Ricoh's CD-rewritable drive, the MF6200S, needs fine-tuning

That keeps practically every agency systems professional busy figuring out how to
manage, distribute and archive the increasingly voluminous data.


One method that won quick popularity is the compact disk. Given the hardware and
recording media, anyone can publish a CD-ROM. You get an almost permanent archive, a
distribution medium and secure storage, all wrapped into one.


Even better, you can publish to a CD numerous times. It doesn't turn obsolete as soon
as you record it.


Ricoh Corp.'s MP6200S drive was one of the first CD-rewritable drives to hit the market
at the beginning of the year. It can record in either CD-recordable or CD-rewritable mode
and can read those formats as well as normal CD-ROM formats.


The drive attaches to a computer via a SCSI-2 adapter and comes with two pieces of
software: Easy CD Pro 95 and Direct CD. I tested it with a Gateway 2000 Inc. 200-MHz
Pentium PC running Microsoft Windows 95 Service Release 2. The Ricoh was the only SCSI
device on the SCSI chain.


Installation of the internal drive was quick and straightforward. After connecting the
SCSI card and internal power, I booted up the computer and installed the two software
applications.


Easy CD Pro 95 does what is called session recording. You create a recording profile,
and the files listed in that profile are recorded onto the CD in a single session.


Direct CD, the other application, treats the drive like any other recording device. You
can cut and paste files and folders to the drive in Win95's Explorer window. Or
applications can write to the CD as a drive letter.


After installation, I encountered problems with almost every aspect of this drive.
Before we go into that, let's look back at how all the different CD formats got started.


At first, there was only the CD-ROM format, which stores up to 650M on a CD but can
only be done once with expensive publishing equipment. Then came CD-R, or CD-recordable,
which stored about the same amount but could be recorded by a special drive on a desktop
computer.


CD-Rs are readable on almost every CD-ROM drive except some of the oldest 1X and 2X
models.


Next came CD-RW or CD-rewritable, which also used to be called CD-erasable. CD-RW
drives can read CD-ROM, CD-R and CD-RW formats, and they can record both CD-R and CD-RW
formats. In fact, CD-RW media can be re-recorded up to 1,000 times.


CD-RW format came along because development of the rewritable digital video disk format
was taking longer then expected. The downside to CD-RW is that it's unreadable by common
CD-ROM drives unless the disk has undergone special modification and the CD-ROM drive is
MultiRead-enabled.


There's also a phase change dual format, or PD, format similar to CD-RW. The PD format
gives faster data throughput, but PD disks can only be read and written to by PD drives.


The MultiRead industry standard [GCN, Aug. 11, Page 1] was developed to resolve some of
the incompatibility problems among these formats, including DVD drives' inability to read
CD-R disks and CD-ROM drives' inability to read CD-RW disks.


Whether all manufacturers will adopt the MultiRead standard is yet to be seen.


I ran into the kind of problems you might expect with the MP6200S drive, in trying to
modify the disk to be read by CD-ROM drives. Other glitches proved frustrating, too.


Ricoh's claimed 6X read speed and 2X write speed were unrealistic. Reading went at
about 4X, and writing was slightly better than 1X. Other rewritable media using the same
SCSI card on the same computer performed up to specifications, so I concluded that the
drive or the software must be at fault. Since the speed was the same with either Easy CD
Pro 95 or Direct CD, that left the drive.


When I finished recording a CD-RW disk, I followed the software's instructions to
modify the disk so ordinary CD-ROM drives could read it. After putting the disk into
several makes of drives without success, I searched the Ricoh World Wide Web site for
answers.


What I found was a list of all the CD-ROM drives Ricoh has acknowledged as able to read
its CD-RW disks. There were three: the Hitachi CDR-8130 CD-ROM drive, the Hitachi GD-2000
DVD-ROM drive, and the Plextor 12/20 pleX CD-ROM drive. Only two of these are CD-ROM
drives.


The dearth of MultiRead-capable CD-ROM drives is not Ricoh's fault, but the company's
claims of backward compatibility for CD-RW in general and its drives in particular are
somewhat misleading.


Trying to work with the two software packages and the same disk opened a new set of
problems. Having recorded part of the CD-RW disk with Direct CD, I turned to the Easy CD
Pro 95 disk to record a batch of files and folders.


After that, I was unable to erase files from the disk using the Direct CD software. I
tried to erase the disk and start over with the Easy CD Pro software. I did succeed in
erasing the disk, but then the Direct CD software couldn't access the CD-RW disk at all.


After several reboots and playing around with the software, I finally got the disk back
into its original condition. I then used the drive to record a CD-R disk, and although it
worked fine, it still had only 1X write speed.


The problem here may lie in the fact that the test unit's firmware version was 1.00,
which means there's probably a lot of room for improvement.


If Ricoh posted updates for its CD drives on the Web site as it does for other
products, I might have found an update. If an update exists, you'll have to get it from
Ricoh customer service. Why updates are available for other products but not CD-RW drives
is a mystery, considering the immaturity of this technology.


There are several options for formatting the disk and interacting with the software.
I'd like to see a utility that keeps track of how many rewrites are still possible on the
disk. A thousand rewrites are plenty for most people, but it would be nice to know when
you're coming up against the warning track.


Considering all the issues that have to be resolved before CD-rewritable matures enough
to be reliable in mainstream environments, my advice is to postpone buying plans.


CD-recordable meets most needs, and if you wait for DVD-RAM, you'll only have to worry
about this stuff once.


CD-rewritable is OK if you absolutely must have rewritable media now and aren't
satisfied with magneto-optical, phase change or other technologies.


The main thing to look out for is that CD-RW products might be backward-compatible with
only a few new CD-ROM drives.


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