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02/07/2001

I’m tired of picking apart terrible reviews, so here’s a pair of pretty good ones, one from an old favorite site.

A review of Plextor’s new 16X burner. http://www.cdrinfo.com/hardware/plextor1610a/index.shtml

A good, honest, comprehensive look at the current state of the art. Their conclusion: it’s the best drive of its type out there but not perfect. The 16X burners all have flaws, and this one doesn’t bury the competition but when all’s said and done it comes out on top overall.

I can’t really find fault with this review, especially seeing as it documents an undocumented setting to enable UDMA mode and get more out of the drive. They document their methodology, disclose the test bed, and perform thorough analysis.

Dan’s Data reviews a great-looking case. http://www.dansdata.com/pc70.htm

Too bad this case seems to be hard to find here in the States. Let’s face it: this is a case review. It’s hard to mess up. But this guy’s a fun read regardless of the topic.

01/27/2001

More reviews of reviews. I liked how yesterday went, and I found some really good stuff yesterday, so let’s continue on and see what’s good and why.

2001 Upgrade Guide (Ace’s Hardware)

This is an outstanding upgrade guide, working from the assumption that you have an older system (a K6-2 or Celeron with a TNT2 board, which is a pretty common setup), then they test a number of upgrades so you can see what makes a difference. Unfortunately these upgrade candidates already have a modern hard disk and sound card, so they don’t closely simulate a real-world system, but they do isolate the components, so while these upgraded systems will outperform yours, you can see precisely what effect upgrading the video card will have.

For example, you can see right away from their graphs that replacing a K6-2’s TNT2 video card with a GeForce 2 GTS will only improve Half-Life frame rates slightly (up to 25.5 from 22.1), while trading up to a Duron 850 while keeping all the same peripherals increases rates to 51.8 from 22.1. How valuable is that information? I found a GTS card for $229. The same place has a Duron 850/Gigabyte 7ZX-1 bundle for $222. The upgrades cost the same amount, yet one of them increases performance significantly while the other just barely helps. It’s the difference between throwing away $240 and spending $235 wisely (after shipping).

The other great thing about this guide is that it tests more than just first-person shooters. For FPS, DDR gives marginal improvements indeed, but for other types of games, its improvement can be immense. Mercedes-Benz Truck Racing and Formula One 2000, for instance, are faster with a DDR-equipped Duron 850 than it is with a PC133-equipped Athlon 1100.

This guide shows when a GHz+ CPU and new memory technology makes sense, and when it doesn’t, letting you decide when it makes sense to buy the latest and greatest.

Overall: great methodology, nice balance of real-world tests (assuming gaming’s your thang, which it probably is if you read this stuff, since you won’t see much difference between a Celeron 667 and a 1.2 GHz Athlon for office apps). A lot of work goes into guides like this, but it’s worth it. Maybe someday articles like this will be the norm on the hardware sites, rather than the exception. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

VIA Apollo Pro 266 (THG)

This is an analysis piece combined with a preview of VIA’s Apollo Pro 266 chipset. Good explanation of PC architecture for one who doesn’t understand what the north bridge and south bridge are, plus the benchmarks are using boards you can actually buy, rather than reference designs.

Tom Pabst takes his usual swipes at Rambus, and points out that the Pentium III isn’t really able to take advantage of DDR, as evidenced by its similar performance to Rambus- and PC133-equipped systems. Pabst concludes with an assertion that a DDR Pentium 4 chipset would prove how terrible Rambus really is, since the bottleneck with DDR seems to be the CPU, rather than the memory itself. Unfortuantely, he doesn’t provide anything at all to back up this claim, so he comes off as an anti-Rambus bigot. Has he seen a P4 run with DDR? Maybe he’s under NDA, but if he is, he can at least say, “I can’t tell you why I know this, but DDR chipsets for the P4 will prove how worthless Rambus is,” and it would be better than what he wrote. But his speculation of DDR performance with the P4 and how it will compare is no more valuable than yours.

This article does give the useful information that DDR on the Pentium III probably isn’t worth the bother.

Value Biz PC Guide (Sharky Extreme)

Unusual for hardware sites, good focus on what’s necessary for business. No benchmarks; I’d have liked to have seen illustrations of why CPU speed isn’t as important as, say, disk speed, for business apps. Hardware recommendations are solid, and I’m happy to see they don’t assume businesses overclock. They don’t. I disagree with the $100 CD-R recommendation; you’re better off with a Plextor drive with Burn-Proof, especially since such a drive will allow you to multitask. Since time is money, businesses can’t afford to waste time burning coasters. If a slower, cheaper CPU is necessary in order to afford a better CD-R, then so be it.

Some discussion of when SCSI would be appropriate on the desktop also would have been nice, as SCSI does have its place in the office.

But overall, this is a solid guide. By blindly following its advice, you’ll build a better PC than you’ll get from many of the direct PC vendors.

Internet Connection Sharing (Dan’s Data)

Nice, down-to-earth, and pretty thorough overview of what it takes to share an Internet connection whose primary target is people who are less ambitious than me–an old 386 or 486 running Linux isn’t among the options he presents. I guess he could have titled it “ICS for the Rest of Us.”

This is thorough without getting too bogged down in particulars, and it’s cross-referenced with an outstanding Networking 101 piece by the same author, and weird jargon is cross-referenced with an online dictionary. Some reviews of the various options would be nice, but he gives a good thumbnail sketch of each option’s advantages and drawbacks. The author, Dan Rutter, is a mainstream computer journalist in Australia who seems to have a very high standard for his work.

Definitely bookmark his networking piece, http://www.dansdata.com/network.htm , and if you keep a notebook, print out a copy to put there as well, as it’s an outstanding overview that answers most of the common networking questions like the difference between a hub and a switch. You may find yourself referring back to this one as well, but it’s more specialized and as such, not as generally useful.

His other stuff is useful, well-written, and downright entertaining. Few computer writers are fun to read. Dan Rutter usually is. Many people consider Ace’s Hardware the best of the hardware sites, but I really think Dan’s Data gives Ace’s a big-time run for the money.

Plextor bargains, and Year 2000 in review

A bargain Plextor CD-RW. I just spotted this great tip in a link to a link to a link in the StorageReview forums. The Iomega ZipCD 12x10x32 appears to be a relabeled Plextor drive, and it sometimes sells for around $100. So if you’re looking for the best CD-R on the market at a great price, go get it.
Details are at www.roundsparrow.com/comp/iomega1 if you want to have a look-see.

The $99 price seems to be a CompUSA special sale. Check local availability at www.compusa.com/products/product_info.asp?product_code=280095 if you’re interested.

Incidentally, the IDE 12x10x32 drives from TDK and Creative are also reported to be re-branded Plextors. Regular retail price on these four “twin” drives is similar, around $300. The TDK and Creative drives come with Nero Burning ROM, however, making them more desirable than the Plextor model. Iomega bundles Adaptec’s CD suite.

Happy New Year. An ancient Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, 2000 certainly was interesting. So, my toast to you this year is this: May 2001 be less interesting than 2000. Boring isn’t always bad. Just usually.

Linux 2.4 almost made it. Yesterday, Linus Torvalds released linux2.4-prerelease and vowed there won’t be a prerelease1, prerelease2, etc.–this is it. Bugs get fixed in this one, then the final 2.4 comes out (to be immediately followed by linux2.4ac1, no doubt–Alan Cox always releases a patched kernel swatting a couple of bugs within hours of Linus releasing the new kernel. It happened with 2.0 and with 2.2, and history repeats itself).

Anyway, the 2.2 prerelease turned into a series in spite of Linus’ vows, so Linus isn’t always right, but I expect 2.4 will be out this month, if not this week.

Linux 2.4 will increase performance, especially on high-memory and SMP machines, but I ran a 2.3 series kernel (basically the Linux equivalent of an alpha release of 2.4) on my P120 for a long time and found it to be faster than 2.2, even on a machine that humble. I also found it to be more stable than Microsoft’s final releases, but hey.

I ought to download 2.4prerelease and put it on my dual Celeron box to see how far it’s come, but I doubt I get around to it today.

Other lowlights of 2000. Windows 2000 flopped. It’s not a total disaster, but sales aren’t meeting Microsoft’s expectations. PC sales flopped, and that was a disaster. The Pentium 4 was released to awful reviews. Nvidia bought the mortal remains of 3dfx for a song. Similarly, Aureal departed from this mortal coil, purchased by longtime archrival Creative Labs after bankruptcy. (In a former incarnation, before bankruptcy and being run into the ground, Aureal was known as MediaVision. PC veterans probably remember them.) A federal judge ordered the breakup of Microsoft, but the appeals process promises to at least delay it, if not prevent it. We’ll hear a lot about that in 2001, but 2001 probably won’t bring any closure.

Hmm, other highlights. Apple failed to release OS X this year, and saw its new product line flop. Dotcom after dotcom shuttered its doors, much to Wall Street’s dismay. Linux companies didn’t topple MS, much to Wall Street’s dismay. And speaking of Wall Street, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) flip-flopped in the rankings of richest man in the world several times.

And two of my favorite pundits, Bob Metcalfe and G. Burgess Alison, called it quits last year. They are sorely missed.

And once again, 2000 wasn’t the year of the NC.

I know I missed a few. But those were the highlights, as I see them.

01/01/2001

Mailbag:

Partition; IDE/SCSI; Lost CD ROM; Optimizing ME; Win 98/ME

A bargain Plextor CD-RW. I just spotted this great tip in a link to a link to a link in the StorageReview forums. The Iomega ZipCD 12x10x32 appears to be a relabeled Plextor drive, and it sometimes sells for around $100. So if you’re looking for the best CD-R on the market at a great price, go get it.

Details are at www.roundsparrow.com/comp/iomega1 if you want to have a look-see.

The $99 price seems to be a CompUSA special sale. Check local availability at www.compusa.com/products/product_info.asp?product_code=280095 if you’re interested.

Incidentally, the IDE 12x10x32 drives from TDK and Creative are also reported to be re-branded Plextors. Regular retail price on these four “twin” drives is similar, around $300. The TDK and Creative drives come with Nero Burning ROM, however, making them more desirable than the Plextor model. Iomega bundles Adaptec’s CD suite.

Happy New Year. An ancient Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, 2000 certainly was interesting. So, my toast to you this year is this: May 2001 be less interesting than 2000. Boring isn’t always bad. Just usually.

Linux 2.4 almost made it. Yesterday, Linus Torvalds released linux2.4-prerelease and vowed there won’t be a prerelease1, prerelease2, etc.–this is it. Bugs get fixed in this one, then the final 2.4 comes out (to be immediately followed by linux2.4ac1, no doubt–Alan Cox always releases a patched kernel swatting a couple of bugs within hours of Linus releasing the new kernel. It happened with 2.0 and with 2.2, and history repeats itself).

Anyway, the 2.2 prerelease turned into a series in spite of Linus’ vows, so Linus isn’t always right, but I expect 2.4 will be out this month, if not this week.

Linux 2.4 will increase performance, especially on high-memory and SMP machines, but I ran a 2.3 series kernel (basically the Linux equivalent of an alpha release of 2.4) on my P120 for a long time and found it to be faster than 2.2, even on a machine that humble. I also found it to be more stable than Microsoft’s final releases, but hey.

I ought to download 2.4prerelease and put it on my dual Celeron box to see how far it’s come, but I doubt I get around to it today.

Other lowlights of 2000. Windows 2000 flopped. It’s not a total disaster, but sales aren’t meeting Microsoft’s expectations. PC sales flopped, and that was a disaster. The Pentium 4 was released to awful reviews. Nvidia bought the mortal remains of 3dfx for a song. Similarly, Aureal departed from this mortal coil, purchased by longtime archrival Creative Labs after bankruptcy. (In a former incarnation, before bankruptcy and being run into the ground, Aureal was known as MediaVision. PC veterans probably remember them.) A federal judge ordered the breakup of Microsoft, but the appeals process promises to at least delay it, if not prevent it. We’ll hear a lot about that in 2001, but 2001 probably won’t bring any closure.

Hmm, other highlights. Apple failed to release OS X this year, and saw its new product line flop. Dotcom after dotcom shuttered its doors, much to Wall Street’s dismay. Linux companies didn’t topple MS, much to Wall Street’s dismay. And speaking of Wall Street, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) flip-flopped in the rankings of richest man in the world several times.

And two of my favorite pundits, Bob Metcalfe and G. Burgess Alison, called it quits last year. They are sorely missed.

And once again, 2000 wasn’t the year of the NC.

I know I missed a few. But those were the highlights, as I see them.

Mailbag:

Partition; IDE/SCSI; Lost CD ROM; Optimizing ME; Win 98/ME

Computer buying advice

Some sound computer buying advice. Here’s a Washington Post article on buying new PCs. Easy to understand in layman’s terms. And the advice is for the most part sound too, though I recommend always buying a good video card–a TNT2 will just add $60 or so to the cost of a low-end box and everything will run more nicely. The box I’m typing on right now has a cheap Cirrus Logic-based card in it, and the high CPU usage of its drivers hurts multitasking noticeably, even if I’m just browsing the Web while listening to music.

In a year this’ll be a moot point, as all chipsets will have serviceable embedded video. Even the enraging Intel i740, though not good for games, was great for productivity use and much better all around than this Cirrus and Trident garbage, and Intel’s newest chipsets have i740 derivatives in them. Future VIA chipsets will have S3 video in them. Same story.

I buy crap so you don’t have to–but don’t get me wrong. I buy the good stuff too. That way I’ll know the difference.

No more wimpy PC sound for me. I just connected an ancient but still awesome Harmon/Kardon 330A receiver (built in the late 1960s, I’m guessing — it once belonged to my dad) to my computer along with a pair of KLH 970A speakers I picked up for 30 bucks at Best Bait-n-Switch (unfortunately, the only nearby place that sells KLH speakers). These things are scarcely bigger than the cheap desktop speakers that came with the last PC I bought — 7 3/8″ high x 4 5/8″ wide by 4 3/8″ deep — but with the volume cranked to about 1/3 I can hear it throughout my apartment. I imagine at 2/3 I’d meet my neighbors. I won’t try that — I’m not interested in sharing my great tunage.

I can’t believe neither my mom nor my sister wanted this receiver — honestly, every time I’ve mentioned this thing at an audio place the salesperson has asked if I was interested in selling it — but hey, my dad would have wanted me to have a kickin’ audio setup for my PCs, right? This’ll work great for Royals broadcasts over the ‘Net once baseball season starts again, but not only that, this combination kicks out the jams almost as hard as punk legends The MC5, so I’m not complaining.

I’m happy enough with the results that I think rather than replacing my dying CD changer, once my Windows Me experiments are over I’ll mount my extra 15-gig drive somewhere on my LAN and put my Plextor Ultraplex CD-ROM drive to work ripping my entire CD collection, which I’ll then encode at 320 kbps. I doubt I’ll notice much difference.

If you’re like me and live with several PCs in close proximity to one another, rather than plugging an endless number of cheap desktop speakers into them, pick up an inexpensive receiver or use a castaway. You can plug a PC into any stereo input except phono, so most modern receivers should accomodate at least three PCs, and the speaker options are limited only by the receiver’s capabilities and available space. You’re likely to be much happier with such a setup than with any desktop speakers you’ll find, and a receiver plus speakers will usually cost much less than multiple pairs of any set of desktop speakers worth having would. Just be very careful to isolate your speakers away from any floppies and Zips and other magnetic media you might have. Some bookshelf speakers may be magnetically shielded, but don’t count on it.

10/30/2000

Leading off, some baseball news. Baseball and network execs are puzzled over why this was the lowest-rated World Series ever. (Story here.) Could it be that no one’s interested in watching $200 million worth of spoiled brats from New York throw temper tantrums? Nah, couldn’t be.

Baseball needs a Cinderella story. Bad.

Athlons are dirt cheap. Don’t buy one. Dan Seto noticed and mentioned that AMD Athlons are now cheap as dirt, at least compared to their once-stratospheric levels. He cited a 1 GHz Athlon for $320. So I hopped on the Web, and sure enough, you can easily find one in the $300 range. Some of the bottom-feeder vendors are selling them for as little as $260.

The rest of the lineup? 700/$99, 750/$108, 800/$129, 850/$146, 900/$166, 950/$224.

Remember, though, before you rush out to buy a supercheap gigahertz CPU, that CPU speed is but one factor in performance. Match it up with a video card that treats you right, and with a sound card that isn’t going to suck up all your CPU cycles (the SB Live! MP3+ is an outstanding inexpensive choice), and most importantly, with a hard drive that doesn’t hold you back. If you’re building a performance system, particularly one that’ll be running Linux, NT, or W2K, give serious thought to a SCSI disk. You’ll be happier with a SCSI-equipped 700 MHz system than with an IDE-equipped GHz system.

If money were no object, here’s what I’d get today and why (then I’ll tell you why I still wouldn’t buy it, even if money were no object):

  • Asus A7V mobo — most stable Athlon board available, and every time I buy something other than an Asus I regret it later
  • AMD Thunderbird 1.2 GHz — strictly for braggin’ rights
  • 256 MB Crucial PC133 RAM — Micron memory, the best in the business
  • Adaptec 29160 Ultra160 SCSI PCI host adapter — hey, it’s Adaptec
  • Seagate Cheetah X15 18GB 15K RPM hard drive — Who cares about drive size? This bad boy has a 3.9 ms seek time, a 4-meg buffer and 15,000 rpm spindle speed. It’ll heat my apartment, it’ll wake up my neighbors, but I won’t wait on it (much).
  • Plextor UltraPlex Wide 40X CD-ROM — I love my Plextor drives
  • Plextor 12X CD-R with Burnproof — no coasters with this drive
  • Sound Blaster Live! Platinum — same as the MP3+ but with a nice front-mounted breakout box for my audio gear
  • 3Com 3CR990 NIC — this is the coolest NIC on the market, far and away. It has an onboard processor that handles much of the TCP/IP encapsulation itself, freeing CPU cycles. Same principle as 3D acceleration on your video card and DirectSound acceleration on your sound card. A hundred bucks, but probably worth every cent. Nobody seems to know about it, so I’m telling you.

I wouldn’t worry so much about the video card. My two-year-old STB Velocity 128 frankly is enough card for most of what I do. I suppose I’d get an nVidia GeForce256-based model of some sort. Since the nVidia Riva128 chipset has long since been sent to the gulag, the value chipset is the TNT2. Hot tip if you’re building a value PC: I’m seeing Creative Labs OEM TNT2-based cards for $60, and that’s more than enough card for all but the most die-hard gamer.

Amazingly, you could have this system for well under $3,000. I figured buying the best of everything would run into the $4500 range easily.

I suspect AMD slashed prices precisely because this is a good time to wait and they don’t want you to. Those in the know know that the AMD 760 chipset, which supports DDR SDRAM (basically 266 MHz SDRAM) comes out this week, so anything available today is old hat. This isn’t the multiprocessor AMD 760MP though — we’re looking at January for that. Sorry.

So why not buy now and replace the motherboard later? The 760 introduces a newer, faster front-side bus. If you want to exploit its full potential, you need a new CPU. No one is going to want these old ones now.

I spent a good part of the weekend working on an article. Essentially, I’m distilling chapter 2 of Optimizing Windows into a 3,000-word piece. That’s hard. The tips fit into that, but with very little explanation and very little flair. So much for the difference between it and every other “21 Ways to Speed Up Windows” article, except mine may be more complete for lack of explanation and flair.

Some argue they don’t want flair. They’re lying. Without flair, it reads like an economics textbook. Without explanation, you haven’t done anyone much good.

The line I really don’t want to lose: “I hate screen savers. I hate them so much, when I was once invited to make an appearance on a US television program called The Screen Savers, I turned them down.” Then I go into explaining why screen savers are the cause of everything wrong with the world today.

I was at 3,600 words Saturday, down to about 3,200 by Sunday afternoon. I can cut the two least important tips, leaving 20, and be at 2946, which might leave room for some screenshots. I’m half tempted to ask him if I can do the page layout for this thing as well… That’s not likely, but worth asking.

Mac “superiority” and cheap PC hardware sources

Dave flying solo. Sorry about not getting the post up there yesterday. So here’s two days’ worth, divvied up however I want.
Inherent Mac superiority… or something. When Steve Jobs unveiled the new dual G4s, he loaded up Photoshop 5.5 on a 1 GHz P3, a 500 MHz G4, and a dual G4 and applied a filter. The 500 MHz G4 finished faster than the P3, and the dual G4 finished in less than half the time. The dual G4 is faster than a 2 GHz P3, not that you can buy one, Jobs boasted.

OK Steve, let’s try a real-world test here. What’s more common, Photoshop or MS Office? The rest of us use Office more frequently. So let’s rumble. The objective: A 700-record mail merge, using Excel and Word. The contenders: A 350 MHz G3 with 192 MB RAM, a 266 MHz G3 with 256 MB RAM, and a 333 MHz P2 with 64 MB RAM.

On record #596, both Macs abort with out of memory errors, even if I crank up the amount of memory both apps can have beyond 32 MB. (Macs don’t have dynamic memory allocation.) Time elapsed: 5 minutes on the 350, 6 minutes on the 266. (I tried it on the second Mac in case there was something wrong with the first one.)

The PC zips through the job in 30 seconds without errors. (Oh yeah, and I had two Internet Exploiter windows in the background, and an extra Excel spreadsheet loaded, mostly because I was too lazy to close everything extraneous down on the PC in order to make the test fair.)

So I guess by Jobs’ logic, my 333 MHz P2, which isn’t even made anymore, is faster than a dual 2 GHz G4, not that you can buy one…

Not that I’m a Microsoft zealot by any stretch of the imagination, but I just found this amusing. It turned out the fastest and most reliable way for one of my Mac users at work to do a mail merge on her Mac is to save the Excel “database” to an NT share, then go log onto a neighbor’s NT box to do the job.

A place for potential bargains. I found a source for surplus computer gear that pretty consistently has good deals advertised at www.softwareandstuff.com. Caveat emptor: I haven’t ordered anything from them myself yet, and they have a 5.1 rating on resellerratings.com but only four evaluations. Given that, I’d say they’re somewhat promising but I’m not going to explicitly recommend either for or against them based on just that.

A sampler: They have an Athlon 550 (Slot A, non-Thunderbird) on a Soyo KT133 mobo for $150. Soyo’s not my motherboard maker of choice but that’s not a bad deal for an inexpensive system with some kick. IDE CD-ROM drives are in the $25 range. WinChip 200 CPUs (outstanding for upgrading Socket 5 systems cheaply–the 1.5X multiplier becomes a 4X multiplier with the WinChip, so a Winnie-200 is a drop-in instant replacement for a P75, and you can get it running at 200 MHz on a 66 MHz system bus if your board supports a 3x multiplier) are $30. Plextor 12X/20X CD-ROM drives are $60. If you want a cheap speed boost for your Win9x box, Fix-It Utilities 99 is $10. Norton Utilities 2000 is $20. Nuts & Bolts Platinum is $15.

Certainly an intriguing vendor. That Athlon bundle has me thinking, and that Winnie would be nice in my P120.

From: Robert Bruce Thompson

Yep. I understand that even a lot of younger hams have never built anything. That’s sad. And probably not good news.

—–

Agreed. But I don’t know what anyone can really do about it.

Selecting a mass storage medium

Thursday, 5/4/00
CD-RW vs. Zip vs. Superdisk. Mail from India.

I am writing from New Delhi, India.

I read your comments on the site concerning ‘super floppies’. I would be very grateful if you could help me in this matter.

I have been thinking for some time about whether to buy a CDR drive or a ZIP drive. Recently my computer was hit by the CIH virus. Some of my data was lost.

I am a graphic designer as well. Consequently I need to transfer heavy files of an average of 10-15 MB to the printers or to show to my clients. I have been using file splitting softwares of late — but now I feel the need of alternative means of carrying the data for them.

Also some people say that CDRW cannot be read by some CD ROMs. I primarily need the drives for data back-up and transferring 10-15 MB files b/w printers, clients and my office.

Should I be buying an HP CDR or an Iomega 250 MB zip drive ?

I would be extremely helpful, if you could help me in my decision.

Thanking you,

Anshuman Bhargava.

First off, I’m sorry to hear about CIH getting you. We really need to find other ways to amuse 15-year-olds.

You are correct that some CD-ROM drives won’t read CD-RW discs. It’s a sure bet that any drive more than about three years old (pre-1997) won’t. Drives made since 1997 are supposed to be able to read them, but that doesn’t always happen. But with CD-R discs selling for peanuts, at least in the United States, that’s not too much of a concern. I’m usually willing to spend 75 cents on a CD-R I only use once. (I try to think of it as wasting 75 cents, rather than wasting 600 megs when I use a CD-R to transport a 20-meg file. Somehow that seems less wasteful.)

I had a conversation at work about Zips vs. Superdisk vs. CD-R/CD-RW the other day. I have a Zip drive, and I use it exclusively for installing Windows on computers I can’t easily connect a CD-ROM drive to. That’s it. I don’t trust it with any data I value. I’ve just seen too many of them fail. I know graphic designers swear by Zips when they aren’t swearing at them, but I’ve seen too many disks and drives fail. The Superdisk looks good, and Imation is on more solid financial ground than Iomega so I’m much more confident that Imation will be around in 5 years than I am about Iomega, but the LS-120 superdisk is much less common, and its capacity is lower.

If I were in your position, I’d get a CD-RW drive (I like Yamaha and Plextor, though I’ve also used HP, Sony and Philips drives) along with a spindle of CD-Rs and CD-RWs. Once you have a good idea which of your clients can handle CD-RWs and which ones have to use CD-Rs, you’ll be in good shape.

From an archival standpoint, CD-Rs make me a lot less nervous than either Zip or LS-120, because they’re optical rather than magnetic. I have plenty of 15-year-old floppy disks still floating around, but I’m not very confident many of them are still readable. Longevity varies greatly depending on the quality of the media, but you should be able to expect a couple of decades at least from quality CD-R (Kodak, Taiyo Yuden, and Mitsui discs are the safest; Kodak is the easiest of the three to find), plus they’re cheap, plus they can’t be damaged by viruses or user error. I periodically burn everything that matters to me to CD.

I hope this helps.