By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
What's a real cheap way of backing up the files on your computer?
A tape drive? No. A lot of floppy disks? Get real.
A second hard drive? Maybe.
How about a CD recorder? For about the same cost as a second hard drive, you can get a CD-ROM recorder. You can use it to copy important files for permanent storage, and the CDs you create are readable (and playable) on any CD drive. With the price of a blank CD now settling in the $1 to $2 range, you won't find a cheaper way to do backups.
Check my favorite price-comparison guide at http://www.pricewatch.com for the best bargains on CD recorders. Prices start at about $300 for good ones. PriceWatch also tracks prices of blank recordable CDs, too, and you'll probably see some listed at $1 each after rebates. Check local stores first; I've purchased blank CDs locally for $2 or less after rebates.
Now add it up. You can store about 650 megabytes on one CD. If you use file compression when you store the files, you can easily get one gigabyte on a disk that costs $1. Even if you have to pay $2 to $3 for each blank CD, you're still paying only a fraction of a cent for each megabyte of storage.
Blank backup tapes and extra hard drives cost 10 to 100 times as much, and floppy disks — even if you could get them for 10 cents each — are far too expensive for serious backup use. Imagine how many hours you'd spend backing up a multi-gigabyte hard drive to floppy disks. You'd need 1,500 floppy disks to back up a 3-gigabyte drive, at a cost of $150. (The task would take 50 hours of constant disk shuffling, too.)
You can install a CD-ROM recorder on a PC or a Mac. Recording software is available for old and new versions of Windows and for the Mac operating system. You're better off if you have Windows 95 or the latest Mac OS, but you don't need them.
Most CD recorders use the SCSI method of connecting to your computer. SCSI (pronounced "scuzzy") is built into all Macs and can be added to PCs for $50 on up. PC users also have a choice of IDE CD recorders, but I'd stay away from them unless you know what you're doing. Adding a SCSI card and choosing a SCSI CD recorder is a much better idea.
CD recorders aren't just backup devices. With most CD recorder software, you can copy CD-ROMs and audio CDs, and you can even make your own audio CDs. If you have a microphone and an inexpensive computer camera such as a Connectix QuickCam, you can record audio-and-video movies and copy them to a CD.
Before you rush off to buy a CD recorder, however, you need to know that CD recorders come in two types. The kind I am talking about here is the standard type, which cannot erase anything. It can only record. The other kind is a CD-RW (read-write) recorder, which uses different blank CD disks that cost $9 to $15 at discount. Despite the advantage of being able to re-record over the same disk, CD-RW recorders have an overwhelming liability: CD-RW disks can't be read (or played back) on standard CD-ROM drives. Don't buy a CD-RW drive with the thought of sending CDs to Uncle Harry, unless Uncle Harry also has the same brand of CD-RW drive. (Disks recorded by different CD-RW drives are sometimes incompatible even on CD-RW drives.)
Next week I'll offer some tips and tricks that can make creating your own CDs a breeze.