A Swiss Army-type CD/DVD kit

This week we have the CD/DVD equivalent of a Swiss Army knife: The VirtualDrive Utility & Burning Suite from Farstone.

This week we have the CD/DVD equivalent of a Swiss Army knife: The VirtualDrive Utility & Burning Suite from Farstone, which, for the sake of brevity, we shall refer to as "Vdbs."

Vdbs is, as they say in the marketing biz, "feature packed!" It lets you access images of CDs and DVDs stored on your hard drives or on the 'Net, will create a "virtual hard drive" (aka a RAM disk) for disk-intensive work and exact copies of CDs and DVDs, and allows you to compile and burn CDs and DVDs.

The CD emulation facility is particularly cool. We've played with other CD drive emulators but Vdbs seems to be the most flexible and stable we've come across. The installation process adds a new device driver that provides the drive emulation. You can configure up to 23 virtual drives, which also can be defined as Windows shares.

All Vdbs functions are accessed as options of a common control panel application called VirtualDrive Utility & Burning Suite.

CD emulation management is done through the VirtualDrive Manager option. This displays a list of real and virtual drives as well as "cabinets" - collections of CD and DVD images stored in Farstone's VCD format.

You can import ISO disk images as VCD files - a process so fast that we suspect the difference between Vdbs' own uncompressed VCD format and ISO format is minimal. (However, it is a shame that Farstone chose the extension VCD for its format, as there is a CD format - Video Compact Disk - which uses the same extension name.)

Uncompressed VCD-formatted files can be converted to ISO images, but obviously there's a benefit to compression for certain types of content. We tried imaging the Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003 CD to Vdbs' VCD compressed format and saw a compression of less than 6%, which we suspect is caused by the already compressed content on the disk. On the other hand, for music and data disks we imaged, we saw compressions of 20% to 30%.

When you image a CD you also can define which program is to be automatically executed when the virtual disk is opened, a facility useful for disks that aren't set up for normal "autorun" operation.

VirtualDrive Manager lets you insert or remove a VCD image into or from a virtual drive, and browse the VCD image contents (note that you can't copy or change anything in the image using VDM - you'll have to use the virtual drive to copy content). Using VDM, you also can back up VCD images to real CDs and DVDs, protect them with passwords and delete them.

All this and we haven't even begun to cover what you can do with burning CDs and DVDs! This CD/DVD burning option is accessed through the VirtualDrive Utility & Burning Suite.

It lets you make CDs, DVDs and audio CDs , clone CDs and DVDs, or back up your hard disk to CD or DVD media. The media choices available are CD-R (185M, 210M, 650M or 700M bits), DVD-R (4.7G bit), DVD+R (4.7G bit), CD-RW (185M, 210M, 650M or 700M bit), DVD-RW (4.7G bit), DVD+RW (4.7G bit), and DVD-RAM (4.7G bit). Of these formats, CD-RW, DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-RAM are all re-recordable.

There's support for mixed-mode and CD-extra formats, which combine audio and data tracks for multimedia content, multi-session CDs, MP3 CDs and UDF CDs (Universal Disk Format - see DocFinder: 6531 for an excellently geeky explanation of UDF vs. ISO format).

The final feature of Vdbs we need to cover is the virtual hard drive or RAM disk facility (called VHD by Farstone). This is a fairly sophisticated implementation that lets you create a RAM disk as large as available memory permits and save it on shutdown or in real time to a disk image file.

Farstone gave this feature a futuristic console interface that is different from any other facility in the suite for no apparent reason.

This is one of our few complaints other than an issue that might be peculiar to our test machine: Installing Vdbs onto a drive other than C caused the program to fail without any explanation. Installing on the C drive solved the issue, and since then the suite seems solid and reliable.

Our overall impression of this suite is very positive. The CD/DVD burning is excellent and only bettered by Nero 6 (DocFinder: 6532). That said, the virtual CD drive feature is by far the best we've found. For $60 per seat, this is a great piece of software!

You can write and be read at gear head@gibbs.com or on Gearblog.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in