Basics of Reading and Writing With Recordable Compact Discs
(Monday, March 29, 1999)
By LAWRENCE J. MAGID, Los Angeles Times
Madonna and I have something in common: We both make CDs. Some of hers win Grammy awards, but the ones I create mainly contain computer data and software. Like Madonna, I also make musical CDs, but, alas, mine don't contain any original content--they're just songs that I've (legally) copied from one CD to another for my personal use.
I don't have a big recording label behind me, but I do have a Hewlett-Packard CD-Writer Plus 8100i that lets me create my own compact discs. The "i" stands for "internal" because it is installed inside the machine.
CD writers can be used to create copies of virtually any form of digital media, including exact duplicates of copyrighted software and music. DartPro 98, from Dart Software (http://www.dartpro.com), even makes it possible to copy old vinyl LPs and tapes through your PC's sound card.
There's nothing wrong with such copying if you plan to use the recordings for backup or archival purposes or if you want to create your own CD with selections from several of your favorite albums. It is illegal, however, to distribute copyrighted software or music to other people or to keep a copy for yourself and sell or give away the original.
The type of CD writer, or "burner," you buy determines the type of CDs you can create. There are two types of recordable CDs. Blank CD-recordable, or CD-R, discs can be written to and appended to but not erased. That means you can continue to write data to a CD-R disc until you fill up its 650 megabytes, but you can't erase or overwrite data as you can on your computer's hard disk.
Data on a compact disc-rewritable, or CD-RW, can be erased so you can use it to copy files and, later, write over those files with new versions or erase them to make room for other data. In that sense, a CD-RW is very much like a removable hard disk, giving you an extra 650 megabytes of storage per disc.
Some CD burners handle both CD-R and CD-RW, while the less expensive ones work only with CD-R discs. A CD-RW burner is typically about $50 to $100 more than a CD-R-only drive and, in my opinion, well worth the extra money.
I have a $399 Hewlett-Packard CD-Writer Plus 8100i CD-RW drive installed inside one of the drive bays on my PC. This particular model connects to the hard drive's IDE connector. You can also buy versions for the PC and the Mac that connect to a SCSI port and some that plug into a PC's parallel port.
When choosing a drive, pay attention to speed, convenience of installation and bundled software. The HP 8100i writes at 4x, or four times the speed of the first CD-ROM drive, rewrites at 2x and reads at 24x. I also worked with a $450 Smart & Friendly 4006 drive connected to a Macintosh and was equally impressed at the speed and convenience. Prices on CD-R drives start at under $200. CD-RW drives start at about $250.
All CD burners can be used as regular CD-ROM readers, but some are slow. If you already have a CD-ROM player, leave it there. Having both a CD player and a burner makes it easier to copy PC CDs or tracks from audio CDs.
Hewlett-Packard and other drive makers bundle Adaptec's Easy-CD Creator, which makes it easy to make an exact copy of a CD or copy files or folders from a hard drive to a CD. Another Adaptec program, DirectCD, lets you work with a CD-RW drive as if it were a hard drive. You can use the Windows 95 or 98 Explorer to copy from your PC hard drive to the CD-RW, and you can delete, rename or move files on the CD, in the same manner as files on your hard drive.
Formatting a CD-R or CD-RW can take up to an hour, but the HP 8100i comes with software that lets you start writing to disc after five minutes.
Both CD-R and CD-RW discs can be used for backup. CD-R discs are cheap--as little as $1 per disc for no-name brands and about $2 to $3 for brand names such as Memorex and Maxell. Compare that with $10 for an Iomega 100mb Zip disk that stores less than one-sixth the data. Rewritable CD-RW discs cost between $5 and $10.
CD-R and CD-RW have both advantages and disadvantages compared with Zip disks and tape backup. Zip disks are generally faster and easier to deal with. Once you insert a Zip disk into the drive, you access it just like a hard disk or floppy, without any special software. Also, the initial cost of Zip drives, starting under $100, is less than CD-R and CD-RW drives.
CD-R and CD-RW drives require special software to format the discs, but CD-R discs can be read by virtually any PC without special software. Zip drives are popular, but they're not as prevalent as CD-ROM drives. CD-RW discs can be read only by PCs with the newer multi-read CD-ROM drives. Adaptec's Web site (http://www.adaptec.com) has a free program that lets you read CD-RW discs on standard PCs.
Although you can't erase a CD-R disc, you can append data, so you can keep writing to it until it's full. The fact that it can't be erased makes it better for archival use: With an erasable medium you run the risk of copying bad data over good, but with CD-R, once you've made a copy, it's there forever.
CD-R discs also are good for distributing files that are too big to fit on a floppy, such as digital photos. I'm thinking of using an HTML editor like FrontPage to create an offline Web site that will enable friends and family members to view some of my digital photographs. Once I've burned the CD, they'll be able to view it using Netscape or Internet Explorer.
What a concept--for less than the price of a greeting card, I can keep my friends and family bored for hours at a time.
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Lawrence Magid can be heard at 1:48 p.m. weekdays on KNX 1070. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web page is at http://www.larrysworld.com, or keyword "LarryMagid" on AOL.
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