You CAN take it with you'your desktop data, that is

You CAN take it with you'your desktop data, that is

Many PCs lack CD-RW drives, but external drives with up to 20G of storage can make data transfer and backup a breeze


Office moves are a fact of life every three or four years for many government workers. Your data is something you can't trust to the movers, whether it's going to another floor or another state.

Not many years ago, an individual employee's data consisted of a few kilobytes' worth of word-processing documents or spreadsheets. One or two 1.44M floppy disks were enough for data transfer or personal backup of mission-critical data.

That situation has changed with the advent of superfast desktop systems with gigabytes of memory and plenty of storage for sophisticated programs.

Desktop PC application data that used to be measured in kilobytes now takes up megabytes or gigabytes'and terabytes are already on the horizon.

How do workers keep moving around and backing up these growing volumes? The GCN Lab took a look at seven storage devices sized for PC use, measuring from a few inches on up. Their capacities ranged from 650M to 20G.

CD-rewritable drives have been replacing floppy drives in the same way CD players supplanted tape players in the 1980s. CD-RW prices are falling while reliability is rising. It's not uncommon to find internal CD-RWs in high-end PCs.

Notebook PC makers have lagged in building in these handy burners, however, because of the extra weight and cost.

So users who need easily portable storage are turning to external CD-RWs. They cost little more than some internal drives, and their power consumption, size and weight have all shrunk. That makes it much more feasible to carry all your work along wherever you go.

Small and light

The Baby CD-RW from Amacom Technologies Inc. sounds like a children's toy but is in fact a mature though miniature CD-rewritable drive that records and rewrites 600K per second at 4X speed, or reads at 24X. At 6 by 5.5 by 0.9 inches and less than a pound, the Baby CD-RW is the smallest and lightest CD-RW in this review.

The $280 Baby comes with a choice of interfaces: FireWire, Universal Serial Bus, CardBus, parallel port or'the most often ordered'PC Card. Although a PC Card interface sounds good for notebook use, you can't connect the Baby to a desktop PC without paying $35 for an additional USB connection. Why not cut to the chase and buy it with USB in the first place, or with a parallel cable if your PC doesn't have a USB connection?

In my tests, the Baby took 23 minutes to burn 650M from hard drive to CD-ROM. From CD to CD, it took 20 minutes flat. The fact that the Baby read at 24X, which is faster than the other two CD-RW drives in this review, gave it an edge in transfers from CD-RW to hard drive. It took only 20 minutes to move 400M to the PC.

The Baby performed with fair reliability. It failed once in 30 burns, less than the failure rate of Iomega Corp.'s Predator.

If utter reliability is what you need, the Sony Electronics Inc. Digital Relay might be a better choice.

Sony's CRX10U-A2 Digital Relay got a Reviewer's Choice designation not only for its good performance but also because of its innovations in portable CD recording.

The Digital Relay's lithium-ion battery could play CDs for up to five hours or record them for up to two hours before running out of juice. It has a USB connection and a charging cable; recharging took about five hours.

The unit's remote control came in handy for executing the play, stop, switch tracks and volume control functions. Although that's a small perk, it made a difference in operating a portable device.

The $400 Digital Relay was the most expensive CD-RW in the review but also the most reliable'not a single error in 30 test burns. It was light and small, too. The 5- by 7- by 1-inch drive weighed about a pound.

Like the Baby, the Digital Relay wrote and rewrote at 4X, but it read at only 6X compared with the Baby's 24X. Its average burn times were slower than the Baby's, but not by much. It transferred 650M from hard drive to CD in 23 minutes, and from CD to CD in 22 minutes. Moving 400M from CD to hard drive took 23 minutes, three minutes slower than the Baby but still faster then the Iomega Predator.

Looks aren't everything

Iomega's Predator had a mean bark and a mediocre bite. It looked futuristic but was simply a USB-connectable CD-RW that read at 6X and wrote or rewrote at 4X.

Although the $250 Predator had specifications similar to the Sony's, performance was far from similar. It reported errors in four out of 30 burns.

To set up the Predator, I had to connect a 4- by 1.5-inch extension for power, sound and USB connection. The extension was flimsy, and the exterior cover often detached from the 8- by 6.5- by 1-inch body of the Predator.

Also, the Predator got too hot. After a long burn, the heat was high enough to affect performance. I burned 650M from hard drive to CD in an average 24 minutes and from CD to CD in an average 25 minutes. It also took about 25 minutes to transfer 400M from CD to hard drive, five minutes slower than with the Baby CD-RW.

Like CD-RWs, attachable drives with large storage capacities are becoming becoming crucial for office data transfers. Four leading makers submitted external storage devices that ranged in free memory from 5G up to 10G.

The 1.8-inch, Type II PC Card Hard Disk from Toshiba America Inc. weighed 1.9 ounces, stored 5G and easily slid into a notebook's slot. It transferred up to 20 megabytes/sec'I could even watch a short video from the PC Card.

It was fully plug and play and worth its steep $500 price for a user who works mostly on a notebook. I judged it worthy of a Reviewer's Choice designation.

The 5G Type II card wasn't the only version; Toshiba also makes a 2G version for $350.
Notebooks have inherent difficulties with heat buildup, and I noticed the Toshiba card grew hot under long use.

It was easy to install using a generic IDE disk driver in the Microsoft Windows 98 operating system. The 20-megabyte/sec transfer rate was the fastest in this review. I moved 3G to the drive in an average of just under two hours.

It's bigger than any wallet I've seen, but the Digital Wallet from [email protected] LLC was the most unusual storage device reviewed. With an embedded OS running on a Motorola ColdFire microprocessor, it was in fact a tiny computer that could manipulate the memory stored on it.

The wallet held up to 6G on its built-in hard drive that measured 2.5 by 3.9 inches, almost as small as the Toshiba PC Card. Unlike the Toshiba card, however, the device was a bulky inch-plus thick and weighed 13 ounces.

An awkward attachment connected the power and USB cables to the main unit. The cables added considerable weight, resulting in frequent detachment. And any interruption was unbearable in view of the device's slow, 1-megabyte/sec USB transfer rate and 1.8-megabyte/sec rate for the internal bus. Without interruptions, it took up to four hours to store 6G, far longer than with the Toshiba card.

Although these factors worked against the Digital Wallet's portability, it could run on six AAA nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries. They lasted about three hours and took about three hours to recharge.

The Digital Wallet connected via USB but could also transfer memory via an included Type II PC Card that had a slot for adapters for Sony's Memory Stick, Smart Media flash memory, a MultiMediaCard, a CompactFlash card, Intel StrataFlash or an IBM Microdrive.

This range of connectivity options made the $500 Digital Wallet the most versatile storage device in the review. It could be an essential if you work with media and are always on the go. But if what you need is easy and reliable portable storage, the Iomega Peerless would be better.

Impressive speed and capacity

Iomega's Peerless had impressive 10G cartridge capacity and a 15-megabyte/sec data transfer rate. These are only two of several characteristics that make it the most effective way to move large amounts of data off a hard drive via USB or FireWire. I also gave it a Reviewer's Choice designation.

The Peerless could accommodate a $160 10G or $200 20G cartridge. USB or FireWire bays added $250 to the price, and a FireWire interface module was another $90'$70 for the USB module. All these add-ons came bundled'$360 for the 10G FireWire or USB bundle and $400 for the 20G bundle.

Price and storage capacity earned the Peerless this review's only Bang for the Buck designations.

Setting it up in multiple stations was no problem. Each piece of the Peerless locked in tightly for easy transport, and installation took only seconds.

Transfer rates were fast. I moved 3G from hard drive to 10G cartridge in a little less than two hours and from cartridge to PC in about the same time. Although the Peerless wasn't as fast as the 20-megabyte/sec Toshiba unit, it didn't have any heat problems, and it cost almost $200 less.

The Flipdisk from Amacom had a built-in Type II PC Card and could also connect via USB and FireWire. The native Type II card extension folded in for portability and durability. Data transfer rates varied from 6 megabytes/sec for the Type II card to 1.5 megabytes/sec for USB. It took about seven hours to move 6G into its impressive 12G capacity from the computer via USB and six hours over the Type II connection. It took about the same time to transfer the 6G from the device to the computer via PC Card and USB connections.

The Flipdisk was fast to install and set up, and it was the most durable of all the portable storage devices, although its 5.7- by 3.5- by 1.2-inch body was one of the bulkiest reviewed. The Flipdisk came in at the high end not only in performance but also in price'$400 for 9G.

Although its specifications might be considered a step below those of the Peerless, the Flipdisk had advantages in durability, ultralight half-pound weight and Type II card access. Also, the Flipdisk in many ways seemed better for data transfer, like the Digital Wallet, than for backup, which was the Peerless' strong point.

Three portable CD-RWs can pour on the capacity
Baby CD-RW
CRX10U-A2 Digital Relay
Amacom Technology Inc.

San Jose, Calif.

tel. 408-501-0325

Sony Electronics Inc.

Park Ridge, N.J.

tel. 800-352-7669

Iomega Corp.

Roy, Utah

tel. 801-332-1000
Pros and cons+ Lightweight and small
+ Fast read rates
- Not reliable enough
+ Battery-operated
+ Reliable
- Expensive
+ Inexpensive
- Somewhat unreliable
- Rear attachment flimsy
Maximum transfer rate4X writing and rewriting;
4X CD writing and rewriting;
4X writing and rewriting; 6X
Overall Grade
'Baby CD-RWCRX10U-A2 Digital RelayPredator

Four external drives let you add storage capacity as you find it necessary
PC Card Hard DiskDigital Wallet
Toshiba America Inc.

Irvine, Calif.

tel. 949-457-0777

[email protected] LLC

Irvine, Calif.

tel. 949-707-0600

Iomega Corp.

Roy, Utah

tel. 801-332-1000

Amacom Technology Inc.

San Jose, Calif.

tel. 408-501-0325
Pros and cons+ High capacity in a small size
+ Fast transfer rate
- Expensive
+ Versatile media support
- Slow transfer rate
- Expensive
+ Fast transfer rate
+ High-capacity cartridges
+ Inexpensive
+ Built-in PC Card
+ Easy setup
- Slow transfer rate
Maximum transfer rate20 megabytes/sec1 megabyte/sec15 megabytes/sec6 megabytes/sec for Type II card; 1.5 megabytes/sec for USB
Price$500$500$360 for USB$400
Overall Grade
'PC Card Hard DiskDigital WalletPeerlessFlipdisk


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