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the cd writer

Multifunction for the Masses

Robert A. Starrett

March 2000 | The falling prices of personal computers are a good thing for everybody, except the manufacturers, whose razor-thin margins make low-cost personal computers almost a loss-leader. More and more people are able to afford a computer, and more and more people are buying them. The driving force is, of course, the Internet, with "Internet-ready" emerging as most boxes' key selling point. All this really means is that they usually include some software that allows the user to connect to an ISP without a whole lot of trouble. If you don't have Internet access, you're nowhere, it seems.

The interest in the Internet also had a lot to do with the resurgence of Apple brought on by the iMac (as in Internet Mac), which not only appeals because of the five delicious colors that are available, but supposedly because it really does plug in and get you surfing in just minutes. I wouldn't know-my tangerine iMac is still unconnected. I tried-maybe it's an ADSL thing-but I really only have it to test and review USB and FireWire devices; I can surf the net on my PC well enough.

Meanwhile, PCs have changed as well. The shelves of retail stores brim with Aptivas, Prolineas, Brios, Pavillions, Jornadas, and all the other idiotic names attached to this new breed of machine from Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, eMachines, and others. These machines, like the iMac, have a lot going for them: low price, loads of preloaded software, and clear or smoked plastic, the latest craze. If the whole case can't be smoked, at least some portion of it is.

The one thing that these machines are lacking, of course, is open drive bays, or in the case of the iMac and eMachines PC lookalikes, any drive bays at all. External is in, internal is out, or so it seems, for anyone who wants to add optical technology devices to their budget-line machines. So when it comes to external devices, we luckily have several choices. But are they viable choices? Take USB, for example-forget it unless you want to stay in 2Xland forever. SCSI is out on the iMac (a big mistake on Apple's part), unless you use a USB-to-SCSI converter. But that cable is unlikely to speed the USB bus any faster than it can already go on USB devices, which we already know are insufficiently speedy for any serious recording. The second round of iMacs has Firewire ports, and that is a good thing, but Firewire recorders are just beginning to leak into the market.

For the bayless on the PC side, there appear to be several options. For instance, dump the cheap CD-ROM drive that came with the machine and add a CD recorder. But what about DVD? Everybody wants to sit in front of the computer and watch movies, don't they? Seriously, a DVD-ROM drive will become a necessity in a PC soon enough, just as CD-ROM is standard equipment today. But what about recording if only that one drive bay is available? Throw in a modern recorder and you have recording, rewriting, and fast reading of CD-ROM, but no DVD capability.

One manufacturer has finally addressed this issue, and many others could show similar market-savvy by quickly following suit. Ricoh has come to the rescue of all the bayless folks who want internal DVD-ROM, CD-ROM, and CD-R/RW capability. The new drive is Ricoh's MP9060A, an ATAPI drive that uses two laser diodes in a single pickup to read and write [See Michelle Manafy's review, pp. 43-45 Ed]. The drive features 6X recording, 4X rewriting, 24X reading for CD-ROM, and 4X reading for DVD.

Multifunction drives like this are the wave of the future, just because so many people are limited by the constraints of their personal computer case. Pure CD recorders, those that emphasize CD recording and de-emphasize read speeds, will continue to have some future, but only in the duplication and professional recording market. While a few years ago, reading excessively on a $5,000 Yamaha CDR 100 seemed foolish, many of today's recorders have efficient and reliable mechanisms that make it possible to use all the functionality of the drive without fretting about wearing out an expensive recording mechanism prematurely.

One reason for the existence of multifunction drives is their comparatively low price; another is advances in drive design and construction that allow recorders to run cooler. The Ricoh is a good example: all that functionality and speed, and no fan needed. In the past, you would have been foolhardy to press a CDR 100 that had just recorded a disc at 4X to your skin. Current recorders, like the Ricoh, can generally be hugged and thanked for their reliability without the fear of second-degree burns.

So as recorders progress, we also might have a little confusion among the consuming public, especially if the computer stores continue to hire the kind of staff they have in the past. Ricoh's 6x4x24x4 means something, but it may not be obvious to the uninitiated. In the future, we may see super-multifunction drives that will not only perform the CD-R and CD-RW write functions and the CD-ROM, CD-Audio, and DVD-ROM read functions, but will also do it all, like write DVD. Imagine this press release banner: "RecordCo Inc. introduces 12x8x48x10x1x8x multifunction drive." That may be a little confusing, but I still prefer it to calling the drive a Proaptivalineabrio.

Robert A. Starrett is a contributing editor for EMedia, The CD-R Writer columnist, and an independent consultant based in Denver, Colorado. He is the co-author of of CD-ROM Professional's CD-Recordable Handbook.

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