Got a Problem: Hassle-Free Access to CD-ROM Titles

The chore of swapping multiple CD-ROM titles is time-consuming and unwieldy.

Use a virtual CD-ROM utility to load the titles you use most often onto your hard disk.

Charles Schultz understands the frustrations of trying to ride herd on a large collection of CD-ROM titles. When BMW began publishing its service manuals on CD-ROM, Schultz added a laptop to his toolbox at the Dallas/Fort Worth dealership where he worked. Running the discs on his portable PC in the garage gave Schultz quick access to data, as well as saving him a trip to the workstation where other technicians waited in line.

The setup worked well until BMW expanded its CD-ROM offerings. "They kept moving more documentation over to CD-ROM,"says Schultz, "and my collection of discs kept growing." He found it annoying to have to scrub dirt and grease from his hands each time he swapped discs in his CD-ROM drive.

To eliminate the juggling, Schultz turned to Virtual Drive 2000, a $35 downloadable program available from Far Stone Technology. Virtual Drive 2000 simplifies the task of copying CD-ROMs to a hard disk. This utility and IMSI Software's similar CD Copier Pro ($40) allow users to run multiple titles without swapping discs or adding drives to their system. Loading CD-ROMs to the hard drive also revs up performance. And to handle titles that run only from a CD-ROM drive, these utilities create virtual CD-ROM drives that fool the software into thinking they're the real thing.

Virtual CD Changers

CD copier pro and Virtual Drive 2000 work similarly. Both enable you to define up to 23 virtual drives, which are assigned unique drive letters just like other drives in your system. Each program uses a split-window interface that lists the virtual drives in one panel and CD titles in the other. Both utilities let you load music CDs onto your hard disk--though only Virtual Drive lets you specify the tracks you want to copy--and both allow you to compress the contents of a title to conserve hard-disk space. The number of CD-ROMs you can copy is limited only by the size of your hard drive. Maximum CD-ROM capacity is 650MB, but many titles use only a few hundred megabytes. Large reference titles, however, consume about 500MB even when compressed.

Once you've copied a CD-ROM title to your hard drive, simply load it into a virtual drive by clicking the Insert button. The first time you do this, the title's setup program will start automatically. A small number of files are copied over, and the program is registered in Windows.

In theory, you can load any CD-ROM title into any virtual CD-ROM drive, but your best bet is to dedicate one virtual CD-ROM drive to each title. Many titles search for the program files in the drive where you originally installed it, so each time you want to view a title, you'll have to reinsert the virtual disc in that drive.

CD Copier Pro and Virtual Drive 2000 differ most in how they assign letters to virtual drives. Virtual Drive 2000 adopts letters in the alphabet that fall before the letter of your physical CD-ROM drive, reassigning your CD-ROM's drive letter as necessary. So if you have one hard drive partition and your physical drive appears in system D:, creating three virtual drives with Virtual Drive 2000 will bump your CD-ROM drive letter to G:. CD Copier Pro, however, uses only letters higher than that of the CD-ROM drive and lets you choose the letter you want to start with. This approach permits you to reserve D:, for instance, for a Zip drive or another device you might attach later.

Trial Run

CD copier pro and Virtual Drive 2000 work well with most CD-ROM titles, but some newer titles will not work unless the disc is inserted into a physical drive. In addition, the audio content embedded in some CD games (usually as background music) may not play correctly with these utilities. To test your titles before you buy, download Virtual Drive 2000's free 21-day evaluation version. CD Copier is also available for $30 in a Gamers' Edition that lacks support for CD-Recordable discs, audio CDs, CD Extra, and Photo CDs.

If you don't want to drop $40 on a utility, you can try to give your CD-ROMs the slip by copying the titles to your hard disk with a file manager such as Windows Explorer. But if you've already installed a title's start-up files so you can run it from the CD-ROM drive, you must first uninstall them, using Add/Remove Programs from the Control Panel. After copying the content of the title to your hard drive, remove the disc from the drive and run the setup program from the hard disk. If the title doesn't run correctly, uninstall it using Add/Remove Programs and delete the subdirectory from your hard drive. One caveat: With this method, you'll be unable to compress CD-ROM content easily.

Easier CD-ROM Reference

Schultz is enormously pleased with his solution, not only because it frees him from shuffling CD-ROMs, but also because titles run much faster from the hard disk. Schultz's latest laptop includes a high-capacity 14GB drive, big enough to hold all his critical titles and still leave room for new ones. He also uses the utility to run a mapping package when he's traveling with his family, and to run other titles from his home collection.

Given the relatively low cost of hard drives today, having the information he needs at hand has made the cost of the hard drive upgrade well worthwhile.

(Mitt Jones is a contributing editor for PC World. If you have a solution to a PC-related hardware or software problem, send it to Copier ProPrice: Download $40, Gamers' Edition $30; IMSI Software; +1-800-833-4674; http://www.imsisoft.comVirtual Drive 2000Price: Download $35, 21-day evaluation version free; Far Stone Technology;

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