Optima’s Diskovery CDWriter 4X/2X/6X CD-RW drive – compact disc recordable

Optima’s Diskovery CDWriter 4X/2X/6X CD-RW drive – compact disc recordable – Evaluation

Stephen F. Nathans

A wise, not-so-old CD-R sage once told me, as I embarked on my first experiments in desktop recording back in the late-medieval days of January 1996, “CD-Recordable is not a plug-and-play medium.” Even working with the widely panned (in this magazine and others) Macintosh version of Incat’s Easy CD Pro 2.0, Pioneer’s short-lived (as a standalone, anyway) DW-S114X recorder, and a hardly-up-to-the-challenge Mac Performa 630CD with a turgid 2X CD-ROM drive and a badly cluttered hard drive with scarcely 40MB free, I was up and running relatively quickly. Sure, it took me a whole weekend to burn a disc I was really satisfied with, but we’re talking about plugging and playing, not perfectionism…

Surprised at how quickly I had my SCSI conflicts resolved and my recorder ready to roll, my CD-R mentor shrugged it off, saying, “Well, who records on Macs anyway?” Developers, that’s who. If there’s one area where the Macintosh platform claims a larger market share than the otherwise-ubiquitous Wintel PC, it’s in the developers’ arena. And developers are a key user group for CD-R, given the obvious advantages of cranking out CD-ROM-identical one-offs on demand for prototyping, premastering, and shopping demo versions and treatments of their titles to publishers and would be investors. It’s a healthy market and a consistent one, especially for CD-R manufacturers who understand the mild irony that most Mac-based development is geared toward PC playback, and match their products and licensed software accordingly.

No CD recorder vendor has pursued the Macintosh market more vigorously or consistently than Optima Technology Corporation, with their Diskovery line of CD-R drives. The first two models, released in 1996 and 1997, were 2X write/4X read and 2X write/6X read bundles based on Sony drives. The 2X/6X package included an ingenious product of Optima’s own authorship, CD-R Access Pro, which uses proprietary “data-boosting” technology to enable incremental, Finder-level copying of up to 1300MB of data to a CD-R disc. The data can then be read back at twice the drive’s accredited speed (in other words, the entire 1.3GB of “boosted” data can be read back in the time it would take the drive to read a nonboosted 650MB disc), using the CD-R Access Pro reader.

The latest model, the CDWriter, takes it several steps further, incorporating Yamaha’s rock-solid 4260T mechanism to provide the first 4X write/2X rewrite/6X read CD-R/RW drive designed exclusively for the Mac platform. And fortunately, that exclusivity only goes as far as any sensibly positioned product for Mac developers should: Optima also offers Xchange, a Windows/Macintosh file exchange utility that lets Mac users run their CD-R Access Pro-archived graphic databases and such on PC systems.

DOUBLE DENSITY, DOUBLE DUTY: CD-R X 2 AND CD-RW TOO

Two great things about Macintosh-based CD-R and drive letter/finder-level CD-R access on any OS: no host adapters on the hardware end or complex interfaces on the software end. Optima’s CDWriter and its accompanying data-boosting software delight on both counts. The writer installs and mounts in a heartbeat, and as soon as you insert the CD-R Access Pro floppy, drag the CD-R Access icon into the Control Panels folder on your startup drive and restart your system, a handy disc icon will appear on your desktop and you can drag-and-drop-to-disc to your heart’s content. It’s really that simple–but it gets better.

When you install the blank CD-R or CD-RW disc, you get a dialog box asking you to initialize a disc that it identifies as optionally having a “1275MB Max Capacity” (I.3GB minus 25MB for one finalization of the disc’s temporary directory). That’s because Optima’s databoosting compression/file re-structuring technology has virtually doubled the disc’s capacity through a two-step process, which includes removing the unused space within a file allocation block, which can save up to 20KB per file; and using a high-speed compressor to reduce file size further.

Boosted CD-R discs can then be read back on any multisession-compatible, CD-R Access Pro-mounted drive; CD-RW discs recorded using the software can be read on any MultiRead unit using the CD-R Access driver. The included CD-R Access Pro User’s Guide walks users effectively through the process, with careful and thorough attention to errorhandling, troubleshooting, and advanced features of the software.

CD-R Access Pro was tested on three types of CD-R media, including Maxell, Verbatim DataLife Plus, and the two Optima-branded discs included with the drive, as well as the Sony CD-RW disc included in the CDWriter bundle. The test file set included I. I GB of files of size varying from 20KB to 32MB from multiple folders and paths on a 1.4GB hard drive. The files were dragged from hard drive to disc using the Apple Finder. Writes using many larger, difficult-to-compress files like Red Book-quality audio tracks (which average around 30MB) topped out around 800MB; writes using files of greater size variety pushed somewhat closer to the 1.3GB capacity. The highest capacity reached was just under IGB.

The disc that fell the farthest short (675MB) was written in several finalized sessions, which makes sense; the first time an incrementally written disc directory is finalized, the process uses 25MB of memory; subsequent finalizations use 14MB (a dialog that pops up after each write invites users to “Finalize Directory” so the disc can be read but still written, or “Finalize Disc,” after which no more data can be written to the disc). After the CD-RW disc was used once, erased, and reinitialized (roughly a 40-minute process, just as on the PC), the ready-to-reuse disc offered slightly less than IGB of databoosted maximum capacity.

All CD-R discs played back flawlessly on both the Optima’s 6X CD reader and the test-bed Mac’s internal 8X Matsushita CD-ROM drive, with both drives mounted using the CD-R Access software. The CD-RW disc played back effectively on the Optima reader after multiple distinct finalized writes.

Data-boosted writing also demonstrated truth in advertising on the speed side, showing significant acceleration in completing 800MB writing sessions in roughly 12 minutes, about three-quarters of the time required to write a typical 650MB disc at 4X. CD-RW writing performance under CD-R Access Pro didn’t exceed the 2X standard.

The CD-R Access recording process also proved effective as a background function, sustaining 4X-plus recording (to CD-R) with other Mac applications like Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop operating in the foreground.

Another nice feature of CD-R Access Pro is its ability to turn a Macintosh into an extendedplay CD-Audio player. Under the AppleCD Audio Player, users simply choose Startup CD Drive from the Options menu and select the CD-R Access-mounted drive, and the player will treat the disc as it would any ordinary CD-Audio disc. While the full 1.3GB capacity proved elusive on all attempts, I did manage to squeeze the full 830MB of the Beatles’ doubledisc White Album on a single CD, and getting from “Back in the U.S.S.R.” to “Cry Baby Cry” without switching discs-or flipping records, for that matter–did seem a minor triumph, somewhat on the order of one of the early joys of the CD era: being able to by-pass the atonal digression “Revolution #9” with a push of the “Skip” button.

TESTED ON TOAST: PREMASTERING MAKES PERFECT

The Optima CDWriter was also tested on Adaptec’s Toast 3.5.3 premastering software for Macintosh systems. 650MB data and audio discs were written at 4X to Maxell and Verbatim CD-R media in disc-at-once mode. Data was drawn from the same internal 1.4GB hard drive on the test-bed Mac used for CD-R Access Pro testing. The discs played effectively at 6X on the Optima drive and at 8X on the Mac’s internal Matsushita 8X reader.

Users who work with both CD-R Access Pro and Toast will note that Toast presents a warning that a non-Toast reader is being used to access the recorder, indicating that the CD-R Access control panel is in use. Using the CD-R Access driver with Toast may or may not cause problems in the recording process. In testing, discs were recorded successfully under both scenarios; to be on the safe side, however, users should make sure the Toast driver is active when recording with Toast by dragging the CD-R Access Pro icon from the “Control Panels” folder in their System folder to the “Control Panels (Disabled)” folder, moving the “Toast CD Reader” icon from the disabled to the active folder, and restarting. To switch back to CD-R Access Pro, you’ll need to reverse the process and restart again.

A CRACK MAC RECORDER WITH RW AND DATA-BOOSTING BONUSES

Longtime Mcintosh faithful who want to extend the ease and simplicity of Macintosh computing to CD recording will appreciate the Optima CDWriter’s Mac-friendly feel, and enjoy the same plug-and-play straightforwardness they’ve come to expect from the platform. One reason developers remain so devoted to the Macintosh is that, besides the quality of Macintosh design tools and the like, its comparably pre-fab system structure and predictable peripheral connections relieve them from nonaesthetic system concerns endemic to PC use. And nowhere is that hands-off approach more valued than in CD-R, whose installation and navigational ins and outs tend to be considered among the more loathsome learning curves facing developers who simply need a reliable and distributable output medium.

While the Optima CDWriter offers much more than low-maintenance data-dumping, with premastering capabilities for multiple CD formats and more, users never need to know it–which is exactly what accidental CD archivers have been after for years. Plug the recorder into the wall and the Mac SCSI port, install CD-R Access Pro in the control panels, and pop in a recordable disc, and you’re looking at 650MB to 1300MB of removable storage, depending on how “boostable” your data is. Drag over the files you want to record, and your data is copied. And mastering the latest versions of Toast hardly presents a challenge to a user who’s gotten this far; data storage this durable and transferrable (given CD-R’s play-in-any-ROM-drive interchangability) doesn’t get much easier.

The one drawback of the Optima system is cost. The CDWriter retails for $840, including the CD-R Access Pro software (Toast is an add-on option), which is roughly $100 more than Smart and Friendly’s Yamaha 4260T-based CD-R/CD-RW bundle, and $300 more than 4X write-only drives from Yamaha, TEAC, Plextor, and Matsushita. If 650MB CD-R is what users want, they’re paying a high premium for the Optima recorder; but if cheap storage with CD-R’s universal interchange is what counts, CD-R Access-written discs are the real bargain. Figure in 1.3GB for a $3 CD-R disc, and the CDWriter boosts your cost-per-megabyte savings to a nigh-unbeatable 24 cents.

RELATED ARTICLE: Optima’s Diskovery CDWriter 4X/2X/6X CD-RW Drive

Synopsis: Optima’s Diskovery CDWriter, the latest in the company’s line of Macintosh CD-Recordable bundles, is an external SCSI CD-R/RW drive that uses Yamaha’s 4X write/2X rewrite/6X read 4260T mechanism. With the bundled CD-R Access Pro driver and its built-in “data boosting” technology, CDWriter users can perform drag-and-drop, Finder-level incremental writing of up to 1.3GB of data to a standard 6SOMB CD-R or CD-RW disc. Used for playback of a CD-R Access-written disc, the CD-R Access driver doubles the playback speed of any mounted drive. The CDWriter also performs premastering tasks admirably using Adaptec Toast.

System Requirements: Macintosh 68030 or PowerPC running System 7.5 or higher

Price: $840 (includes CD-R Access Pro software, I CD-RW disc, 2 CD-R media, SCSI cable, and terminator)

For more information, contact: Optima Technology Corporation 17062 Murphy Avenue, Irvine, CA 92614; 714/476-0515; Fax 714/476-0613; http://www.optimatech.com; InfoLink #417

Adaptec, Inc. 691 South Milpitas Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; 408/957-4546; Fax 408/957-6666; http://www.adaptec.com; InfoLink #400

Stephen F. Nathans (stephenn@onlineinc.com) is Managing Editor of EMedia Professional.

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