Hewlett-packard CD writer plus M820e – Hardware Review

hewlett-packard CD writer plus M820e – Hardware Review – Evaluation

Robert A. Starrett

it is not necessarily noteworthy that the HP CD Writer JPlus M820e comes with two pieces of media, a CD-R disc and a CD-RW disc. What is noteworthy is that this new portable CD-RW drive is no higher, wider, or longer that those two discs in jewelcases stacked on top of one another. Well, I exaggerate, but not by much. Take two jewel cases and stack them together; imagine a CD-RW drive that is 1/8 of an inch wider, 3/16 of an inch taller, and 7/16 of an inch deeper and you get the picture. Now try putting theft picture in your pocket because it will fit there, too.

Long desired by CD-R enthusiasts who want or need to write discs on the road, but are scared away by the thought of lugging around a 5.25-inch SCSI or parallel drive in an external case with their laptop, the time for portable recording has finally come. And as a portable peripheral, the HP M820e recorder does not disappoint.

unpacking

The HP drive kit includes the drive, a power supply, a SCSI PC Card for laptop connection, a SCSI cable, headphones, and one piece each of CD-R and CD-RW media. Software included with the 4x4x20 drive consists of a driver diskette, and a software installation CD containing Adaptec’s Easy CD Creator 3.5 and Direct CD 2.5. For documentation, HP includes manuals for both Direct CD and Creator (in eight languages–his thing gets around). There is also a quick start setup poster, with step-by-step setup instructions that are understandable, typical of HP’s commitment to easy installations of its products.

It is easy to install the recorder, even on a laptop without a CD-ROM drive, since the driver diskette installs the software necessary to access the drive. The diskette layout is a little confusing, with immediately apparent subdirectories for NT and DOS, but none for Windows 95 and 98. These Windows drivers are in the root directory and resolving that minute or two’s worth of confusion, you can have the drive up and running in a couple of minutes more.

Installing the recording and packet-writing software is easy, too. The installation CD is autorun-enabled and the Macromedia menu is easy to navigate and use, although the “happy music” that plays automatically on startup is annoying for those of us who are plenty happy without it. Also included on the disc are Intel chipset upgrade utilities for the Intel 440 chipset.

little feats

The drive is top-loading, opened by pressing a blue eject button on the top of the case and then lifting up the released door with your fingers to gain access to the disc. The disc pops easily off the spindle. It is held in place by three small plastic balls, supported by springs. The drive weighs in at under a pound; it is so compact that any thief could easily lift it and conceal it in his pocket in a second or two. So users are well-advised to keep their eyes on this recorder when out in public. It’s a very tempting target as it can easily be mistaken for a portable audio CD player.

The rear of this diminutive marvel has a 50-pin mini SCSI 2 connector and a plug for the 6-volt DC power supply. Unlike many power supplies for portable drives, this one mounts the transformer on the wall plug itself in a very small form factor–about one-and-one-half inches wide, one inch high and two inches deep. This small size, coupled with the lack of a grounding tab, allows the power supply to fit easily into the most crowded or tight outlet or power strip without a complete rearrangement of other cords that are already plugged in.

On the front of the unit is an LCD that displays power status and write speed. Presumably, it also displays error messages, but since I got no errors in testing, I saw no messages. There is also a green LED that shows drive activity, turning to orange when the unit is recording. Also on the front is the on/off switch and a volume control for the headphone jack that resides on the right side of the drive. The bottom of the drive hides an eight-switch settings panel, with three micro-slide switches for SCSI ID and one for termination. The remaining three switches are unused or reserved. Four rubber feet keep the drive from sliding on a desk or an airline tray table.

The recorder boasts a 2MB buffer which is sufficient for on-the-fly recording and direct disc-to-disc copying. HP claims a mean time between failures (MTBF) of 50,000 power-on hours. Although Windows NT Workstation is supported by the software, Windows NT 4.0 server and all versions of Windows CE are not. The recorder supports Track-at-Once, Disc-at-Once, incremental packet writing and multisession writing, and should work with all media certified for recording at 4X or higher (or 2X CD-RW media if writing CD-RW at 2X).

road test results

Once everything is installed, you are ready to record various CD types with Easy CD Creator or to drag and drop files to the Direct CD drive. The drive clicks every now and again when performing writes or test writes, but this appears to be normal and no cause for concern. Tested in a bay-view room at San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency during Online Inc.’s DVD PRO conference, using a Toshiba Tecta notebook PC, the M820e took to the road with aplomb. Using the Adaptec software, the HP portable recorder made full audio and data discs without complaint and similarly copied disc to disc, both audio and data, successfully at 4X.

The Easy CD Creator software is full-featured and allows this little drive to do everything that the big boys can do in a much smaller footprint. The software version in the tested unit was version 3.5c and, other than the unusually long load time that has been much complained about in this particular revision, the software performed all functions correctly and quickly. Smart buyers will wait to see if Hewlett-Packard will be bundling the full-featured Easy CD Creator 4.0 with the drive in the future.

Those who need CD-R on the road now should look for an upgrade deal. The Hewlett-Packard Web site seems to show screenshots of ECD Creator 4.0 as the shipped software. At the time I tested this recorder Easy CD Creator 4.0 was still being replicated, so it was not available commercially when HP started shipping this drive. We can only hope future versions of the portable package will include this excellent major revision of Easy CD Creator.

The first shipping CD-RW drive that fits in your pocket, Hewlett-Packard’s M820e opens the doors to truly portable CD recording. Despite its diminutive size and weight, the drive feels solid and could easily do double duty as both a portable and a desktop recorder. An additional SCSI cable is all you need to attach this recorder to your desktop computer, assuming you already have a SCSI card. Its 4X write, 4X rewrite, and 20X MAX read specs are as good as it gets on many non-portable CD-R/RW drives, and the M820e performed up to spec in all road tests. The optional case is a nice complement and will keep the recorder protected during travel. It is unlikely that we will see recorders get physically smaller than this, at least in external models.

hewlett-packard’s M820e portable CD-R/RW

price $ 599

synopsis: The pocket-sized Hewlett-Packard M820e opens the doors to truly poratble CD recording. Despite its diminutive size and weight, the drive feels solid and could easily do double duty as both as both a portable and a desktop recorder. An additional SCSI cable is all you need to attach this recorder to your desktop computer, assuming you already have a SCSI card. Its 4X rewrite, 4X rewrite, and 20X MAX read specs are as good as it gets on many non-portable CD-R/RW drives, and the M820e performed up to spec in all road tests. It is unlikely that we will see recorders get physically smaller than this, at least in external models.

system requirements: 133mHz Pentium PC running windows 95b/98/NT 4.0 workstation with SP3; 32MB RAM; 35MB free hard-drive space for installing software, 10 MB free space for each minute of recorded music for audio recording.

for more information, contact:

Hewlett-Packard Company 800 South Taft Avenue, Loveland, CO 80537; 800/ 752-0900; fax 970/635-1610; http: // www.hp.com/storage

Adaptec, Inc. 691 South Milpitas Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; 800/442-7274, 408/945-8600; Fax 408/262-2533; http://www.adaptec.com

Robert A. Starrett (bobs@cdpage.com) is a contributing editor for EMedia, co-columnist for THE CD WRITER, and an independent consultant based in Denver, Colorado. He is the co-author of CD-ROM Professional’s CD-Recordable Handbook.

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