Priorities (Or: How to spend Valentine’s night on the couch)

It’s that special time of year, when a man’s thoughts turn to…
Computers. Or other gadgets. Just like they always do. Men don’t need a Hallmark holiday to think about what they really want.

Steve DeLassus called me up the other night. He wanted to talk about tape drives and CD-RWs. He wanted to know if it was safe to buy an ATAPI CD-RW drive, or if he should buy SCSI. He knew about my terrible experiences with first-generation ATAPI CD-RWs. I burned as many coasters as I did successful discs, and in those days, a coaster was an expensive mistake.

I told him where to get Plextor CD-RWs for next to nothing (Newegg.com). Steve checked yesterday morning, but they were out of them, as it turns out. So Steve looked at Hyper Microsystems and found some good prices on Plextor units. Not earth-shattering like the deal I saw at New Egg a couple of weeks ago, but good. We had initially talked about 12X units. But the 16X unit was $4 more, and the 24X unit was $20 more than that. “You can ride that train all the way up to the $179 40X burner,” I said.

Steve hasn’t responded to that as I write this. Considering what I paid for my 2X burner in 1998, that $179 Plextor 40X unit is a steal.

But there’s something else to consider: The overhead in burning a disc. It takes the computer a little time to figure out the disc layout, and that speed is dependent on the host computer (and the software it’s running), not the burner. It didn’t seem like much time in the days of 2X burners, but compared to the three minutes it takes to lay down a mountain of data on the disc with a modern burner, it’s started to look significant. Secondly, it takes some time to close a disc. I haven’t taken a stopwatch to it, but the 12X unit I use in one of my offices at work seems to take about the same amount of time to close a disc as the 2X unit I use in another office. The 12X unit doesn’t burn a disc 6 times as fast as the clunky 2X unit. And the 24X unit definitely won’t be twice as fast as a 12X.

Since I don’t have all those burners and don’t have the time to make a scientific test, I went to CDRLabs.com to get some figures. Their testbed has changed over time–they keep it constant across drive generations, but the 12x unit was tested in a different system than the 40x unit, and they overclock. Storage Review’s methodology is much better. But the numbers are good enough to illustrate the point.

Results of burning 651 MB of data, along with the cost of the drive:
12x: 6:43 ($124)
16x: 5:11 ($129)
24x: 3:54 ($149)
40x: 3:26 ($175)

Even given the advantage of a faster computer and newer software, the 40x unit still can’t double the speed of the venerable 12x unit.

Why the diminishing returns? Constant Angular Velocity. Very high-speed burners use the same technique as high-speed readers, so you don’t get a constant 40x. The 40x drive starts out at 20x and steps up to 40x as it reaches the outside of the disc. The average writing speed is closer to 30x. Obviously, the less data you burn, the less the 40x drive will help you.

I also pointed out to Steve that there’s more to this than the hard dollar cost. It’s Valentine’s Day time, and there’s the wrath of the wife to deal with. There’s always a hidden cost involved, no matter what you’re buying, and sometimes it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with what you’re buying.

I could quote Proverbs 31:10 and say that a wife is a treasure and therefore you should always treat her as such, and therefore you should buy the $59 refurbished 8x drive for you, a $39 dozen roses for her, and–here’s the kicker–then spend $80 filling her car with flowers the week after Valentine’s Day, when your money buys three times as much. See? I’m a thinking man.

Then again, you can go for bragging rights and find yourself singing along with Dave:

That’s okay, hey hey hey, love songs bite anyway!

(In which case, you’ll probably find yourself spending Valentine’s night on the couch. Or on the porch. I can’t say I’ve ever experienced this, but I don’t think it would be very pleasant to be stuck out on the porch wearing something skimpy in Missouri in February.)

So, to recap, for those of you taking notes: Spending $179 on a 40x CD-RW drive for you and giving a home-made Valentine’s Day card to your wife will lead to very bad things.

Burning a CD full of sappy love songs and then bragging about how it only took four minutes to burn (the 40x drive doesn’t burn audio at full speed) won’t make it any better. Sorry.

But I seem to have gotten off the subject somehow.

As far as tape drives go, I can tell you that Quantum DLT tape drives rock because that’s all we use at work. They’re built like tanks and last forever. The tapes are cheap and take a lot of punishment. They back up at a rate of about 5 MB/sec, which makes them faster than the hard drives of 10 years ago. And they work fabulously with Seagate Backup Exec, which severely reduces headaches when people want stuff restored. Considering they start at about $3995, they’d better have something going for them.

Steve’s needs are a bit more modest. An 8-gig IDE Travan drive from the likes of Seagate is cheap. The tapes run about $30, but for the quantities of data Steve will be backing up (he and I both rely on CD-Rs for backups now) and the frequency at which he’ll be doing so, a drive and tapes designed for light duty ought to do fine. When it comes to tape drives, you can buy a cheap drive that uses expensive tapes, or an expensive drive that uses cheap tapes. A lesson most people have to learn quickly is that it’s much easier to get a cheaper drive past the glare of your wife or boss and then buy the more-costly media as you need them. Media’s an OK purchase. Hardware is bad.

That’s why Zip drives have been so successful, and why Iomega is still in business.

I think if Steve wants to spend Valentine’s night on the porch, he needs to buy a DLT drive, then take out a cash advance to make his first minimum payment.

Then he can gloat about how much money he’s saving on tapes.

4 thoughts on “Priorities (Or: How to spend Valentine’s night on the couch)

  • February 14, 2002 at 1:16 am
    Permalink

    Ya’ know… For a single guy, you’re really starting to catch on to this stuff…

  • February 14, 2002 at 1:57 am
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    I’m leaning towards the 12X. Considering that even $30 isn’t worth a couple of minutes to me, and I don’t burn but a handful of CDs a month, it’s not a big deal to me. Sure, a CLV unit would be cool, but why?

    As far as keeping the wife happy: somehow my wife has associated Dave with the purchase of new hardware. Let’s just say that with her birthday a week to the day after Valentine’s, I’ve learned how to keep my sleeping area indoors. She’s been taken care of, and my hardware takes second place. Thus the order of nature is preserved.

    And I think taking out a cash advance to pay your monthly credit card payment was financial genius for a college kid…

  • February 14, 2002 at 1:59 am
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    Hey man.. I’ll be right there with ya… alone on the couch on Valentine’s day… not that I give a flying flip aboot these, overrated, hyper-commercialized, Hallmark sponsored holidays anyway!!! (did that sound convincing??)

    Actually I think I’ll be practicing guitar with my bro for our all night prayer and worship meeting we got on Friday, which is (Thank God) not quite as pathetic as sitting alone on the porch on V-Day. :op

    P.S. NewEgg rocks… they ship it CHEAP and FAST, and their prices are usually at the low end of my many sources for cheap parts that I scour the net to find. (eBay, of course, is still the reigning champeeeen.) :p

    WATYF

  • February 14, 2002 at 6:05 pm
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    Hmm… This is the first St. Valentine’s Day that I am spending alone in almost six years. It feels odd to say the least.

    Oh, well.. I have a date tomorrow. 😉

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