Pacific Digital's US$269 PDC 448USB and Sony's $329 Spressa USB Plus 4X write/4X rewrite CD-RW drives combine the plug-and-play convenience of USB with both PC and Mac compatibility. We found them to be ideal drives to share in a small or multiplatform office. We tested a shipping version of the Sony drive, and a near-final version of the Pacific Digital model.
Both of these external drives are housed in sturdy enclosures. Unfortunately, Sony positioned the power switch next to the tray-eject button, where a user can easily press it by mistake. And unlike most USB peripherals, the Spressa forces you to install its own software and drivers and then reboot. In contrast, Pacific Digital's PDC 448USB uses Windows' USB install routine and is functional as soon as the drivers are installed.
Both units read and wrote CD-RW discs without a hitch. Their CD-ROM read speeds trail those of CD-ROM drives found in most desktops -- the Spressa reads at 6X, and the PDC 448USB at 8X -- but you won't notice on most apps.
Pacific Digital includes Easy CD Creator 4.01 for data and audio CD mastering, while Sony offers its proprietary CD Extreme. For packet-writing (which allows you to randomly copy and delete files on CD-RW discs), Sony bundles its AB CD software, and Pacific Digital includes DirectCD 3, which provides 2:1 data compression and a run-time driver that lets virtually anyone with a recent CD-ROM drive read CD-RW discs.
Sony offers Mac and PC software out of the box, plus around-the-clock support, but you'll probably find the Pacific Digital drive a better value.
Pacific Digital PDC 448USB
PRO: Rugged; installs easily; cross-platform.
CON: No bundled Mac software, limited tech support hours.
VALUE: Attractively priced drive for sharing with a group.
Street price: $269
PRODUCT INFO NO. 696
Sony Spressa USB Plus
PRO: Rugged; includes mastering software for both PCs and Macs; 24/7 toll-free support.
CON: Nonstandard USB installation; poorly placed power switch.
VALUE: Expensive, but the 24/7 support may appeal to some.
Street price: $329
PRODUCT INFO NO. 695