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CD Cyclone CD Revo 12x10x32 FireWire CD-R/RW Drive

Mark Early

As the new century approaches its one-year mark, speed seems to be the name of the game. No longer content to wait until we get home to check phone messages, we do so now with cell phone pinched between chin and shoulder as we cut off the guy in the silver Lexus. Itís as if weíve convinced ourselves that weíre running out of time. The ever-increasing need for faster technology in transportation and data processing has us, in the words of poet Ishmael Reed, ìjetting through the world, our tails on fire.î

But perhaps we are speeding for a reasonóthe triple latte we just inhaled notwithstanding. For someone like myself who ad- mittedly wastes most of his free time, I donít really have any extra left by the time Iím sitting in traffic trying to get halfway across town. For my money, the faster I can get through meaningless tasks like driving to work, the better. Whoever said that patience was a virtue certainly didnít have to worry about getting anywhere. In this world of personal assistants, time management courses, and a get-it-done-yesterday ethic, is it too much to ask for a faster CD burner? I mean, it shouldnít take forever to burn a doggone CD, right?

Clearly, Steve Jobs didnít have us speed-conscious CD burning fans in mind when he rolled out his initial post-PowerPC line of Macs. With the USB interface he slapped on all the new boxesófor all the iMacsí futuristic lookóit was as if he meant to roll back time, to send Mac users careening back to the dark days when it took 40 minutes or more to burn a full CD-R. Perhaps it was some type of karmic punishment for the free ride Mac CD-R users had enjoyed through all those years when CD-R users on the PC side were slogging through buffer underruns, hard drive partitioning, and other indignities.

But with the G4 and second-generation iMac DVs we got a glimmer of hope in the form of FireWire (aka IEEE1394), which promised to restore to Mac CD recording all the speed we had enjoyed with SCSI. In other words, to let Mac users take advantage of all the new 12X recorders rolling off the line, and presumably their 16X and faster successors. But again, we were left seething with desk-jockey road rage because the FireWire CD-R shoe refused to drop. Months passed, drive announcements repeatedly made the rounds, and the drives were nowhere to be found. Until recently, that isÖ

up to the task, but not the multi

The folks at CD CyClone must be reading my mind because their new CD Revo 12x10x32 FireWire is the zippiest little burner Iíve seen yet. That said, there were a few problems I ran into while test driving this baby. For testing the CD Revo, I used a Power Mac G4/400 with Mac OS 9, 64MB of RAM, a default system disc cache of 4MB, and virtual memory disabled. The test results were consistent with the driveís rated performance speedsówhich is to say, blindingly fast to eyes accustomed to recording speeds modest by comparison to the wonders of 12X.

On the PC side, the CD Revo doesnít quite live up to its plug-and-play boast because youíve got to noodle around with a FireWire PCI card to get rolling. On a FireWire-equippedÝ Mac, you just install the premastering softwareóthe de rigueur Roxio (n?e Adaptec) Toast 4.1.1óprovided in the package and restart your computer after installation. Roxioís Easy CD Creator is provided for PC users. In addition to the enclosed software for Mac and PC, the bundle includes an external power supply, a FireWire PCI card for those computers not blessed with ascriptive FireWire support, and four blank CD-Rs. The default Toast memory settings didnít work for my purposes unless buffer underrun protection was activated. After a restart, my computer recognized the burner and I was good to go. The first thing I noticed was how much faster 12X write seemed compared to my prehistoric 4X (specíd) USB burner, which is a 2X burner in, uh, real life. Now weíre cookiní with gas, I thought.

One thing that puzzled me was the lights labeled ìwriteî and ìbusyî on the face were blinking instead of remaining constant during the write process as on my old burner. I discovered this is a manifestation of Sanyoís Burn-Proof technology, which is implemented in many current drive offerings, the CD Revo included. Burn-Proofís claim to fame is eliminating buffer underrun errors when the burner stops receiving data at a constant clip. So when my write light goes on and off, itís telling my burner to stop and wait for more data before it resumes writing. Pretty fancy, but this is the only Burn-Proof claim that delivers. Unfortunately, multitaskingóthe ability to do many things at once on your computer, a modern hate to wait-erís dreamóis not possible with Toast 4.1.1, as it does not currently support this technology. (In Toastís defense, multitasking of the sort prized by NT users, is not exactly the Macís fort? in any application. The machines simply arenít built that way.) So saying ìnot tonight dear, Iím multitaskingî isnít a viable excuse yetóat least not with a Mac.

ìtwo burgers and a chocolate shake, please...î

Itís not that I didnít find other things to do while I was burning CDs, just nothing too involved, mind you. I barely had time to make a sandwich and brew some more coffee before the dead-sprint machine was hungry for more. In repeated testing, it took just under seven minutes to copy a full-length CD. The FireWire interface allows information to get to the burner faster and CD Revo delivers with its 12X speed write capabilitiesó unlike USB burners which often canít handle the pressure. Perhaps not exactly a fair comparison, but over here in the parallel, post-G3 Mac universe, FireWire CD-R is a godsend. In the broader picture, as a member of the first real wave of FireWire recorders, the CD Revo arrives at an interesting time, when SCSI recorders have almost disappeared on the desktop front, and adherents of the sturdy, reliable peripheral interface have been left with the dilemma of whether to give in and cast their lot with the historically shoddier ATAPI alternative theyíve avoided all these years.

So hereís the news: FireWire CD-R is about 99% as plug-and-play as they say, every bit as fast as its 12X billing indicates, and makes a nice, daisychainable external peripheral in the best SCSI tradition. The two, side-by-side FireWire ports on the back make for easy pass-through to another FireWire device like an external hard drive or a digital camera or camcorder. And in that respect, itís less kludgy than SCSIóyou donít have to terminate the stupid thing.

Still, I have some minor complaints. There is no power light anywhere on the burner that tells you itís on. This is somewhat troubling considering that the drive needs to be powered on before you plug in the FireWire cable. The Mac-inspired transparent, colored plastic shell comes off somewhat contrivedólooking as if an iMac swallowed a regular old CD burner. Itís troubling how the iMac aesthetic seems to have put its stamp on the entire desktop computing universeósomeplace must be safe from its Swatch-like influence. The CD Revo comes in five regrettable bright Mac-like colors: salmon, aqua, orange, pink, and light blue with a stackable design. The look is sleek and really fits in with my G4. CD CyClone should take more pride in its product, thoughóno where on the burner is a company name or logo.

pop the hood

The CD Revo drive features a Sanyo mechanism, FireWire interface, and a 2MB data buffer. Write modes include Disc-At-Once, Track-At-Once, Session-At-Once, Multisession, and variable-length packet writingÝ (on the PC) with Roxio Direct CD. The data transfer rates are pretty impressive, too. With its 32X Max CD reading speed (which means it transfers data at 4.8MB/sec when reading from the discís outer edge, and revs up to that pace along the way), the CD Revo boasts 12X Max digital audio extraction speed, which ought to satisfy even the most impatient scofflaw music fan. If that still leaves you wanting, go get a PC and a Plextor UltraPlex and stake your rightful claim to that five-seconds-per-track time savings.

In addition to its triumphant 12X recording speed for CD-R (a 1.8MB/sec average data transfer rate at maximum speed, although this will vary significantly in Burn-Proof mode), the CD Revo also offers 10X CD-RW speed, a feature on which it tested fine. Sanyo-driven 10X CD-RW is the real deal, for what thatís worth. It all depends on how much 1.5MB/sec transfer speed means to you when youíre packet writing 59KB Word files to CD-RW. Keep in mind that most CD-RW discs on the market these days will not write at 10X, and the compatibility matrix has been rendered fairly confusing by the advent of these high-speed RW drives [See Hugh Bennettís November 2000 CD Writer column, ìCD-RW: Busted for Speeding,î p.49óEd.]. Proceed with caution. Or better yet, stick to CD-R. At a buck a disc and much less in quantity, whatís the difference?

fill íer up with hi-test and drive her off the lot

If youíre going to take the CD Revo for a test drive, youíd better use the proper fuel. I suggest you invest in some high-quality CDs ícause this baby doesnít tolerate trash. I mean, your not going to fill up a Porsche Turbo with low-grade gasoline. Why should it be any different for CD recording? Itíd be like copying Miles Davisí Kind Of Blue audiophile LP onto an old dusty cassette tape that you found between the seat cushions of your couch. You get the idea, right? The four enclosed freebie discs worked fine, but a batch of bargain-basement DigitalMedia (?) CD-Rs picked up for 19 cents a pop at Staples (blue and barcoded, for the CD-R sleuths in the audience tonight) became instant coastersóeven though they claimed ìmultispeed up to 12X.î I found that for my purposes, Kodakís CD-R Ultima hugged the curves pretty damn well.

All in all, CD CyClone has made a successful addition to its growing CD-R product line, which began with its T-8 duplication tower (of funky touchscreen fame) and includes several desktop CD recorders, among them the CD Revo and USB models.

Best of all, the CD Revo does what it claims to do. For one thing, its kicking performance bodes well for FireWireís future as an ideal interface for CD-R. Whatís more, it writes, rewrites, and reads at speeds that other burners only wish they could, leaving more time to do other thingsólike sit in traffic.

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