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-- by James E. Powell
Despite the growing popularity of mass storage options such as the SyQuest SyJet and the Iomega Zip drives, nothing matches the pervasiveness of CDs. Three new CD-Recordable products, the Mitsumi CR-2600TE, the Sony Spressa 960H and the Yamaha CDR400tx, offer different technologies for affordably making your own CDs.
All three drives read at 6X. The Sony and Mitsumi write at 2X, while the Yamaha writes at 4X. The drives were installed on a Dell Dimension Pentium 133 with 16MB of memory, a platform we chose because of its potential for buffer underruns (which would render the disc unusable). None of the drives had problems during our tests.
The drives share other features: They are all capable of writing in both the traditional track-at-once recording method and the newer packet-writing method. With packet writing, you can use your CD-R just like a hard drive. On each drive's front panel, you'll find a headphone jack and volume control, power and read/write activity lights, and an eject button.
We used TestaCD Lab's CD Tach Professional to test read speed and CPU utilization; we used each drive's supplied software (if any) to measure write performance. All met their rated read and write speeds.
The Mitsumi CR-2600TE, which we tested in beta, was the easiest drive to install because it uses an EIDE interface. The version of Adaptec's DirectCD we used to test packet writing was incompatible with the drive, so we tested only track-at-once recording using Easy-CD Pro. (A Mitsumi spokesperson says packet-writing software will soon be available.)
The package includes an IDE cable, audio cable and three blank CD-R discs.
CeQuadrat ToGo 4.0, bundled for track-at-once recording, is a good program for creating audio and data CDs. It includes standard features like multiple session-writing capabilities; it can also emulate a disc write before doing the physical write to test the drive's speed.
The Mitsumi has a 1MB data buffer and works only horizontally. The CR-2600TE's performance falls in the middle of the pack (see chart). It's a good choice if you're afraid to tackle SCSI, but need good, solid performance.
Sony Spressa 960H
The Sony Spressa 960H, which we also beta tested, featured the best value as well as the best performance. The only drive in this group with a caddy, the Spressa includes a low-end but serviceable Adaptec SCSI ISA card, an easy-to-follow installation guide and one CD-R disc.
The Sony was the fastest in most of the CD Tach measurements (see chart) including the Multimedia and Application Index tests (which predict performance with applications) and the Random Seek Time. The Spressa's packet-writing speed, tested with DirectCD, measured approximately 221KB per second, only 28 percent slower than the 4X Yamaha (at 309KB per second). That's very good performance, indeed.
The SCSI card can only be configured to IRQ 9-12, set with jumpers. It's strictly a low-cost solution for the Spressa: For example, there is no external port for attaching external SCSI devices.
Despite the lack of Easy-CD Pro in the bundle, the Spressa is a good overall performer and the better value in a 2X write-speed drive. The unit's faster performance and good value merit a spot on our WinList.
The Yamaha CDR400tx, an external SCSI drive, has a solid feel and fine performance, though it's a surprising CPU hog. The drive, the only one in the trio to support NT, pleased us with its dependable, error-free performance. The Yamaha's 4X write speed never suffered from buffer underruns, thanks to its 2MB buffer.
The drive ships solo-you'll need to buy a SCSI card and software. We used an AdvanSys ABP940 PCI Ultra SCSI card, and Adaptec's Direct-CD and Easy-CD Pro software to perform the recording duties. In our testing they worked without a hitch. The Yamaha proved exceptionally reliable, and the time you save using 4X over 2X speed (about 15 minutes for a full disc) may easily offset the extra initial investment in drive (and software) if you produce several discs a week. The Yamaha is one worthy workhorse if speed is your most important consideration.
The best choice
Surprisingly, the software bundles left us disappointed. Sony includes only DirectCD for packet-writing duties and a $99 upgrade coupon for Easy-CD Pro (for track-at-once writing). The coporate version however, includes the Easy-CD Pro software. The Yamaha drive has no software or SCSI card, though the CDR400tx-PM retail bundle ($899) includes DirectCD and Easy-CD Pro. While the Mitsumi drive supports packet-writing, the only bundled software is ToGo 4.0, which supports track-at-once recording. At press time, DirectCD allows you to erase files, but the empty space can't be reclaimed until you re-initialize (reformat) the entire disc. The next version of the software will make the space immediately available, just like your hard drive. When that happens, using CD-R discs will seem as close to using your hard drive or a floppy as it gets.
Each drive has something to offer: The Mitsumi CR-2600TE, with its EIDE interface, is the easiest to install, and the Yamaha CDR400tx offers the fastest write speed. But the WinList honors go to the Sony Spressa 960H-it's not only the best performer in the roundup, but also the best value.