Disco Inferno

Thanks to fast burn speeds and smokin' prices, CD-RWs are charring the CD-R competition.
Magazine Contributor
8 min read

This story appears in the November 2000 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

We're bidding a fond farewell to floppy disks. Not everybody has a Zip drive, and SuperDiscs can't be read by regular floppy drives; but you'll be hard pressed to find a computer that doesn't have a CD-ROM drive. That flat tray that looks an awful lot like a cup holder is the key to widely compatible removable storage. So, in today's CD-R-friendly climate, with prices dropping and speeds acceler-ating, it's time to either replace your old 2x CD-R or buy a brand-new CD-RW of your own.

While the music applications are obvious, the business potential is something to really tap your toes to. Backing up files is an often-neglected task, but CD-RWs at least offer a convenient format and 650MB of space for your important data. No mere floppy can claim that. Fast burn speeds and cheap media make it less of a headache to create several backup copies for safekeeping.

With CD-ROMs being a fairly universal medium, they can also be quite effective as communication tools. Put a PowerPoint presentation onto a CD, and you've got a customer handout. HTML documents, company information, PDF files, forms and references can be passed around in CD format. If your computers aren't networked, CD-ROMs can be a handy way to transfer large chunks of data and files from machine to machine.

Are You RW Or Not?

There used to be one choice for burning your own CDs: CD-R. Then CD-RW drives came on the scene, but you had to pay big bucks to get one. Now CD-RWs are the norm, and prices have fallen well below $300 for many models. With even the cost of the medium dropping, CD-R-only drives are becoming an endangered species. While CD-RW drives can write to CD-R discs, CD-R drives can't write to CD-RW discs. Buying a CD-RW increases your options.

The Toshiba SD-R1002 is in a class all its own. It can 4x write, 4x rewrite, play 24x CD-ROMs and play DVDs at 4x. At $289 (street) for the Toshiba, it's clear that DVD capability doesn't add too much to prices. You can get faster write and rewrite speeds in non-DVD drives for about the same amount of money, but, well, you can't access DVDs with them.

Speed Demons

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.


If you tried to buy CD-RW discs a year and a half ago, you probably shelled out $5 per disc. But media prices have dipped, and CD-Rs can now be bought in bulk for as low as 50 cents apiece. CD-RWs can be found for less than $1 each. Large quantities are where you'll find the best prices. Spindles of 50 or 100 discs without cases are sold everywhere from CompUSA to any number of stores online. Prices for these generally range from $25 to $100 per spindle.

However, not all discs are created equal. When trying out a new brand or disc type, test a few before you invest in a large spindle. If you get lots of burn errors or problems with readability, try another brand. Higher prices don't necessarily equate to higher quality. Unless rewriting is a must, cheaper CD-R discs are suitable for most jobs. CD-RWs are handy for daily backup chores.

OK, now that you've burned a CD, what next? First off, never use ballpoint pens to mark on CDs-the pens' sharp points can damage them. Use felt-tip permanent markers or markers manufactured just for that purpose. But if you're handing a CD-ROM to a prospective client, your illegible chicken scratches won't make the best impression anyway. For a more professional look, you can try a program like Stomp Inc.'s (www.stompsoft.com) CD Stomper Pro, a do-it-yourself labeling kit that includes labels for inkjet printing, software to design those labels and a device to put the sticky labels on CDs. The street price is $40. Neato (www.neato.com) offers a similar kit called the Neato 2000 CD Labeler Kit for $30 (street).

For those of you with exotic tastes in business cards, a CD-RW drive lets you take advantage of BizNetCard's (www.biznetcard.com) Do-It-Yourself CD Business Card Kit for $79.95. The CD-Rs included with the kit look like CDs that have been trimmed down to near business card size (CDs don't have to be round). What you burn on the discs is up to you. With 50MB of data capacity, you could include your Web page, references or presentations as well as contact infor-mation. Labels, software and 12 mini-CDs are included.

Suite Talk

Chances are, when you buy a CD-RW drive it will come with a suite of software for handling everything from copying CDs to arranging data for burning. Adaptec's Easy CD Creator (for PCs) and Adaptec's Toast (for Macs) are two of the most commonly bundled programs. The TDK veloCD ReWriter comes with one of the most compre-hensive sets of software. Included in the package are Adaptec Easy CD Creator, Adaptec Direct CD for drag-and-drop writing, TDK Pure-Dupe for copying, TDK Digital MixMaster for organizing audio, MusicMatch Jukebox for creating MP3s and Adobe ActiveShare for arranging digital photos.

Other programs are available to make your CD-burning experience more productive. CD-R Diagnostic from CD-ROM Productions (www.cdrom-prod.com) lets you test CDs and recover data. This can be helpful for tracking down mysterious problems and sources of error messages. While the occasional coaster is inevitable, you can at least cut down on their numbers.


Buffer: a temporary holding area for data as it's being transferred to CD media during the writing or rewriting process

CD-R: Compact Disc-Recordable; describes a CD that can be written on all at once or in sessions, but cannot be overwritten or reused. Most of these hold 650MB of data.

CD-RW: Compact Disc-Rewritable; describes a CD that can be used again and again

EIDE: Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics, the standard internal desktop connection for adding a drive

Shopping List

USB Pro2
(800) 874-1427
external4x 4x 24x/
Mac- and PC-compatible, hot-swappable, one-year warranty$250
HP CD-Writer 9200i/e
(800) 752-0900
internal and external8x 4x 32x/
4MB buffer, one-year warranty

$275 (internal)
$399 (external)

(800) 742-8086
external4x 4x 20x/
portable drive, compatible with laptops and desktops, weighs 12.7 ounces, two-year warranty


PlexWriter 12/10/32A
(800) 886-3935

internal12x 10x 32x/
supports Windows NT and 2000, toll-free technical support, one-year warranty


MediaMaster MP7080A
(877) RICOH-RW
internal8x 4x 32x/
4MB buffer, can be installed vertically or horizontally


veloCD ReWriter
(800) 835-8273
internal8x 4x 32x/
high-speed audio CD recording, large software suite


(949) 457-0777
internal4x 4x 24x (4.8x DVD)/
combination CD-RW and DVD drive, can be installed horizontally or vertically


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