One of the fastest CD-RWs in our table is the Plextor PlexWriter 12/10/32A. It records at 12x, rewrites at 10x and plays back at 32x. Although the Plextor has a top write speed of 12x, it can also write at 8x, 4x and 1x (handy when using discs that can't handle fast burn speeds). Using the example of a music CD, if you are burning 60 minutes of audio onto a CD-R disc, the Plextor drive would record it at 12x, taking about 5 minutes to write the disc. A drive that recorded at 4x would take about 15 minutes to burn the same disc. Speeds are always given assuming optimum system performance; actual speeds will vary with the configuration of your computer and the type of interface you're currently using.
A drive's buffer memory size can affect how smoothly the burning goes, with 2MB of memory standard. The Hewlett-Packard HP CD-Writer 9200i/e and Ricoh MediaMaster MP7080A both come with 4MB buffers. The larger size should help cut down on the errors arising from buffer problems.
Besides speed, you'll also have to decide whether you want an external or an internal drive. If you don't want to pry open the lid of your computer or pay somebody else to pry open the lid of your computer, you'll want to buy an external drive. If you like to work on your computer's innards, an internal drive offers the advantages of being less expensive and more out of the way. But you'll be able to take an external drive from machine to machine. The HP CD-Writer Plus 92100i/e comes in both internal and external versions. At $275 (street), the internal version is $124 less ex-pensive than the external version.
Check the "Shopping List" on page 75 and you'll see that most internal CD-RWs connect through EIDE, the same as most hard drives and CD-ROM drives. Usually you can pull out or disconnect your old plain CD-ROM drive if you have space considerations or compatibility problems. There's always Velcro if you're short an open drive bay but still have EIDE room.
Probably the simplest hookup is through USB. In our chart, the $250 APS USB Pro2 offers 4x write, 4x rewrite and 24x read speeds through computers' already existing USB ports. This type of drive is an option to consider, especially for iMacs or PCs without legacy slots. For faster external drives, SCSI is the preference. Setting it up takes longer than USB and might require that you install a SCSI card. The HP CD-Writer 9200i/e is an example of an external SCSI CD-RW.
A special class of CD-RW drives has been developed for pure port-ability. These external drives are built to work with laptop computers and maintain lightweight profiles. The Panasonic KXL-RW10A is a good example. It weighs in at just under 13 ounces, and it measures 5.12 inches by 6.41 inches by .96 inches. Connection is through an open PCMCIA slot on your laptop. It's a good idea for road warriors that need to back up data on the go.