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The Best Deal in Town

Still backing up your files by Zip? Bob Starrett, co-author of The Little Audio CD Book, shows why the smart shoppers are switching to CD-R/RW drives instead.

Still backing up your files by Zip? Bob Starrett, co-author of The Little Audio CD Book, shows why the smart shoppers are switching to CD-R/RW drives instead.

This article is provided courtesy of Peachpit Press.

What can you buy for $99? A low-end stereo receiver. A low-end cassette deck. A turntable. A pair of bookshelf speakers. A five-disc Audio CD changer. Or a CD-R/RW drive. (Here we refer to CD recorders as CD-R/RW for recordable/rewritable, though we'd rather just call them CD-R as far as audio is concerned. See Chapter 4 of The Little Audio CD Book for an explanation). If you don't believe it, just go check at www.pricewatch.com. This Christmas there will be hundreds of thousands of kids, old and young alike, enjoying the new experience of making their own audio CDs. Once the holiday shopping season is over, CD-R/RW will have proved itself to be the hottest computer peripheral of the decade.

There are some things that you just have to have for your computer. You need a keyboard, a monitor, and a mouse, of course. But you also need a printer and something besides a 1.44MB floppy drive for storage, backup, and data swapping. Many storage peripherals have had their chance at stardom. Iomega's Zip drives had a good run at it. Likewise, latecomers like Imation's Superdisk, a 120MB floppy drive, and Sony's HiFD 200MB floppy never had a chance. Magneto Optical drives had the best chance to become the peripheral of choice for secondary storage, but continuing high prices and an early lack of standards left them trailing in the race. Even promising modern technologies like DVD-RAM have had a lukewarm reception, and have an uncertain future as universal secondary-storage devices.

So, today, at the top of the hill is the CD-R/RW drive. Just using the word "drive" instead of "recorder" like we used to indicates just how far recordable and rewritable CD has come. Many people today do not have separate CD-ROM drives and recorders; they are able to use their recorders to play CDs as well. This is because manufacturers have greatly increased the read speed of recorders, so that current read speeds are sufficient to use a recorder as a CD-ROM drive, speedy enough even for demanding games.

There are several reasons that CD-R/RW won the desktop secondary-storage wars. One, of course, is the price-per-megabyte‹ a chart that changes weekly as media prices continue to drop, but one that enthusiasts have been waving around like a battle flag for years. The chart showed, even when media was ten bucks a pop, that the cost of storing data on CD was lower than any other medium except tape.

Probably most important to recordable and rewritable CD's success, it can perform a function that no other drive and medium can. This functionality was passed down to CD-ROM by its parent, CD-Audio. Strangely, it is because CD-ROM was a lousy idea that it has enjoyed its present success. How easy it is to forget that, had you asked an engineer to design an optical data storage device in 1983, the last thing that engineer would have contemplated for efficiency and speed was a device like a CD-ROM drive.

Despite the fact that CD-ROM was a crazy implementation of a data storage scheme, what gave it the edge was the fact that CD-ROM drives could also play audio discs because of their heritage. In fact, storage devices playing audio discs are a function exclusively within the domain of CD-ROM. No other drive, existing or to be developed, can perform this function. If it could, then it would itself be a CD drive. And, of course, the audio functionality carried over to recorders; they not only play audio, they can easily record it. The ability to make audio discs is what gave CD recorders their current status as the most popular storage medium for personal computers, after floppy and hard drives, of course.

And now, recordable and rewritable CD plans to stay at the top. New devices like Ricoh and Toshiba's DVD-ROM/CD-ROM/CD-R/CD-RW drive make Compact Disc all the more attractive as a data storage and archiving technology. Music is what continues to drive growth, so new drive bundles continue to ship with more and better software for creating audio CDs. And CD recording technology does not stand still. The latest releases of just about every CD recording program allows you to record MP3 files as well as WAV on the PC and AIFF and SoundDesigner II files on the Mac.

When the time comes that someone introduces a drive that reads and writes both CD and DVD, there will be no question that the Compact Disc, the most unlikely participant in the secondary data storage wars, will rule the kingdom for a long time to come. Because it's not just for data storage anymore. It's all about music. And music is more fun than data, don't you think?

About the Author

Bob Starrett has been a contributing editor and columnist for EMedia magazine since 1994. He's also the author of The Little Audio CD Book, his fifth on CD technology.

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