Mitsubishi Electric has developed a more powerful semiconductor laser that should pave the way for 16X DVD writers to be commercially available from 2004.

The new laser is able to deliver pulses of light at a power of 200 milliwatts, which is double that of lasers used in today's 4X DVD writer drives, the Tokyo company said this week.

Each bump in the speed of optical drives means the laser, which is used to create the light beam that burns data into the disc, has to be made more powerful. When DVD writers first came out, they required 50 milliwatt lasers. The jump to 2X speeds required a 70 milliwatt laser and, beyond today's 4X drives, the next generation of 8X drives will need a 140 milliwatt laser. Such products are already well on the way to being commercialized.

For users, the eventual arrival of 16X drives will bring big benefits. At that speed drives will be capable of writing data at 176M bps (bits per second) which means a complete 4.7GB DVD disc can be written in three and a half minutes, according to Mitsubishi. That compares with around 14 minutes for today's fastest 4X drives and almost an hour for a first generation drive.

Samples of the new laser will be available from June 2003. With the introduction of the new laser, Mitsubishi says it expects its monthly laser production to increase from the current 1 million to 1.5 million during 2003 and reach 2 million units in 2004.