From the May 1998 issue of Startups

The massive file sizes of today's multimedia software applications require far more storage space than the traditional 3.5-inch floppy disk can hold, which is why internal CD-ROM drives have been standard on PCs and laptops since the mid-1990s. Accordingly, most software manufacturers are now releasing their products only in CD-ROM format. A single CD can store more information than 300 3.5-inch floppies and is much cheaper to produce.

If your PC or laptop pre-dates the advent of CD-ROM, don't worry: There's no need to scrap the whole system. You can buy an external CD-ROM drive that can be cabled to your PC's parallel (printer) port.

What if you need CD-ROM capability on the road, or a laptop is your primary computer? A portable CD-ROM drive can be installed in an open modular drive bay (if your laptop has one) or hooked up to the port of an internal PCMCIA card you install in your laptop (most CD-ROM drives come with one).

Many of the CD-ROM drives on the market today are adaptable to both PC and laptop use, so no matter what kind of computer you use, you have a wider selection to choose from than ever before.

CD-ROM drives are typically rated according to speed. A single-speed drive (now obsolete) can transfer data at 150 KBps, 2X drives transfer data at 300 KBps, 3X drives transfer data at 450 KBps, and so on. For optimal performance, software manufacturers recommend you purchase CD-ROM drives with speeds of 6X or higher.

Model: Synchrome Technology Maestro CD-8 (portable or external)
Speed: 8X
Price: $218.99
Phone: (800) 767-0085
Warranty: one year parts and labor

This drive is designed with a double-shell dust seal for trouble-free operation even under the worst conditions. An Auto Sensing feature automatically determines your computer's parallel port configuration to streamline the setup process. It comes with all the software and cables you need to get started.

Model: Micro Solutions backpack bantam (portable)
Speed: 8X
Price: $249
Phone: (800) 890-7227
Warranty: one year parts and labor

Weighing in at less than 21 ounces, the backpack bantam makes a great traveling companion for a laptop. This drive is also available with a built-in 16-bit sound card ($50) to enhance the multimedia experience.

Model: Plextor UltraPleX (external)
Speed: 32X
Price: $339
Phone: (800) 475-3986
Warranty: two years parts and labor

The UltraPleX is a high-performance 32X CD-ROM drive that uses UltraSCSI data transfer and a large 512KB buffer. The enhanced speed makes multitasking environments such as Windows 95 run smoothly and also makes database searches fast and easy. Designed for versatility, the drive can handle a wide range of CD-ROM formats, including the new rewritable CD-ROMs.

Model: Addonics PocketCD (portable or external)
Speed: 20X
Price: $279.99
Phone: (510) 438-6530
Warranty: one year parts and labor

Lightweight, portable and fast, the PocketCD's front-mounted controls and headphone jack allow it to do double duty as a personal audio player. Internal rechargeable batteries won't put a drain on your laptop's power, and Addonics offers users a toll-free technical support line to aid in installation.

Model: Panasonic KXL-783A (portable or external)
Speed: 8X
Price: $299.99
Phone: (800) 742-8086
Warranty: two years parts and labor

With two built-in 3D-Stereo Surround Sound speakers and a Sound Blaster FM sound source, the KXL-783A is a real space saver for multimedia systems. Power is supplied by six AA batteries or an optional NI-CD battery, so the CD-ROM doesn't drain your computer. To extend the battery life, a power-conserving Sleep Mode goes into effect after four minutes of inactivity.

Model: Sony PRD-650 Discman (portable or external)
Speed: 6X
Price: $299
Phone: (800) 352-7669
Warranty: one year parts and labor

Based on the sleek, lightweight design of the popular Sony Discman audio CD player, Sony's PRD-650 comes with a PCMCIA card and a Powerbook interface cable for quick and easy connections to both Windows and Mac-based systems. The drive runs on just four AA batteries.

Model: Axonix ProMedia 10XR (portable or external)
Speed: 10X
Price: $229
Phone: (800) 866-9797
Warranty: one year parts and labor

Fast, portable and affordable, the top-loading ProMedia 10XR can read most types of CD-ROMs, including photo, video and audio CDs. Designed for easy Windows 95 plug-and-play installation, this drive doesn't require a heavy AC adaptor for power when used with a laptop; instead, it draws power directly from the laptop's batteries. It goes into auto sleep mode after five minutes of inactivity.