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-- by James E. Powell
CD-Recordable (CD-R) drives are getting faster and cheaper, but they've always been a write-once medium. The Ricoh MediaMaster combines CD-R and CD-Rewritable (CD-RW) functionality in a single half-height, internal SCSI-2 drive. This 6X read/2X write caddyless unit, which we beta tested, is simple to install, incredibly easy to use and, at $699 for a complete kit, a real bargain.
Controls on the unit are minimal. The single LED on the front turns red when activity occurs; otherwise, it's green. The drive has forward and backward buttons and a headphone jack. The CD-R and CD-RW tasks are handled with two bundled Adaptec software packages: EasyCD Pro 95 2.1 and Direct CD 1.0. Each application works with both CD-R and CD-RW media.
EasyCD Pro "stages" the writing of a CD. Ideally, you select all files and write them in one fell swoop. The easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interface lets you create traditional data and audio CDs. EasyCD Pro, typically used with CD-R media and for making discs for professional duplication, is made even better when used with CD-RW. That's because you can just erase the media and start over in the event of a media buffer underrun. The downside to this method of CD writing is that 15MB of overhead is added each time you close the application (which constitutes a session). If you reopen EasyCD Pro to add files you forgot the first time, the overhead starts to take its toll.
By contrast, Adaptec's Direct CD lets you use a process called packet writing. Here, the drive acts like a hard drive-albeit a slow one. Drag and drop files to and from the drive, use the Save command within your software and so on. You can use CD-R or CD-Rewritable media with Direct CD and write as much as you desire (until you fill up the disc)
There's no such thing as a "session" when you use packet-writing mode. Using CD-R media, you can continue adding files to the CD drive until you need to share the disc. At that time, you must convert the contents from the Orange Book format used for packet writing to the ISO 9660 standard format used by today's CDs. This requires 15MB of overhead, but you only need to do it once. If you do infrequent writes to a CD-R, Direct CD is definitely the way to go.
We also used Direct CD to write to the CD-RW media, though this media behaves slightly differently from the CD-R process described above. For example, Direct CD must first format the disk, a 30-second process. As with the CD-R discs, you have an option to convert the contents to the ISO 9660 standard. However, traditional CD-ROM drives can't read CD-RW discs. Only MultiRead CD-ROM drives coming on the market (including newer DVD drives) have the special circuit needed to boost the gain of the CD-ROM's pickup (to compensate for CD-RW's lower reflectivity). CD-R discs created by Ricoh, on the other hand, are readable by traditional CD-ROM drives.
The CD writing features, such as support for multisession, CD-XA and Photo CD, are standard for a 2X drive. We connected the preproduction MP6200S drive to an AdvanSys Ultra SCSI adapter and copied files from a hard drive to a CD-RW disc. The average rate was 9.74MB per minute; erasing works at the same rate. Within Explorer, there's a 4- to 8-second delay before copying begins, but it's hardly noticeable. Opening or saving Word documents to the MediaMaster felt as fast as a typical hard drive and much faster than accessing a diskette.
There are, however, some restrictions to using this kit. Direct CD does not support random mode deletes; deleted files remain physically on the disk (though hidden) until you do a complete disk erase. Space freed by deleted files will be available for rewriting with Direct CD 2, due to ship this summer. There are further limitations: CD-RW media is limited to 1,000 rewrites, according to Ricoh. In addition, the 6X read means the drive will supplement, not replace, your current CD-ROM drive.
The complete MediaMaster kit includes the Ricoh MP6200S drive, a PE Logic 1600 SCSI-2 host adapter and cable, the Adaptec software, Seagate Backup Exec 95 5.6.1, and one piece each of CD-R and CD-RW media (the latter averages $20 to $25). It's a great bargain for a smooth-running, easy-to-use CD-R/CD-RW combo.
Although reasonably priced CD-Rs ($1,000 and under) have been available for over a year now, affordable CD-RW technology has been a long time coming. The Ricoh MediaMaster finally brings it all together in one package. It's a unique product that earns a well-deserved place on our WinList of recommended products.