Understanding Burning and Importing Speeds

Q: I rip my CDs into iTunes 4.9 using a Windows XP computer equipped with an HP 300n DVD/RW drive, but try as I might, I can’t rip at any speeds higher than 16X. The drive is billed as a “16X/10X/48X” drive. How do I get to the 48X speed? Also, the burn speed is also showing 16X, even though I am careful to only use CDs rated at 48X speed. Now, here is the really puzzling thing: when I translate my ripped MP3 songs to AAC, the translation ALSO happens at 16X speed! How can that be? When translating one format to another, both the source and destination files are on my fast internal hard drive. Is the 16X speed a limitation of iTunes? What do I have to do to get faster service?

– Chris H.

A: When iTunes for Windows was released, one of its main selling points was that it was a free jukebox allowing full-speed ripping and burning. iTunes itself does not limit speeds in either case.

There are a few contributing misconceptions here. The first is the true meaning of your drive’s “16X/10X/48X” designation:

  • 16X when burning CD-R discs (which answers one of your questions);
  • 10X when burning CD-RW discs;
  • and 48X when reading CDs.

Similarly, your drive will burn DVD+R discs at 4X and DVD+RW discs at 2.4X. Note: All of these speeds are “peak” speeds, and cannot be sustained full-time.

But why does your PC still import & encode at only 16X, when we just said your drive can read discs at 48X? The answer is simple. The speed that Apple reports when importing a CD is the speed of the combined process of importing (reading) and encoding to AAC/MP3. Encoding is taxing on a computer’s resources, and a frequent bottleneck when importing CDs. In this case, it appears that your computer is only fast enough to import at 16X. Thus, you’ll never see the combined import & encode process go faster than that.

Jerrod H. is an iLounge Contributing Editor, with frequent contributions to our iPod 101 and 201 tutorials, plus occasional hardware and software product reviews.

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