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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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October 2000, Week 1 -- CD or not CD, That is the Question.

 CD Maker 2000

  Cutting your own CDs is becoming something of a national pastime, and a national headache too.

   CD read/write drives have dropped to under $200 and are increasingly becoming standard equipment on new computers. The problem is getting the recording done. The market leader in software for writing your own CDs has been Adaptec, but the recent buzz centers on "Professional CD Maker 2000" from NTi (Newtech Infosystems).

   NTi's CD Maker does the kind of tricks that readers have been asking about recently. You can record both .wav and MP3 music files, on the fly from any source, including your stereo. You can arrange video sequences on screen before burning them to disk. Maybe best of all, it's easy.

 

   For business users the problem of recording CDs is relatively simple because it's mostly data. And once recorded, the resulting CD can be read in any CD drive in a Windows system. Each CD will hold about 640 megabytes. Whole files and folders can be recorded as "packets," and amended or deleted later if necessary.

 

   Copy a program as well. Most programs are on CD these days and if you need them at home or on a trip, the software has a straight-forward "copy" function which simply duplicates the original. Some manufacturers build copy protection code into their CD programs and you may or may not want to break that protection for the sake of convenience (not for the sake of selling copies!). Such programs are available from large shareware sources like www.zdnet.com   and www.tucows.com.

 

   The user who wants to record music and video has a more complex problem because of different formats. The NTi software translates between .wav and MP3 formats. Sound can be brought in from any source that can be plugged into the computer's sound card. Transfer old phonograph records, tapes, or sing your heart out to a microphone and record it for posterity, or the relatives.

 

   List price is $70. Phone info: 714-259-9700; web: www.nticdmaker.com. A free trial version can be downloaded from the web site.

 

   (NOTE: If you don't have a CD rewritable drive to create your own CDs, the hot one right now is from Plextor. It's model 12/10/32A, under $300 from discounters. Phone info: 800-886-3935; web: www.plextor.com.)

 

Industrial strength USB

 

   USB (Universal Serial Bus) has become ubiquitous (giving us a rare chance two have multiple "u" words in the same sentence). Yes, it's not as fast as the FireWire format developed by Apple, but it's plenty fast enough, and a small host of peripherals is already on the market and ready to plug-and-play.

 USB Turbo Quad 4

   USB permits data transfer at 12Mb (megabits) per second. That's nice but the problem is that speed must be shared among all the devices connected to the USB ports. Windows PCs typically come with two ports, for example; and if you connect two devices and both are operating, each one will get only half the 12Mb. As USB devices proliferate, two ports aren't enough. You can add a multi-port chassis, as we have (a four port unit from Belkin) but the available flow is then divided by four, with each device getting 3Mb. This gets especially tough for people connecting video cameras and external drives.

 

   A new solution from ADS Technologies is the "USB Turbo Quad 4," a card that goes into a slot on a Windows PC and provides four USB ports. The trick here is that card uses four individual USB controller chips from Lucent, so each of the ports gets the full 12Mb speed, even if they are all in use at once. Nice. Like all other USB ports, you can daisy-chain up to 127 devices to each port. Not that anyone is likely to do that.

 

   USB devices and ports are what they call "hot pluggable," meaning you can connect and disconnect devices while the computer is running. The Turbo Quad card has a street price under $60. Phone info for ADS: 800-888-5244 (U.S.), or Lucent Technologies at 800-372-2447 (U.S.), 800-553-2448 (Canada); web: www.adstech.com.

 

Internuts

-- www.hopefamilyphysicians.com/DrMikePage.html A blend of medical news, statistics and humor, with some of the best medical information links we've ever found. Dr. Mike encourages visitors to e-mail him with questions. I'm not sure he understands what he's letting himself in for. All in all, this is a fascinating, personal, eclectic, site.

-- http://www.hopefamilyphysicians.com/LisaPage.html     Dr. Mike's nurse. She encourages questions too.

 

-- www.medicare.gov  Information on the U.S. medicare health system for seniors and the disabled. Quite a bit of the information is highly specific: you can check up on nursing homes in any part of the country, for example, and see how they scored on various inspection points.

-- www.thirdage.com  Interact with your future self 20 years from now by learning about the changes that will take place in your body. Good site.

Books

  The Little Audio CD Book

 

   "The Little Audio CD Book," by Starrett and McDaniel; $20 from Peachpit Press www.peachpit.com. And ... "The Hewlett Packard Official Recordable CD Handbook," by Mark Chambers; $20, from IDG Books www.idgbooks.com.

   This is a tough subject to cover in book form because the technology changes so fast the book can be out of date by the time it appears. There's always good information on techniques, however, and these two books are the latest we've seen.

   NOTE: Readers can search more than four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.