Like hard-disk drivers, soft-ware drivers for CD-ROM devices are typically neither seen nor heardyet these crucial bits of software allow the Mac OS to retrieve data from your drive. If you bought a Mac with a preinstalled CD-ROM drive, you're most likely using the Apple CD-ROM driver included in the Mac OS. But Apple's driver won't support most external drives and won't let you use CD-R or CD-RW burners to read discs. In addition, you can't use the Apple CD software with the drives in most Mac clones. FWB's CD-ROM ToolKit 4.0.1 and Intech's CD-ROM SpeedTools 4.1 let your Mac work with devices that Apple's stock drivers don't support.
Just Enough and No More CD-ROM SpeedTools' control-panel interface provides all you need to tune CD-ROM performance.
The latest incarnation of FWB's ToolKit looks and works just like its predecessor, version 3.0. The only noticeable difference is the inclusion of limited editions of Audion, an MP3 player, and N2MP3, an MP3 encoder. ToolKit improves CD performance through multiple caching schemes: you can set up static and dynamic RAM caches, and even set them for specific CDs. ToolKit includes performance-tuning profiles for specific CD-ROMs, but it lists mostly old titles, and the profiles are of questionable value as they're appropriate only for data CDsaudio CDs don't benefit from caching drivers. An automatic tuning system would have been a good idea.
Intech's SpeedTools, a relative newcomer, features a svelte interface and an affordable price tag. While the driver includes a multiple caching schemejust like ToolKitfor improved performance, it keeps things simple with just two tunable options, neither of them disc-specific. The default setting for one option lets the driver decide how to optimize performance.
To test the drivers' performance in our blue-and-white Power Mac G3, we used Casady & Greene's SoundJam to extract and encode a lengthy music track from a CD. The Apple and SpeedTools drivers offered similar performance, but we found that ToolKit 4.0.1 doesn't allow SoundJam to extract and encode in a single pass. As a result, users face considerably longer encoding times because the software must first extract the audio data from the disc. This omission is surprising in ToolKit, a product that should be quite mature by now.
If your CD-ROM drive works with the Apple driver, stick with that. But if Apple's driver doesn't recognize your CD-ROM drive, Intech's CD-ROM SpeedTools is the better choice. It costs half as much as FWB's package, it behaved well in our testing, and unlike ToolKit, it supports asynchronous operation for faster performance. SpeedTools is also thrifty with system resources, and Intech's policy of free future upgrades for SpeedTools customers makes the product an even better bargain.
RATING: PROS: Bundled with light versions of MP3 applications. CONS: Expensive; doesn't support asynchronous I/O on ATAPI drives. COMPANY: FWB (800/581-4392, http://www.fwb.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: CD-ROM, $80; download, $70.
RATING: PROS: Straightforward interface; good performance; inexpensive. CONS: Audio CD player has fewer features than Apple's. COMPANY: Intech ( http://www.intechusa.com ). LIST PRICE: $35.
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