Mass Storage

NEC MultiSpin 4X4

Trendsetter Keeps on Truckin'

CD-ROM pioneer NEC continues to set trends with its MultiSpin 4X4, a quad-speed CD-ROM changer capable of storing and accessing four CDs. The MultiSpin, which measures 1.7 by 5.9 by 8.3 inches, is a tight fit into a standard 5.25-inch drive bay. It includes all the installation trimmings you need, including IDE ribbon, EIDE interface card, internal audio cable and user manuals.

The drive carries each disc separately. Its front panel features four buttons; LEDs to the left of each button indicate the current disc. A quick press of a disc's button will quietly eject it halfway out of the unit, allowing for easy retrieval even if you have clumsy fingers.The 4X4 has a data-transfer rate of approximately 600KB per second and an access time of 250 milliseconds. The drive supports CD-ROM XA, multisession Photo CD, CD+ and CD-I. It also supports standard CD-ROM formats including mixed mode (data and audio). The MultiSpin's CD Changer Software Utility offers a drop-menu option for CD changes. This utility works whether the unit is treated as one drive or four, making CD shuffling a breeze.

The four-button system eliminates the disk-swapping problems of competing systems, so you always know the status of your disks.

NEC MultiSpin 4X4
Price: $99
Pros: Design; price
Cons: Tight fit
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95
NEC Technologies
800-632-4636, 708-775-7900
WinMag Box Score 4.0


Speedy IDE CD Player

The TEAC CD-56E 6X IDE CD-ROM drive is easy to install and configure (especially under Windows 95), and the performance is exceptional, providing superior video quality and audio synchronization when playing video from a CD-ROM. The TEAC's seek time is 110 milliseconds, while its average access time is 140ms. Its data-transfer rate is 900KB per second, and it comes with a 256KB buffer.

Like most single-play CD-ROM drives, the front panel offers only an ejection button, adjustable volume control and a headphone jack. All other controls are provided by software. The TEAC supports the Kodak Photo CD and Red Book audio as well as MPC 3. The only jumper controlling the TEAC defines the unit's master/slave relationship. The motorized disc tray is protected by an automatic dust door, ensuring years of use with standard CDs.

Price: $149
Pros: Fast; affordable
Cons: None significant
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
TEAC America
800-888-4923, 213-726-0303
WinMag Box Score 4.0

Philips PCA62CR 6X

Speed Merchant for Multimedia

The Philips PCA62CR 6X drive has a price of only $69.95, and it will add plenty of vim and vigor to your PC, whether it already has an old, slow drive or no multimedia capabilities at all. This upgrade drive is three times faster than that old 2X drive you are most likely replacing.

The drive's documentation is very good, although you probably won't need it. We installed the drive in a Pentium system running Windows 95. We connected the drive to the unused connector on the motherboard's built-in IDE controller. The computer recognized the drive as soon as it was turned on, and we were able to use it in seconds.

Once the drive was up and running, we ran a simple test to see how fast data would transfer. We copied a 30MB file from a CD-ROM to the hard disk in about 36 seconds. That works out to about 826KB per second, which is close enough to a 6X drive's typical 900KBps transfer rate.

Philips PCA62CR 6X
Price: $69.95
Pros: Speed; price
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95
Philips Electronics
800-235-7373, 408-453-7373
WinMag Box Score 4.0

Micro Solutions backpack 4X CD-ROM

Carry Your CD Player With You

Many users with older systems who aren't yet ready to upgrade, but want the convenience of a CD-ROM drive, can add a portable CD-ROM drive that connects to a computer's parallel port. One such solution is the backpack 4X CD-ROM drive, which is a parallel-port CD-ROM drive with a sound card.

The user guide notes that the unit is enhanced-parallel-port (EPP) aware, meaning that if your computer has EPP and the BIOS supports EPP, the backpack's performance will be improved. If these conditions are not present, however, the drive will behave like a standard 2X unit.

The backpack has jacks for auxiliary audio sources, a microphone, line in and line out, and speaker connectors. Buttons on the front open and close the CD drawer, and advance the playing track. Also provided is a volume control, LED and headphone jack. Connected to a Gateway 2000 Nomad, the backpack turned in a seek time of 312.7 milliseconds with a transfer rate of 113.26 KB per second.

Micro Solutions backpack 4X CD-ROM with sound card
Price: $349
Pros: Easy installation; includes stereo sound
Cons: Relatively slow
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95
Micro Solutions
800-890-7227 x200, 815-756-3411
WinMag Box Score 4.0

Tandberg PantherMini 4600

This Panther's Built for Speed

The Tandberg PantherMini 4600 tape backup can hold 2.3GB worth of uncompressed data or 4.6GB compressed. In testing, the PantherMini achieved a 1: 1.9 compression ratio. The Tandberg uses a SCSI-2 connection; the package's documentation talks at great length about setting the included Adaptec SCSI adapters.

We were impressed with the PantherMini's speed: 24.2MB per minute, just about in the middle of the speed range the company says the unit can handle-Tandberg claims 36MB per minute. The drive uses QIC 3210XL tapes (we used the Sony tape cartridge included in the package). The unit has power and read/write activity lights on the front panel, and it loads tapes behind a dust-protection door.

Tandberg PantherMini 4600
Price: $499 (internal); $629 (external)
Pros: Speed
Cons: Noise
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95
Tandberg Data
800-826-3237, 805-579-1000
WinMag Box Score 4.0

Quantum Fireball 1280

Fast and Spacious Hard Drive

Quantum's excellent Fireball line of drives is well represented by the 1280, which features stellar performance and solid support. It's rated for a 500,000-hour mean time between failures.

The drive design has the controller placed entirely outside the chassis, connected to the drive mechanism via a detachable ribbon cable. This allows easy removal and replacement of the controller in the event it fails. Both horizontal and vertical mounting are supported.

Jumper settings are printed on the drive's faceplate, although the jumper itself is on the drive controller board (and consequently a little hard to find at first glance).

It was easy enough to get the drive installed and running, and the manual is full of useful information, right down to the part numbers for the correct screws to use when mounting the drive horizontally or vertically. The Fireball's performance scores were consistently high when it came to cached performance (6.7MB per second); when dealing with uncached data, it delivered only 2.1MBps on average.

Quantum's drive is a good, solid performer, with easy configuration and detailed, complete instructions.

Quantum Fireball 1280
Price: $225
Pros: Performance, replaceable controller
Cons: Requires jumper settings
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Quantum Corp.
800-624-5545, 408-894-4000
WinMag Box Score 4.0

SyQuest EZFlyer 230

The EZFlyer Really Soars

The EZFlyer 230 holds a 230MB cartridge in a sleek-looking, slimline case. It can also read and write EZ135 cartridges, which, except for the label, look identical to EZFlyer cartridges. The drive sports an eject button and smooth eject mechanism, as well as a power switch (conveniently placed on the side). We tested the external parallel port version of EZFlyer.

Like its EZ135 sibling, performance is very good. With an average access time of 13.5 milliseconds and burst data-transfer rate of up to 4MB per second (2.4MBps sustained rate), the EZFlyer really soars. Installation was a snap, thanks to precise instructions in the setup program. The drive ships with several utilities for formatting disks and, best of all, a good backup program for quickly moving files from your hard drive to the EZFlyer.

A pull-down flap in the front of the drive helps keep out dust, and a topside window lets you see the cartridge's label. Two lights on the front of the unit indicate power on/off and activity mode (full-power or standby). The parallel pass-through worked even when the unit was not powered on; pass-through is not supported under Windows NT.

The package includes the drive, one cable, software and a cartridge. Single cartridges are $29 (13 cents per MB) and multi-packs drive the price down to 10.4 cents per MB. This compares favorably with 14.8 cents per MB for single EZ135 cartridges and 20 cents for single Iomega Zip cartridges. SyQuest's EZFlyer 230 is light enough to be portable, rugged enough for constant use, and quiet enough so you won't know it's there.

SyQuest EZFlyer 230
Price: $299; cartridges, $29
Pros: Ergonomic features; fast performance; sleek design
Cons: None significant
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
SyQuest Technologies
800-245-2278, 510-226-4000
WinMag Box Score 4.5

Iomega Jaz Drive

All That Jaz And a Drive, Too

The Jaz drive is a removable-cartridge unit based on Winchester hard disk technology. Its cartridges are only about the size of three 3.5-inch floppy disks stacked on top of each other, and not much heavier. To install the drive, you'll need a SCSI controller; we tested Jaz using both an Adaptec 2940 and NCR 810 controller and had equally satisfying results.

As for performance, Jaz has impressive specs: 5400 rpm, 12-millisecond access time and a 256KB internal data buffer. When copying large files using a 166MHz Pentium system, the Jaz drive had a data-transfer rate of about 2MB per second; for comparison, the system's hard disk handled about 3MBps, so the speeds are roughly comparable.

Jaz's performance is good enough that you could use it as a primary drive, but for most people it works better as a second drive. Windows 95 treats it as removable media, so you can use the Jaz drive much like an overgrown floppy disk.

If there's a downside to Jaz, it's noise. When the drive is not being accessed, its background hum seems a bit louder than that of a standard hard drive. And you'll really get an earful when you access Jaz; there's quite a bit of knocking and rattling.

Iomega Jaz
Price: $499 (external); $399 (internal)
Pros: Convenience
Cons: Noisy
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Iomega Corp.
800-MY-STUFF, 801-778-1000
WinMag Box Score 4.0