• United States
by Wayland Hancock

Time to switch to CDs

Feb 10, 20035 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Portable CD writers

Do you remember when floppy disks were really floppy?  Most computers still come with diskette drives but they aren’t used much these days.  In shopping for a new computer for my home office recently, I found that CD ROM writers were typical on consumer models, but ZIP drives are still prevalent on many machines intended for business use.

It looks like things are in transition again.  While a ZIP drive costs about the same as a CD-RW drive, CD ROMs hold more and the media is a lot cheaper.  Historically, changes from one storage media to another have never been an easy proposition.  The last several years, ZIP disks have been one of the most popular ways to save PC files for exchange and back-up purposes.  But now the balance is shifting toward CD ROMs.  What’s the best way to deal with this dilemma?

In the past, we’ve purchased portable ZIP drives – now it’s time to get some portable CD writers.  While it’s true that CD-RW standards are still emerging, they are now stable enough to take advantage of this low-cost storage for backing up and archiving data or transferring files to and from home and work.  File sharing has never been so easy, or so safe.

There are just a few features you need to look for in a portable CD writer.  Speed is the most important factor, so be sure to get an external drive that uses high-speed USB 2.0 – look for the certified high-speed USB logo.  Speeds of 40x for both reading and writing are what you need, along with error prevention firmware and easy connectivity. Plexwriter 40/12/40U.  It works with Windows XP, Windows 2000, and even with Windows 98 – as long as that version has been upgraded to SE.  

One of the fastest and most reliable external USB CD writers is the Plextor (

This external high-speed CD-RW drive provides great performance for a very competitive price.  It is rated 40/12/40, which means that it reads and writes at 40x and re-writes at 12x speeds.  Its Burn-proof firmware prevents buffer underrun errors that can cause wasted media (or “coasters”).  It uses PowerRec-II (Plextor Optimized Writing Error Reduction Control), a sophisticated write strategy for stable recording at maximum speed.  In addition, it uses Digital Audio Extraction (DAE), to eliminate audio pops, clicks and hisses at high speeds.  Its combination of speed, functionality, and solid construction make this unit a good buy.

The hardware installation is simple – you just plug it in.  The included Roxio Easy CD creator is easy to install and use, too.  You just select the files and you want to copy and press the onscreen red record button.  It took me just a couple of minutes after setup to copy about 3,000 files in 150 folders (about 325M bytes).  The disks hold about 700M bytes.

On any of these drives, use the “write once” mode for fastest, most error-free results.  When you see a caution about some drives not being able to read a rewritable (RW) disk, what they mean is that they can’t read an open file. When making a RW disk, you don’t mark the file as closed until you’re finished writing all you want to on the disk.  With a RW, you could have several copy sessions, before closing out the disk.  RW drives (and some newer CD ROM drives – it depends on when they were manufactured) can read those open files.  But many ordinary CD ROM drives can’t read them until the file is closed.  

So, my suggestion is that you always close the file (make “finalize CD” the default setting), even though you may only be using a small part of the CD. It’s true that doing it this way you can’t go back and fill up the rest of the CD later, but the outer tracks of a long CD are most prone to error anyway – and regular CDs (the nonrewritable variety) are a lot more inexpensive that the re-writable variety.  With some loss-leading promotions these CDs now cost about a nickel each, compared to $2 each for CD-RWs.

You can make backups and archive copies this way very fast – an entire 650 to 700M-bytes in just a couple of minutes.  So, that begs the question – what’s an RW CD good for, anyway?  My best guess is that if you filled one up with a bunch of files, and only one file changed, you might want to rewrite just that one file – but even that use is questionable, since you could rewrite the whole thing on a fresh CD so fast.

There are just a few cautions when using this drive.  File names need to be renamed if they are more that 64 characters, and check to be sure that deeply imbedded folders are accessible on your CD – some files aren’t copied if the path is too long.

I’d classify this drive as a “cross-over product” from consumer to commercial use.  Obviously, personal users find the CD writer fun to use to make custom music CDs and to copy digital photos to share with family and friends.  In copying files, I made a few coasters, but that’s to be expected with so many factors involved.  And remember that the copy process is no faster than the weakest link, so if you’re copying from one CD to another and the source drive is slow, don’t expect lightening speed.

Wayland Hancock is business technology editor at Currid & Company, a Houston IT assessment company. You can reach him by e-mail ( Learn more about Currid & Company at