I'll put in my two cents also. Until last week, I owned a NEC 3500 for about 3 months. A friend offered to buy it for the same price I paid 3 months ago. (he didn't want to wait for delivery) Naturally, I took that deal. Since it's after thanksgiving, and BestBuy and other stores have extended return periods, I thought I'd take this opportunity to try some other drives.
First trial was a Plextor PX-716A, TLA 0101. Just about completely useless. Even the Fuji yuden000t02 media got poor results in the PI/PO scan in plextools. Other discs that the NEC had no problem with were completely unreadable when written/read by the PX716. I scanned a Fuji written by the NEC, got an excellent scan. 2 days later, the drive went back.
I stopped at Staples on the way to see if they had the IOMagic BENq re-badge. They had one 16X in stock, but it said 48X CD-R on the box, meaning it was the BTC, so I passed on that.
So, while at BB, I returned the Plextor, and got a Pio A08XL. Got it installed, and discovered there is a nx4all 1.14 firmware for it by >NIL. Flashed it with that, and did some burns. I don't have a Lite-On or other scan-capable drive, but the A08 is FAR better than the Plex. I wrote a G04 at 8X, and it read back perfectly. I can't do better than 6x in the NEC without problems reading it back. (Haven't tried the latest Quikee/Liggy firmware though, I know they've made many tweaks since the last time I tried.) Then I tried a fujifilm03 from shop4tech, and let CDSpeed do a data disc at full speed. (16X) I fully expected it to abort, they've never worked well at above 8X in the NEC. But the burn finished, and the transfer rate graph was fine.
One benefit of the Pio over the NEC is the Pio is faster at 8X burns. (Cause it does 2 zones, and starts at 6X.) The NEC is faster at 12x and 16x burns.
I had to burn an .ISO image of a CD-R, that was slighlty oversized . (704M), I used 80 min media, and Nero prompted about overburning, I clicked ok. The burn failed near the end. I tried a different media, and did a simulate, failed again. Hooked up my external Plextor 48/24/48, used the same disc, no problemt with the burn. I've burned this same .ISO on the NEC before, and had no problem. That's kind of a minus for me.
Overall, I still prefer the NEC. Bitsetting, 48X CD-R with overburning, fast performance at 12x/16x, and cheap availability of high-quality TY media makes it the better deal for me. Plus, it sells for around $10 cheaper than the Pio. And with the PC Connection deal, it's even better. ($60 after rebates for a black retail NEC 3500, AND a 50-pack spindle of Fuji -R)