×15-inch (H×W×D) robot. Setup is as simple as loading the software, unwrapping the print cartridges and plugging in a USB 2 cable. Rimage’s full-featured software is easy to use and has clever features, such as the ability to customize a single label with different fields of text, which can be database-driven.

However, the unit’s good first impression faded as I tested the unit. Just loading 25 CDs is cumbersome. The CDs sit on an angle, requiring some fiddling to correctly load the discs. The large, plastic main access door feels flimsy and does not open/shut smoothly.

My first 360i batch were DVDs, which seemed to burn/print just fine. However, further inspection revealed that all the discs showed two parallel scratches on the data side. Rimage acknowledged this and assured me the problem had been corrected.

While doing multiple batches of CDs and DVDs, the machine required constant attention. For example, during a CD job, the 360i would sometimes place two discs instead of one into the burner tray and jam. Several times, the robotic arm picked the disc from the burner but failed to place it in the printer tray. Once, a disc fell behind the printer and I had to dig it out.

DVDs burned fine at the maximum speed of 16x, yet CD burning speeds were an issue. One job resulted in five rejects out of 25. I could eliminate the rejects by slowing the burning speed from the promised 48x to 24x. My PC far exceeded the 360i’s system requirements, but the disc image was streamed from an Ultra 320 SCSI drive with no other programs running in the background. Still, the only way to eliminate the “streaming error” message was to slow the burning speed down to 24x.

The 360i was replete with problems, so I asked for a replacement unit, which did not scratch discs and performed some duplication and print jobs without any errors. However, errors were still encountered during subsequent jobs. This 360i was more reliable than the first, but it exhibited random errors, such as when the software would not recognize the machine or the machine failed to create a CD image file and locked up.

When the 360i worked, the quality of the burned discs was outstanding and the HP print technology looked superb, especially on silver-coated media. The first 360i required so much attention that the excellent quality was overshadowed by its inability to run on its own. The second unit performed much better, requiring less babysitting, performing some (but not all) multiple jobs without errors. After my Jekyll and Hyde experience with the 360i, it’s hard to recommend this duplicator.

—Rick Spence