Apple puts CD-RW drives and combo drives on most of its newer Mac models except for the low-end iBook, but that still leaves hundreds of thousands of older Mac models out there without the ability to burn CD-Rs and CD-RWs. That leaves a wide-open market for CD-RW makers to provide peripherals to the Mac market, like
TDK does with its velocd line.
TDK’s velocd 2401040F ships with a 6-pin FireWire cable, AC power adapter, two CD-R discs, a CD-RW disc, a CD containing Mac and Windows-compatible software (the Mac gets Roxio Toast 5.0 Lite, the PC gets Ahead Nero 5.5), a CD marker and the drive itself. More PC software is included than Mac software, but TDK provides a copy of MusicMatch Jukebox 2.1 — handy, since I couldn’t get iTunes to work with the drive.
Physically, the velocd is about what you’d expect from an external CD-RW drive, although it does sport a couple of interesting embellishments. The case design emphasizes curves, so it’s not feasible to stack the drive or mount it sideways. It’s molded out of a shiny grey plastic that looks sufficiently modern for most new computer systems.
Most external CD-RW drives feature some form of access LED on their front panel to tell you when they’re in operation. TDK opts instead for a unique design cue by moving that LED from the front panel of the veloCD drive to the top. A bright blue LED is visible through a diffusing plastic strip which runs lengthwise through the top of the unit, which results in this bright neon blue glow when the unit is in operation. When a disc is accessed or burned in the drive, the LED flashes.
The backplane of the veloCD is simple: two FireWire ports (a passthrough, in case you want to daisy-chain additional FireWire-based devices to the burner), the A/C power adapter input and a power toggle switch.
The velocd was plug and play when it came to disc burning. I attached the device to my Mac (a PowerBook G4/500 running Mac OS X 10.1.4), turned the drive on, inserted a disc, and the Mac asked me how I wanted it formatted. A few minutes later I’d burnt an archive of about 550MB of old MacCentral and Macworld articles I’d worked on, with nary a hitch.
Getting the drive to function using Roxio Toast Titanium was likewise flawless, and some informal tests showed that the drive is indeed capable of burning CDs at 24x — provided, of course, you purchase the moderately more expensive media rated for high-speed drives. Cheaper stuff works too, and the drive’s built-in buffer underrun protection helps prevent you from burning coasters.
Unfortunately, the veloCD isn’t yet recognized by iTunes under Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X. I tried using version 2.0.4, and came up blank — the software had no idea that a CD-RW drive was connected to my computer, despite Disc Burner and Toast’s cooperation. A spokesperson for TDK tells me the company has submitted the necessary information to Apple to get the drive supported by iTunes, but that information hasn’t filtered to a new build of the application — at least not yet. Hopefully it’ll be supported soon.
All told, the veloCD is a well engineered, stable and hardy piece of equipment. The blue LED adds a bit of science fiction to the device, and it isn’t all together unpleasant. This is admittedly an issue of purely personal taste, however — some people may find the long blue flashing light to be particularly distracting. The dark case really doesn’t do much to complement a Titanium PowerBook or older CD-ROM-equipped iMacs, but it works fine with Power Mac G4s. And in truth, the case design is benign enough that it certainly doesn’t clash with anything.
The biggest drawback for the TDK veloCD 241040F is iTunes’ lack of support for the drive — if you’re planning on burning your own mix discs, be warned that you’ll either have to wait for Apple to support the drive or depend on third party software. That problem aside, I was quite pleased with the performance, looks and value of the drive. It’s a nice looking piece of hardware that works as advertised. At $220 or so, it’s in the same ballpark as other equivalent FireWire drives, and it looks a lot better than most do at that.