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Do you have a need for speed? Macworld Lab evaluated seven new FireWire CD-RW drives that should keep even the greediest speed demon happy . . . for a while, anyway. You can use any of these drives for backup and storage, as you would a standard CD-R drive, but they can also rewrite to your media. And since all the drives we tested take advantage of the IEEE 1394 interface, better known as FireWire, they're easier to set up than SCSI drives and speedier than their USB counterparts.
Our roundup includes four 12x10x32 drives: the EZQuest Boa FireWire 12x 10x 32x, the Fantom FireWire 12x10x32, and the QPS Que FireWire 12x10x32x, all built around a Plextor mechanism; and CD CyClone's CD Revo 12x10x32 FireWire, which uses a Sanyo mechanism. (The numbers indicate write, read, and rewrite speed, respectively.) All four rely on Sanyo's Burn-Proof technology, which Sanyo claims stops the dreaded buffer-underrun errors that occur when the burner stops receiving a consistent stream of data during a write session. BurnProof tells the mechanism to stop, wait for data, and then start writing again; it also lets you burn CDs in the background, freeing your computer to perform other tasks. No Mac applications currently support this technology, but the next version of Adaptec's Toast and Radialogic's upcoming CDMaster both promise to support it.
For those with more time than money, we've also included three 8x4x32 drives in our tests: the Plextor-based QPS Que FireWire 8x4x32x and the Matsushita-based EZQuest Boa FireWire 8x 4x 32x and LaCie CDRW 8x4x32x.
Macworld Lab put the drives through a series of real-world tests--copying from a CD to the drives and from the drives to a CD-R, erasing and copying to a CD-RW disc, and backing up data to a CD-R. The results were consistent with the drives' rated performance speeds, although some problems did surface.
The LaCie CDRW 8x4x32x exhibited erratic read performance. One trial took 12 minutes; another, 6 minutes; and the next two trials, 10 minutes each. The CD Revo 12x10x32 had problems writing at high speeds with the default Toast memory settings; we had to set the cache manually to the recommended 24MB.
Another issue, unrelated to the drives themselves, had to do with confusing media specifications. The slower-rated drives couldn't recognize the 4x8x10x-capable CD-RW media from Verbatim and Yamaha. Verbatim said that although the discs are certified up to 10x, you can only use them in the new high-speed (8x or 10x) rewritable drives. So read the packaging carefully to ensure that the CD-RW media you buy is compatible with your drive.
The EZQuest Boa FireWire 8x 4x 32x and the LaCie 8x4x32x took five to six times as long as the 12x10x32 drives when backing up 600MB of data with Dantz Retrospect 4.3. That's because the Matsushita mechanism doesn't support continuous data streaming in packet mode, the mode Retrospect uses for backing up to a CD-RW drive. As a workaround, Retrospect slows the speed of the writers from 8x to 2x. The Que FireWire 8x4x32x drive backs up to CD-R media at 4x, half its rated CD-R speed but twice that of the other 8x-rated drives. One drive--the CD Revo FireWire, featuring the Sanyo mechanism--couldn't perform the backup test at all because Retrospect doesn't support it. CD CyClone is aware of the problem and is working with Dantz to fix it.
Keep in mind that you won't usually be performing backups during work hours, so speed may not be high on your list of priorities. That's why we weighted other factors--such as price, included media, design, carrying case, and software--more heavily when rating these drives.
In the looks department, the drives face the challenge of putting a sleek, Mac-like wrapper on a boxy, putty-colored drive. Only QPS's Que FireWire drives are putty-free and decked out in this year's hot graphite-and-white color scheme, and they even include a handy carrying case.