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Storage and promotion: there are more choices in optical drives. (Office Technology).

While most nonprofits don't pay a lot of attention to what kind of optical disc drives are contained in their personal computers (PCs), the latest offerings make it worthwhile to consider upgrading.

Up until last year, you basically had three choices. Two of these, CD-ROM and DVD-ROM, were read-only drives. These were fine if your requirements were such that you only used your optical disc drive to install software, or to read CDs sent to your office by other entities.

During the past several years, CD-ROM drives have been almost entirely replaced by CD-RW drives. The price differential between a CD-ROM drive which usually sells for about $60, and a CD-RW drive, which are available for as little as $100, makes the CD-RW a better buy for most offices. That's because a CD-RW, with the ability to use discs that have a capacity of up to 700MB or more, provide an excellent vehicle for file storage and transfer.

When you purchase CD-Rs in volume, they can cost as little as 20 cents each. Even the more expensive rewritable CD-RWs have come down in price substantially.

More, more, more

When CD-R, and CD-RW drives were first introduced, they made terrific backup devices. Even with drives priced at the $500 mark and CD-R discs costing a dollar, a CD-R/RW drive could hold the better part of an entire hard. disk drive.

With today's hard drive capacities often exceeding 60GB, that's simply not the case any more. Backup strategies haven't really changed much, but the media used in most backup simply hasn't kept pace.

File and application sizes have also increased with more space available. Even using incremental backup, where only the files that have changed since the last backup are stored, many offices are finding that CD-R/RW drives simply require too many discs be used during a single backup.

It's not the expense that many offices find annoying, since media costs are very reasonable. Rather, it's the bother of having to keep an eye on the system while it's being backed up, so that a fresh, empty CD-R or CD-RW can be inserted into the drive when required.

A completely different kind of optical disc drive may be the answer. Vendors have introduced a horde of recordable DVD disc drives. DVDs, or digital versatile discs, were developed to provide a distribution media for movies. While it took a number of years for this format to really hit, the past two years have proven that the wait was worth it.

Walk into most video rental stores and you'll find that DVDs are fast displacing videotape. The reason is simple, large capacity in a compact form factor.

DVD discs are the same physical size as a CD-R, but can hold 4.7GB, or even 9.4GB, compared to the 700MB maximum that a CD-R holds. This makes the DVD a perfect media for large capacity backups, as well as the obvious capability of letting you make DVD discs that can be played in standard DVD players and computers that are equipped with a DVD-ROM drive.

The logistics of making your own promotional videos was covered in a series of earlier columns earlier this year. With the proper type of DVD recorder, you can put these videos onto DVD discs, rather than making VideoCDs.

Three formats, no waiting

DVD drives with recording capabilities, often called DVD burners, are available now from almost a dozen vendors. Prices are affordable, though not as inexpensive as CD-RW drives, and installation is, in most cases, simply a matter of pulling an older CDR/RW or DVD-ROM drive out of your PC, and plugging the same cables into the DVD burner.

Software for doing backups or creating interactive DVDs is also included with most drives. In testing more than a half-dozen drives, none took more than 10 or 15 minutes to get installed and working.

Where the problem lies for most potential users is that there is currently four completely different, and in many cases, incompatible DVD recording formats. While DVD discs recorded in three of these four formats can be read on most stand-alone DVD players, they can't be read on a PC DVD burner that uses a different format.

The most incompatible of these formats is DVD-RAM.This is the oldest of the formats and used to require media encased in special plastic cartridges. Most DVD-RAM discs are still provided in these cases, but the discs themselves can be removed if you need to play them in a different machine. For straight backup, DVD-RAM is very attractive because you can purchase a double-sided disc cartridge that has a 4.7GB capacity on each side. Flip the cartridge over, and you can record another 4.7GB on the same cartridge, or a total of almost 10GB on the cartridge.

Most DVD-RAM drives, such as the VivaStar RS-111 drive, also let you record DVD-R discs. This is a writeonce media, perfect for use if you make your own promotional videos. DYD-RAM is also an economical approach to recordable DVDs. The RS-111 drive is priced at about $400, but often sells for much less, and includes five DVD-R discs. The DVD-RAM cartridges cost between $15 and $20 each, and blank DVD-R discs are about $6 or so each in modest quantities.

DVD-RW drives were the next format to be introduced. Pioneer is the foremost proponent of this format. The vendor's DVR-A04 is the second generation of DVD-RW drives, which can also record write-once DVDs in the DVD-R format. The DVR-A04 sells for about $500, with DVD-RW discs costing between $12 and $14.

The most recent format is DVD+RW, which also has a corresponding write-once format called DVD+R. Hewlett-Packard, Sony, and many other vendors have jumped on this format's bandwagon. Media costs for both rewritable and write-once media are comparable to that of the other formats.

All of these formats and drives provide an excellent vehicle for larger capacity storage and for producing DVDs for distribution. The DVD-RW and DVD+RW can also record standard CDR and CD-RWs, which makes them even more versatile. We found the DVD+RW drives, such as the HP dvd200i a bit faster in recording DVDs, both write-once and rewritable. But the 2.4x speed is not all that much faster than the other formats.

If a DVD recorder isn't yet your cup of tea, perhaps you might benefit from one of the newest really fast CD-R/RW drives which can burn a whole disc in less than four minutes. We'll look at some of these in the next column.

Ted Needleman is the former associate publisher and editor-in-chief of Accounting Technology magazine. He is now a technology consultant and writer based in Stony Point, N.Y. His email address is tneedleman@aol.com
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Author:Needleman, Ted
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:1131
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