From personal backups to archival and storage of important data, recordable and rewritable CD’s have become nearly indispensible to many computer users over the past couple of years. Apple is finally on board with a new line of Power Mac G4’s that sport CD-RW and DVD-R/CD-RW drives, but what are the rest of us to do? The solution, of course, is to add a CD-RW drive to our current configurations. One of the fastest solutions available for that purpose right now is QPS’s FireWire-based Que!Fire 12x10x32x CD-RW drive.
USB-based CD-RWs have been around for a while, but they’re pokey. With USB-based drives topping out at around 6x write speed, it takes a while to fill a CD. Fortunately, there is an alternative: FireWire — the faster external peripheral interface that Apple has made ubiquitous across the Mac product line. The QPS model I recently tested writes CD-R’s at 12x, CD-RW’s at 10x, and can read CD’s at 32x.
If speed is your thing, FireWire for CD-R’s makes a lot of sense. Anyone who needs to duplicate many CD’s throughout the day — musicians, software developers, graphic designers, or anyone else with a lot of data — will appreciate the extra speed they get from this Que!Fire’s 12x mechanism.
The drive’s presentation is quite nice. It ships in a graphite-and-ice chassis that will go especially well with new Macs, but it’s subtle and neutral enough to complement just about any FireWire-equipped Mac. QPS ships the drive quite completely, as well — it comes with its own carrying case, a power supply, a FireWire cable, documentation, a driver disc including Adaptec/Roxio’s OEM “Standard” edition of Toast, and a sample CD-R and CD-RW disc for you to get started with.
Installation couldn’t be any easier. FireWire is a true “plug-and-play” interface, and while it’s necessary to restart the Mac to activate a system extension that the Toast CD mastering software requires to function with FireWire devices, you needn’t power down the Mac to attach the drive itself. The backplane of the Que!Fire drive includes two FireWire interfaces — that came in real handy, since I have a FireWire scanner with a cable just a few inches too short to comfortably reach the Mac. Now it’s daisy-chained to the Que!Fire drive and works just great.
The Que!Fire certain lives up to its speed billing. Burning a full CD took a bit more than six minutes, and some quick calculations showed that the burner consistently operated at around 11.8 – 12x. Even with verification, CD duplication becomes much less of a chore at this speed. CD-RW is also right up to speed, taking about seven and a half minutes to burn a 650MB rewritable disc (that’s 10x, if you’re keeping score). The drive also functions just fine for audio and data playback, as well, although I wasn’t able to see any subjective difference between the speed of data read off the Que!Fire drive versus the same data being read off of my Mac’s internal 24x CD-ROM. I tested the Que!Fire drive with a Power Mac G3/450 (blue and white) model, running Mac OS 9.0.4 with 128MB RAM.
Oddly, the Mitsui-manufactured CD-R disc included with the drive couldn’t be burned at the 12x rate. I had to drop Toast to 8x before that blue disc would take data. The supplied CD-RW disc worked without a hitch, however. And during my testing, I managed to blow through a 50-pack of Imation 12x-rated CD-Rs at full speed without turning a single one into a coaster, near as I can tell.
Based on a drive mechanism manufactured by Plextor Corp., this Que!Fire drive features “Burn Proof” technology, which is advertised as eliminating buffer underrun errors in fast write modes. I’d make sure that you’ve running Toast at its latest revision to make sure that function is activated. I didn’t have any problems at all burning a CD-R in one window while I was checking e-mail or visiting a Web site in another, so I can say confidently that this functionality works as intended.
I like the drive, believe me, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a disappointing experience with QPS’s tech support. And based on testimonials I’ve read on various Web forums and elsewhere, my experience isn’t unique, apparently.
I’d been using the Que!Fire drive for a couple of weeks when I began to experience a problem — the drive access light on the front of the unit stayed on and the drive wouldn’t be recognized by the Toast software. The unit was eventually repaired quickly and efficiently by QPS, but trying to get a hold of them was a real pain. E-mails and phone calls went into a black hole until I finally got a response from someone more than a week later. I was told that they had just moved and were experiencing some problems with their phone system.
Outside of my problems trying to get the drive serviced, which were taken care of once I could get a hold of someone, I’ve been quite happy with the Que!Fire drive. It’s speedy, quiet, and works great. The software doesn’t yet work with Apple’s Disc Burner software — the nifty part of new Power Mac G4s which enables users to create single-session CD’s by simply clicking and dragging to a CD-R icon on the desktop. Instead, all of the burning has to happen through Toast. But I found that Toast is an easy software to get the hang of, and is reasonably unobtrusive. It’s also updated regularly to accommodate new drives and new features.
The drive isn’t supported by iTunes, either. iTunes is Apple’s new MP3 utility — it was released to the public as a free download in January. Apple indicates that iTunes will eventually support third-party CD-burners, however. It’s a reasonable assumption that the Que!Fire drive will be on that list — after all, this very drive model is sold as an accessory from The Apple Store. (If you’re shopping around, consider that many resellers sell it cheaper than Apple does, and some offer rebates or bundle deals too.)
The Que!Fire drive looks elegant, works as advertised, and comes in a nice bundle that gives you everything you need to get started. The only downside is QPS’s dodgy tech support. If that doesn’t set you off, the Que!Fire drive is definitely worth taking a look at.
The drive retails for $320-$400 depending on the vendor you’re buying from. It’s available from various retailers and e-tailers — QPS maintains a list of authorized distributors and resellers on their Web site. For more info about the QPS Que!Fire 12x10x32x CD-RW, visit QPS’s Web site.