Write your own CDs

Q I am currently interested in buying a CD-Writer. I would like to use the drive predominantly to record my personal music from my hard drive. I understand that CD-RW discs are rewritable but can only be played in the writer's drive, whereas a CD-R disc can be written to once but can be played in most CD-players (eg the car). Can you give me any useful information? I am living in Melbourne. My budget for this unit is up to $1500.

- Sean Rushton

A There are two types of CD recording technologies: CD-Recordable (CD-R) and CD-ReWritable (CD-RW). CD-R disks can only be burned once; CD-RW discs can be completely erased and rewritten many times. CD-R disks have better backward compatibility than CD-RW disks, and can be played in most standard CD-ROM drives, CD players, and DVD-ROM drives. The new multiread CD-ROM drives and DVD drives can play CD-RW disks, but many older CD-ROM drives and CD players can't. CD-RW recorders are generally more expensive than CD-R drives.

You can connect a CD recorder to your PC using either a SCSI or an IDE interface. SCSI is a system level interface that attaches to a PC via a host adapter, which is usually a plug-in card. An IDE device has a built-in controller, and usually plugs directly into a bus connector on the motherboard. Most PCs have two IDE ports on the motherboard, and each one will support two devices. One port may already be connected to your CD-ROM drive and/or your hard disk, if they are IDE devices. Many CD recorder manufacturers produce both SCSI and IDE models, and although SCSI recorders are more popular and more software is available for them, IDE recorders are catching up.

The main advantage of a SCSI connection is that it is fast, and CD recording benefits from a fast connection between your recorder and your hard disk. However, SCSI recorders are usually more expensive, and can cause compatibility problems. SCSI recorders can also be more difficult to install than IDE drives because you usually have to install a SCSI card.

Before committing yourself to a CD recorder, it's also important to assess the capabilities of your PC. A 486 computer is the absolute minimum configuration for a CD-R system, and the faster your PC, the better. Check that your PC has enough memory to run CD-recording software -- you will need at least 16MB, preferably 32MB. Most CD recorders are available as external or internal units, so you'll have to decide which type best suits you and your PC. Internal recorders are less expensive and take up less room, but they can generate a lot of heat. An external model with external connectors and an independent power supply is best if you want to use the recorder with more than one computer, or if there's no room inside your PC.

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