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How To Buy
If you're adding a CD-ROM drive to your notebook, the options are much different than with a desktop PC. Because portable drives require miniaturized components, their speed tends to lag behind the state of the art. The fastest drive you'll find will probably be an 8X unit; 10X portable drives will be available by the middle of this year.
Look for a lightweight unit-a pound or less-that can run off battery power (either rechargeable or alkaline batteries). Many manufacturers quote battery run time based on the unit's performance as an audio player. Most drives offer 2 to 3 hours of play between charges when playing audio CDs, but power will drain more quickly when used for continuous CD-ROM access. If your portable PC has a PCMCIA slot, look for a drive that uses a PCMCIA card interface. Otherwise, you'll have to settle for a slower parallel interface.
Most portables have a clamshell design. Turn the unit over while it's running to see if the door opens. Move it around to see if jostling interferes with the program it's running.
Portable drives cost more than their desktop counterparts. Quad-speed (4X) drives cost between $249 and $299, while 6X units cost from $299 to $379. (See Reviews for a head-to-head comparison of four portable CD-ROM drives.)