Even when brand loyalty or software preference is not an issue, knowing what recorder you're using can make a big difference down the line. If you're having a problem with an older Smart and Friendly recorder, for example, it's nice to know that the recorder was made by Yamaha, and that a solution for the Yamaha recorder might also work for the Smart and Friendly.
Identifying a recorder is also useful when searching for drivers and firmware updates. If the recorder has had its BIOS ID string changed—which many times does happen—a firmware update for the manufacturer's recorder may work for the reseller's recorder. Some resellers are not so good at keeping drivers and BIOS updates current on their Web sites, so knowing the manufacturer at the start of your driver search is critical. And, of course, there is always the possibility that the reseller can go out of business, leaving you stranded unless you know who actually manufactured your recorder. (This was one dire consequence of the disappearance of Smart and Friendly last year. The company's success in obtaining and selling the first high-speed recorders off the line had, in recent years, made it nearly synonymous in the U.S. with Sanyo, who manufactured all the "Smart and Friendly" 8X and 12X drives.)
Give it a Name
Short of taking a recorder apart to see who made it—assuming that there are identifying marks inside of it—how do you determine who manufactured your recorder? If the name on the unit is one of those manufacturers listed above, then you already know, of course. But to do it yourself, look at the label on the top of the unit, because, even though it may have a different name on the faceplate, many times the top label reveals its true origin.
If the label doesn't tell you who manufactured the drive, there are some general rules of thumb that you can use. First, we can note that HP recorders are currently made by Sony. Older HP recorders, like the 4020, 6020, and 7100 series, were all of Philips origin.
Don't take this as gospel, because things change all the time, but using a little aggressive Web research, and assuming that what is shown in the picture is the actual drive, here is what you can surmise: if you see a 16X recorder, it's a Sanyo, a Plextor, a Yamaha, or possibly the slightly later-issued TEAC. You can tell the Yamaha recorders by the slight curve on the underside of the disc tray. The Plextor and Sanyo drives have no curve, but are, instead, rectangular. They look similar, but the key here is the placement of the emergency eject hole. On the Plextor, it is between the volume control and the drive light, while on the Sanyo, the eject hole is way over on the left, just under the disc tray. We haven't seen a TEAC yet, but the traditional TEAC drive design is easy to identify (see the following), so if they stick with that, you should have no problem spotting this one, under whatever faceplate you find it.
12X recorders are a little trickier to identify since there are many more players in that game. Sanyo, Sony, Plextor, Yamaha, Ricoh, and TEAC all have 12X offerings that you will see in various guises. A 10X recorder is usually a Sony, at least at this point; 10X was an intermediary step between 8X and 12X that most manufacturers skipped, though Sony makes an excellent 10X drive. Now, Sony has both 8X and 12X drives available, too. The key to identifying a Sony recorder is to look for the location of the emergency eject hole on the faceplate; Sony's emergency eject is right next to the tray eject button.