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December 1996 Reviews This Month

12/96 Reviews HW: Micro Solutions backpack 8X CD-ROM

Multimedia Hitchhiker Is Slow, But Easy

By Marc Spiwak

A portable CD-ROM drive comes in handy when you have more than one system. The versatile Micro Solutions backpack 8X CD-ROM drive connects easily to a parallel port. For $499, it provides a viable multimedia solution because it also comes with sound (however, there are no speakers).

The backpack CD-ROM drive measures approximately 2 by 7 by 11.5 inches. The front looks like any other CD-ROM drive, with a power switch and a power input jack for the included adapter. There's a CD audio output jack on the back panel. Two ports, one for your computer and the other a pass-through for your printer, are also included. The drive contains a 16-bit FM-synthesis sound card, so the traditional jacks for auxiliary input, microphone, line in, line out and an amplified speaker jack are available. Bundled audio software provides a recorder, CD player, mixer and several talking applications, including a calculator.

You can install the sound card and CD-ROM drive separately, so the backpack won't get in the way if a sound card is already installed on your system. A full installation will modify your AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files or create the files if they don't already exist.

After installation, both the drive and sound support sprang to life on the first reboot. Performance, however, was nowhere near 8X, according to Quarterdeck's CD Certify Pro. The backpack can supposedly detect an enhanced parallel port (EPP), which is what it needs for best performance-ideally, 8X or 1.2MB per second. When I tested the drive on three systems, each with an EPP port, its best performance was slightly above 1X, or around 162,500 bytes per second. Access time averaged 174 milliseconds on one run and 167 on another. Using an EPP expansion card, the transfer rate shot up to 610,224 bytes per second, but that's still only slightly better than 4X.

If you need a portable CD-ROM drive, the backpack 8X fills the bill. But don't expect conventional 8X drive performance. If you're looking for a fast drive for a desktop system, stick to conventional IDE or SCSI models.

-- Info File --
Micro Solutions backpack 8X CD-ROM
Pros: Easy portability
Cons: Hard-to-achieve 8X performance
Platforms: 3X, 95
Micro Solutions
800-890-7227 x200, 815-756-3411
WinMag Box Score: 3

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