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Multifunction CD-RW/DVD-ROM Drives.

You can get speed, quality, and value in one compact product

Amid the sea of new products shown--at least in prototype format--at the COMDEX conference last fall, it wasn't easy to spot a unique storage device that combined the functionality of CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, and DVD-ROM devices. However, such a drive, Ricoh's MediaMaster MP9060A, is now available at a very reasonable price.

The Multifunctionality Concept

The consumer electronics industry has always strived to put more functionality in a box. At one time, we had a separate radio box and a separate tape recorder box. Soon thereafter came a single unit that combined the two. A little later it became common to have two tape decks and a radio combined in one unit, along with detachable or non-detachable speakers. After that came boxes sporting an audio CD player within the same unit.

The same was true for TV sets and VCRs. Although they were once separate units, now there are sets that house both the television and VCR in a unit that's only a little larger than the original TV set itself. These combinations certainly reduced the space requirement of two or more separate units, the separate remote controls, and the cable jungle.

In the computer arena, especially in the home-computer field, we've witnessed the same trend. Back in 1994, Compaq had a nifty all-in-one unit that was perfect for our computer lab, where saving every inch of space and reducing the amount of cables were important considerations. At that time it packed impressive functionality that included a sharp 14-inch monitor, a hard drive, a floppy drive, and a CD-ROM drive. Its footprint was minimal on the lab desks, and it was easy to move around and carry to the classroom with one hand (the other hand was busy with the keyboard and the mouse). Notebook computers, of course, were even more compact, but had a 40-to-60-percent surcharge for the same configuration as in a normal desktop computer. The all-in-one computer concept has had a renaissance, as I discussed in my COMDEX report on page 1 of the February 2000 issue of IT. The savings in space and clutter--without sacrificing performance--are very attractive.

Implied Multifunctionality

To appreciate the performance and price of Ricoh's CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo, we need to know the performance and price or the stand-alone CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives, as well as their functional capabilities.

CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives, of course, are made to be multifunctional. In addition to rewriting CD-RW media, CD-RW drives can read and write audio CDs, Video CDs (popular in Europe and Asia but not in the U.S.), data CD-ROM discs, CD-R and CD-RW discs, as well as some of the esoteric formats like CD Extra. They can't read DVD-ROM discs, let alone write or rewrite DVD-ROM discs. But DVD-ROM drives can read all the formats that CD-RW drives can (although some may not be able to handle CD-RW discs) plus DVD-Video and DVD-ROM discs.

Multifunctionality is so much implied with CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives that the distinguishing factors are the price and the speed at which the drives can read discs, and--in the case of the CD-RW drives--write and rewrite discs. Currently, the fastest CD-RW drive is Smart and Friendly's CD Rocket Mach 12. It can write CDs at 12x speed, but the average street price of about $500--twice the price of the drives with 6x write speed such as the Ricoh MediaMaster MP7060A--makes it more of an expensive toy than a device for mere mortals. The few drives with 8x writing capability, such as the Yamaha CRW8424SZ or the Plextor PlexWriter 8/4/32, are also a tad expensive, with street prices above $300. When it comes to rewriting capability, however, the mainstream is represented by the many drives with 4x rewrite speed, with street prices hovering around $200. The CD-RW drives that cost around $200 typically read CD-ROM discs at 24x. A few of the higher-end CD-RW drives can read CD-ROM discs at 32x. Again, this difference is not earthshaking in everyday practice.

On the DVD-ROM front, the most common speeds are 5x or 6x, although there are some featuring 8x or l0x read speed for DVD-ROM discs. (For DVD movies the speed doesn't matter because DVD video is played back at 1.4 MB/sec., no matter how fast your DVD-ROM drive is). As for the read speed of CD-ROM discs in DVD-ROM drives, it's usually 24x. As for DVD-RAM discs, the Ricoh MP7060A doesn't read them even if PC Magazine claimed so in its review in the March 21 issue. The typical street price for such DVD-ROM drives also hovers around $200.

Ricoh MediaMaster MP9060A

This combination unit checks in with speed figures that match the mainstream stand-alone CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives. This is no surprise because Ricoh has always been in the forefront of CD-R and CD-RW technology.

The MP9060A label is not at all informative, with the possible exception that the number "6" stands for the write speed of the drive. This is better than the write speed of many of the CD-RW drives that sell for about $200. A 4x rewrite speed is what's used in the majority of CD-RW drives. The same can be said about the speed of Ricoh's drive when reading CD-ROM discs at 24x. The DVD-ROM reading capability is 4x, just a bit slower than most of the stand-alone DVD-ROM drives that are currently sold.

The software bundle is relatively modest in quantity, but perfect in quality. The MP9060A is bundled with Adaptec's DirectCD and Easy CD Creator; these will satisfy the software-writing and rewriting needs of almost every user. As for the DVD video playback, Ricoh chose the Cinemaster MPEG2 file decoder and navigation software. This is better than the Mediamatics software most often bundled with DVD-ROM drives.

So what about the price? If you believe PC World, which in its April issue nearly dismissed the MP9060A as being too expensive by only quoting its list price of $399, you may not be as impressed as I am. I never pay list price; I always go for the best street price--this is so easy to do now by scouring the Web. And what I found will impress you for sure: $269 at mwave.com (http://www.mwave.com). Yes, there is also a version with a $249 price tag at the same site, but it's a "white box" version (a euphemism for refurbished merchandise). Frankly, for a $20 difference at a price that's slightly more than either a standalone CD-RW drive or a stand-alone DVD-ROM drive, I would grab the brand new MP9060A. It takes only a single bay and uses a single IDE interface port, thereby drastically reducing not only the clutter but also the chance for software or hardware conflicts.

So why do I say I would grab it instead of I will grab it? Because I don't even have a single free drive bay on my inexpensive home etower PC. One bay is taken up by a DVD-ROM drive, the other by an internal Zip drive. My CD-RW is connected through the parallel port. Maybe my next PC will be a very inexpensive bare-bones model in terms of storage devices, and then I will upgrade it through the Ricoh combo drive. If you have a plain-vanilla CD-ROM drive in your PC and you have no CD-RW and DVD-ROM drive, ditch that CD-ROM and replace it with the MP9060A. You'll love it.

Peter Jacso is associate professor of library and information science at the University of Hawaii's Department of Information and Computer Sciences, and a columnist for Information Today.
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Author:Jacso, Peter
Publication:Information Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Words:1270
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