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Answer to Burning Question: Which CD Writers Are on Fire?

These drives provide a flexible, long-term storage solution and can turn users into PC DJs. Here's a look at five new devices.

May 11, 2000|DAVE JOHNSON | FAMILY PC MAGAZINE

The CD-RW drive is the peripheral du jour, seared on the hearts of many mostly because of the fun and function it offers.

For starters, CD-RW drives can store up to 650MB worth of sound, digital images, video and text on a single CD-Rewritable (CD-RW) or CD-Recordable (CD-R) disc. Best of all, the CDs you create can be distributed and played in just about any CD-ROM drive.

In addition to providing a flexible, long-term storage solution, these drives can also turn you into a desktop DJ: You can mix your favorite songs onto disks for parties, the car, your Walkman, whatever. You can even download music from the Internet and save it to a CD-R disk that works in just about any audio CD player.

These drives write to two separate types of media: CD-R disks, which are inexpensive, write-once media that are ideal for custom music mixes; and CD-RWs, which cost about $3 and let you rewrite disc contents as often as you like.

Here's a look at five new CD-RW drives from Ricoh, Micro Solutions, Creative Labs, Iomega and Hewlett-Packard. Before you buy one of these drives, be sure your PC is up to the challenge.

If you own an older Pentium PC, it might be too slow to keep up with the CD-burning process. For best results, most CD-RW drives require at least a 166MHz Pentium, but a Pentium II or better will provide greater reliability.

Here's how we ranked them, from best to worst:

Ricoh MP9060A

If you don't mind working with IDE cables and jumper settings, the Ricoh is the best software/hardware package in this roundup. It's an internal 6x CD-RW drive that doubles as a 4x DVD-ROM, which means that you can use one drive bay to read, record and write CDs as well as play DVD movies. Best of all, this is a very fast recorder: Even though it's only a 6x drive, it burned audio CDs a hair faster than the 8x Creative Labs Blaster. ('x' ratings signify write speed; an 8x CD-RW transfers data eight times faster than playback speed.)

Thanks to a to-the-point quick-start guide, we installed the Ricoh more easily than we did the Blaster. Plus, the software includes the new 4.0 version of Adaptec's Easy CD Creator software, which supports MP3 audio in addition to creating music CDs and data discs. The package also includes the CineMaster decoder for playing DVDs.

If you crave the DVD functionality, it's well worth the cost.

Ricoh; (877) 742-6479; Windows 95/98; $399

Micro Solutions Backpack

Bantam CD-Rewriter

Designed as a portable CD-RW solution, this is the drive you want if you have a laptop or need to burn CDs while on the road. The drive ships with both a parallel port connector and a PC Card adapter, and you can use whichever is more convenient. Unfortunately, the backpack bantam still needs access to AC power, so don't expect to burn CDs on that red-eye to Phoenix.

The Backpack Bantam is slim and portable, yet it includes a built-in speaker for listening to music without headphones. At low volume, the audio quality is passable, but trust us: You don't want to crank the volume.

Because the drive comes with Adaptec's Easy CD Creator, you can burn audio CDs as well as make data CDs. As with Iomega's ZipCD, however, it's an older version of the software, and you'll need to upgrade to version 4.0 if you want to make CDs from MP3 tracks.

The drive turned in respectable 4x performance when creating audio CDs. But we have one minor quibble: Unlike all of the other drives in this roundup, it includes no starter media, so you'll have to pick up a box of CD-R or CD-RW discs before you get started.

Micro Solutions; (800) 890-7227; Windows 95/98; $449

Creative Labs CD-RW

Blaster 8432

Because the CD-RW Blaster 8432 is an internal drive that requires you to open your PC and fiddle around with IDE cables and jumper settings, we were dismayed to find no quick-start guide in the box. And even though the manual is well written, setup is unnecessarily complex. For instance, the installer asks you to identify which IDE port the drive is connected to, a potentially confusing step for novices.

Once we got everything installed and configured, we learned that this drive is fast, but not as fast as its 8x rating suggests. As it turns out, the Blaster 8432 was slightly slower than the 6x Ricoh we reviewed. If you plan on making numerous CDs, these extra minutes tend to add up quickly.

The centerpiece of this drive's software package is Nero, an intuitive, wizard-based CD burner interface that lets you create audio and data CDs easily.

Extras in the box include both CD-R and CD-RW media, as well as a marking pen for labeling your disks. Disk-labeling software, however, is conspicuously absent from this bundle.

Creative Labs; (800) 998-5227; Windows 95/98; $299

Iomega ZipCD

During the 1990s, Iomega made its 100MB Zip disk a ubiquitous household commodity, second only in popularity to the floppy disk. Because of some serious technological limitations, however, Iomega's ZipCD CD-RW drive isn't likely to hold the same sort of sway in the recordable CD space.

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