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Microboards MX-2 Disc Publisher Review

Reviewed By Jan Ozer

July 20th, 2009

I first saw Microboards Technology's MX-2 running at the NAB 2008 in Las Vegas. Three of its features really stuck in my mind: The first feature was the homegrown Microboards software, which replaced the badly aging Prassi control programs found on previous Microboards units. Second, the new HP print engine now featured both faster printing and separate ink cartridges. The third feature was the Blu-ray Disc option. The MX-2 proved to be a reliable, fast performer with excellent print quality.

The unit arrived in a heavy, 38" x 24" x 15" box containing the printer/duplicator and the cross-platform software bundle. Windows users get the aforementioned Microboards control software, called PrintWrite, plus the label designer, SureThing CD Labeler. On the Mac side, you get Charismac Discribe, which is functional though more bare-bones, and no label creation software. Discribe does run on older, PowerPC-based Macs, which is nice. But Microboards still doesn't offer a networking option for either platform, which is long overdue for this class of device.

The MX-2 I reviewed came with two Sony/NEC Optiarc AD-5200A disc drives, which featured 20X single-layer DVD±R and 12X DVD±R DL write speed. This unit lists for $2,995; a single-drive system(Microboards MX-1) is available for $2,795. Note that you can buy either the single- or the double-drive configuration with a Blu-ray burner for $500 extra per Blu-ray drive.

In order to get a read on real-world performance for the AD-5100Adrive-before my own real-world testing on a dance-school video project kicked in-I trolled some online purchase sites for user reviews. At U.K., I found binary results: (1) five-star review("brilliant drive") and (1) one-star review ("noisiest drive ever"). The results were more informative at, where the drive collected (5) five-star reviews, with the oldest dating from April 2008. This tends to confirm that the drive lives up to its expectations, and when I used it, the unit wasn't particularly noisy, eliminating that concern.

New Print Engine

One of the key features of the MX line of printer/duplicators I mentioned is a new print engine from HP that offers separate cyan, magenta,yellow, and black cartridges and 4800dpi printing. Most CD/DVD duplicating systems use consolidated color cartridges that you have to change when any single color runs out, which is frustrating when you have plenty of ink remaining in the other colors. According to Microboards' press materials, one set of ink cartridges should be able to produce about 1,500 discs, depending, of course, upon your label designs.

At about $50 per cartridge, this put the cost per disc at 12 cents, which is significantly lower than similar products. While Microboards uses a standard HP print engine and the cartridges have the HP logo molded into them, the Microboards representative told me that the ink is custom mixed for optical disc labels and that standard HP replacement cartridges would not work in the MX-2.

Note that in addition to the cartridges, you may also have to purchase replacement print heads, of which there are two: one for black/yellow and the other for cyan/magenta. Each print head costs about $70, and Microboards rates them for 20,000 prints each. If you print about 500 discs per month, which is the unit's rated capacity, you should have to replace the print heads after about 40 months. Just to be clear, the unit ships with the four cartridges and the two required print heads,so you shouldn't have to buy any consumables for a while.

Microboards claims that, in addition to conserving ink, the new print engine is faster than the CX-1, which my tests confirmed. Specifically, the CX-1 printed a full-color disc in 107 seconds, while the MX-2 printed a similar label in 70 seconds. For many DVD jobs, of course,print speed is largely irrelevant. That is, if recording the disc takes 8 or 9 minutes, even in a two-drive system-so long as the printer gets the job done in 2 or 3 minutes-printing should never cause a bottleneck. Of course, if you're printing CDs, which are much lower-capacity and, thus, burn faster, print speed could become really critical to overall throughput, and the MX-2 should really shine.

In addition, for high-volume, fast turnaround DVD reproduction, which might pair the MX-2 with one of Microboards' 10-drive tower duplicators, print speed is critical. I tested print speed for a 10-disc job with simple text labels, which took 8:50 (min:sec), less than a minute per disc. Most of this was disc-transport time-getting the disc to and from the print head-with only a few moments for the actual printing. This makes the MX-2 fast enough for most print-only jobs. This may be the reason Microboards offers a print-only version of the MX-2 called the Microboards PF-Pro Disc Auto Printer for about $2,600.

With this as background, let's take a deeper look at the recording hardware and software.

The MX-2 is very similar to the CX-1 in shape and size, with a "don't lift this yourself" weight of 42 lbs. and a bulky 22" x 22" size. Though similar in appearance, the unit is more modular than the CX-1, according to the Microboards rep, and is built with a focus on easy field maintenance. This is important since users dislike shipping back the unit for simple repairs. As an example, you can open the top cover to access moving parts by removing a few Phillips-head screws. There's also a side port that provides easy access to the disc drives, which are usually the first components to go. Rather than having to dig into the heart of the beast to access the ink cartridges, you can now replace them in a front panel, which is much less intimidating.

As with the CX-1, the output bin hangs off the front of the unit, so you'll need to install the MX-2 on the front edge of a desk or table. Make sure it is a very solid table, as the print head action is very powerful; it noticeably shook the folding table that I performed most of my tests on. Fortunately, you can quickly unscrew the output bin when not in use for easier storage.

The MX-2 uses the same gravity-feed input bin as the CX-1. It's positioned on the top toward the back of the unit, where it's out of the way; however, blank discs are uncovered and exposed to dust and other office detritus, which can mar printing, at least for the top disc. The unit has a 100-disc capacity. A small robotic arm pulls the discs from the input stack and feeds them to the recorders. Then, a conveyor belt carries the discs from the drives in the back to the printer in front.

Inserting blanks in the input bin can be a bit awkward. The first four or five discs go in flat, with the rest stacked up against one of the screwed-in support rods. However, the entire workflow proved very solid. During my 4 weeks with the unit, I produced several hundred discs without a jam or other error that stopped production. If either of the disc drives failed to complete recording a disc, the MX-2 simply dropped it out into the reject tray in the back of the unit and kept on chugging.

PrintWrite Software

In terms of software, I found PrintWrite a welcome change from the dated Prassi software that shipped with the CX-1. As with the Prassi software, you can perform the standard range of job types, including copying a disc; creating audio, video, and data discs; and creating or burning a disc image. You can also batch-record and print a series of jobs by adding multiple masters, entering the desired number of blanks, and inputting the desired label by job number.

The software workflow is driven by tabs atop the interface, which walk you through selecting a job type and choosing your input, label, quantity, and other job parameters. There is also a tab for monitoring your progress. Overall, the software worked well, but it did have a slightly "version 1.0" feel, particularly with printing the inner diameter of the disc.

To explain, when you create your labels in SureThing, you specify the inner diameter of the disc print area, which is 23.5 mm for the Taiyo Yuden media that I always use. However, when you insert your label into PrintWrite, you again have to specify the inner diameter in the software. You can't set a default inner-ring value in PrintWrite, and the value resets back to 36mm for each new project. So if you use hub-printable media like I do and forget to reset the target inner diameter each and every time you create a project, you'll end up with the white halo of unprinted space around the inner ring. This is frustrating, and it could have been easily avoided by letting users set their own preference.

In addition, if you're a pro who likes to twiddle with recording speeds and other low-level controls, you'll quickly notice that these controls aren't available. For example, before starting my recording trials, I wanted to make sure that the recorders were set to the fastest recording speeds. I couldn't find the print-speed control. When I asked Microboards about this, the rep responded that the software deliberately lacked these controls because it was targeted toward non-technical users. Given how the typical user of such a device has changed from a techie to an admin, this probably makes sense. But if you fall into the former class, you'll miss the details.

Other than that, however, the software proved to be very reliable,which was impressive for a 1.0 version. In addition, even without my input, the unit performed very well, printing and recording 10 4.4GB video DVDs in 57:53, compared to 74 minutes for the single-drive CX-1.However, these results were slightly slower than the 55:03 time recorded by the dual-drive MF Digital Scribe PC 9602. To be fair, though, that unit comes with its own embedded computer, and it cost $2,000 more when I tested it in March 2007.

As I mentioned, Microboards still ships the SureThing CD Labeler program for label creation. It's a solid choice with lots of templates and background content. As with most label design programs, SureThing makes it easy to input background images into the menu design, which you can supplement with customizable text. I especially like the standard icons for disc type, operating system and the like, which are available in both black and white-although I couldn't find a Blu-ray logo, which would have been timely.


Though more a function of the print engine than the label design software, the MX-2's print quality was simply fabulous, with vibrant color and sharp detail and easily the best I've ever seen on a printer/duplicator. Overall, in terms of reliability, performance, and output quality, the MX-2 proved to be an exceptionally solid product offering from one of the most experienced and established companies in the business.

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