Despite affordable drives and media, the CD-recordable and CD-rewritable market remains out of the mainstream. Yet any user who needs to move around large chunks of data, archive files or publish data either internally or externally needs a CD-R or CD-RW drive to do it.

I recently tried out the Media Master MP 7040A CD-RW drive from Ricoh Corp. and was impressed. Although drive hardware matters, the secret of good CD recording lies in the software. If it isn't easy to use and reliable, the drive might as well be junk for all the use it will see.

Media compatibility can be almost as important, depending on the intended applications. Buyers should carefully research what media the drive can record, and what other drives can read the results.

The MP7040A supports an alphabet soup of industry-standard formats. It can read or write digital audio CD, CD-ROM, CD-Extra, CD-ROM XA, Photo CD, CD-I and Video CD. In addition, CD-R and CD-RW disks made with the Ricoh drive can be read by many of the new CD-ROM drives, as well as by DVD-ROM drives.

Whether a disk is readable depends on many factors, including the media type and disk format. I had good luck reading the disks I created on the MP7040A with all the CD-ROM drives I tried. For some formats, the CD-ROM must be MultiRead-compatible, which is another name for the Random UDF format.

Drive installation, in a 5.25-inch bay with an available IDE connection, was very simple. I hooked the drive up to the test computer's sound card, installed the software and started recording immediately.

There were two applications included for writing disks: PacketCD and WinOnCD. WinOnCD is good for common tasks such as copying data CDs and mastering CD-R and CD-RW disks. PacketCD, in contrast, lets you use a CD-R or CD-RW disk almost like a hard disk.

In the Random UDF format, I could drag and drop files right onto the MP7040A drive window--the easiest way of recording CDs I've seen yet. I tested by dragging and dropping everything from small Web images to a 605-megabyte compressed file, quickly filling up a CD-RW disk with data instead of puzzling over arcane tricks with publishing software.

Both applications had the power and flexibility to work any way I wanted. Users could do everything from creating a disk image to publishing multiple copies of a single CD to simply archiving files as needed.

With 20X read speed and 4X write speed, the drive not only could record CD-Rs and CD-RWs quickly, but also had enough speed to replace a standard CD-ROM drive.

Its 2-megabyte buffer and Advanced Technology attachment packet interface delivered a data transfer rate of 16.7 megabytes per second, which means it would take about 20 minutes to record a 650-megabyte CD-RW disk.

I still prefer SCSI CD-R and CD-RW drives because they can handle data so much faster, but considering the lower price and resource requirements of an IDE, the MP7040A would make an excellent choice in many applications.

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MEDIA MASTER MP7040

Ricoh Corp.

West Caldwell, N.J.

Grade: B+

Phone number: 877-742-6479

Web address: www.ricoh.com

Price: $295

Purpose: CD-R and CD-RW publisher

Pros:

+ Excellent format and media support

+ Easy software for long-term archiving

Cons:

-- Not appropriate for backup

Real-life requirements: Windows 95 or higher; 166-MHz or faster Pentium; 64MB of RAM, 75M of free storage, free 5.25-inch drive bay, available Enhanced IDE interface