Home Office: These Discs Are Made for Burnin'

SAN FRANCISCO (03/06/2000) - It's the bassman, comin' at you live, with his cool sounds of soothing jazz.

Yep, I finally crawled out of the technological ice age and started burning my own music CDs. My 17-year-old nephew turned me on to it. "It's easy," the whiz kid said. And he was right, of course. I just grab some regular music discs and choose my favorite cuts. In a couple of clicks and just about half an hour, I have a custom CD to play on the stereo at home, in the car, or on my PC.

CD-Rewritables are definitely the way to go these days. Besides letting you record customized music discs, recordable or rewritable CDs do a great job of storing scanned and digitized photos. And I can get an extra measure of security by using CDs to back up my system quickly and cheaply. Compared to Iomega Corp.'s Zip cartridges, customized CDs are cheaper, easier, and just a heck of a lot more convenient to use.

BURN YOUR MEMORIES

Hard drives are flaky and occasionally die, while CDs are stable (if you don't scratch them or leave them in the sun). A recordable CD disc costs about a buck, so I can make quick, cheap duplicate discs for relatives. I can also pop large video files onto a CD to show to my Pasadena users group. And I can play them on any notebook outfitted with a CD-ROM drive.

One other compelling use for custom-burned CDs is the Bass Start-From-Scratch Strategy. Once your PC is working just the way you like it, burn an image of the hard drive onto CD. Then when you hose your PC (oh, no, not you), you can restore your system and get rolling again quickly. (The entire hard drive probably won't fit onto a single CD-R disc, but Adaptec's Easy CD Creator 4 Deluxe program allows you to back up your hard disk to multiple CDs.)READIN' AND A-WRITIN'Looking at the variety of CD drives currently available, you might find yourself confused. (Read once, write twice? No, wait, it's write once, read twice.) Here's the scoop. Ordinary CD-ROM drives just read CDs (discs with software and music). The CD-R drive lets you record to a CD-R disc once, adding files until the disc is full, about 650MB. But CD-R drives are almost gone from the market, and I suggest you avoid them. A better option is the CD-RW--a rewritable drive--that lets you update files (except music tracks) you've already saved to the disc, or erase the CD and reuse it. CD-RW drives can record on both CD-R and CD-RW discs, and they can read standard CDs. The price for CD-RW discs is low, too: A five-pack runs about $10; preformatted discs cost a few bucks more.

Whichever new drive you choose, make sure that you keep your old CD-ROM drive on your PC so you can copy audio from your regular CDs to a CD-RW. (But fair warning--newly burned CDs may not play on older CD players.) And one friendly note: Copying tracks from your own CDs for personal use is kosher; giving them to friends is copyright infringement.

You can choose from several brands of CD-RW drives, but I'm partial to Plextor.

Its drives seem to last for the long haul--a four-year-old Plextor CD-ROM drive is still running in my test PC. I tried a PlexWriter 8/4/32 IDE CD-RW drive (that padlock combination number refers to 8X CD-R, 4X CD-RW, and 32X CD-ROM).

For $279, it's speedy, and the documentation and software are excellent. Budget buyers can find decent drives for even less money. Check PC World's CD-RW roundup for some comparative reviews (www.pcworld.com/mar00/cd-rw).

For more information about choosing a CD-R or CD-RW drive, check out Andy McFadden's CD-Recordable FAQ at www.fadden.com/cdrfaq. It's easily the best Internet resource on the subject.

And don't forget to stay tuned to the Bassman, jazz lovers.

Easy CD Creator 4 Deluxe

List price: $99; Adaptec; 800/442-7274; cdr.adaptec.comPRODUCT INFO NO. 634PlexWriter 8/4/32 (IDE)List price: $279; Plextor; 800/886-3935; www.plextor.comPRODUCT INFO NO. 635Contributing Editor Steve Bass is president of the Pasadena IBM Users Group.

You can reach him at steve_bass@pcworld.com.

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