The lowdown on portable CD-RWs

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What are they? Portable CD-RW drives are versatile storage devices that can be plugged into any notebook or desktop PC for playing back CD-ROM software and music disks, as well as those written by CD-R drives.

How well do they work? A new CD-RW drive can record data to an entire 650M disk'the same size as a CD-ROM disk'in six minutes or less. The data capacity of the newest CD-RW disks is 700M, allowing for playback times of about 80 minutes per disk.

Why would I need one? Portable CD-RW drives offer more flexibility and bang for the buck than other type of portable data storage. If your storage or write/rewrite needs require extensive use of CD technology, CD-RW drives are the way to go.

Must know info? USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 FireWire are the interfaces of choice for portable CD-RW devices. A handful of manufacturers provide dual USB/FireWire interfaces as options, but most of them have designed different models tailored to one interface or the other. Most new CD-RW drives contain both Windows and Mac drivers, so they can be used with either Windows or Mac OS notebook PCs. Prices for CD-RW drives continue to drop while performance rates rise.

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