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The world's first really fast CD-ROM drive
technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule

The world's first really fast CD-ROM drive

Technofile for April 11, 1999

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers

Your PC is fast. Your hard drive is speedy. Your CD-ROM is a dog.

Even if your computer sports a "32X" or "40X" CD-ROM drive, your CD-ROM is just plain pokey. Hard drives and computer processors are much faster.

But those days are coming to end. An Israeli company has come up with a way to make a CD-ROM drive really fast. The secret? Give the drive seven laser beams instead of one and let all seven shovel stuff off the drive at the same time.

The company that invented this is named Zen Research. It calls its technique "TrueX," a slap at the hokey way drive speeds have been calculated for the last decade. CD-ROM manufacturers have been putting an "X" (for "times," as in "3 times 4") after a number to make it seem like their drives were that many times faster than original drives. As anyone who has played games or simulations on computers will tell you, the "X" numbers are mostly imaginary in normal use.

But "TrueX" drives are really as fast as the number indicates. Two Zen "TrueX" drives are already on the market, with many more on the way. Both of those first two drives are made by Kenwood and sold under the HiVal name. One's a "40X" drive at about $100 and the other is rated at "52X" at about $140.

My wife and I bought the "40X" Zen drive at CompUSA and installed it in her IBM Aptiva PC. Installation was much harder on the Aptiva than it would be on practically any other computer because of the way the main CD-ROM drive is mounted. It's in a two-inch-high console that pops open when you want to use the floppy or the CD.

Getting the Aptiva's ancient "6X" drive out and the new Zen drive in was not the problem. The difficulty came when we tried to find a home for the wide spring that pushes the console's lid open from underneath. The spring had popped out of place as soon as we took the console apart, so we had no way of noting how it was attached originally.

We found diagrams on an IBM Web site and printed them out, but the diagrams didn't even show the spring. Nancy finally figured out how the spring should be mounted after I gave up on it. (Men are like that, I guess.)

Windows installed the proper drivers as soon as we turned the computer back on. The drive worked perfectly. To make sure the drive also would work in MS-DOS mode, I copied some files that HiVal supplies on a floppy disk and changed the Aptiva's DOS startup files. (You need to do this only if you use the CD-ROM in DOS mode. Don't mess with it otherwise.)

We noticed two things right away. Games that simply wouldn't play properly on the Aptiva could now be played in all their glory, with no jerkiness or stuttering from the CD, and every disk that came out of the drive was almost too hot to touch.

The speed increase showed up in my measurements, too. The new drive was about three times as fast as any other CD-ROM drive on my PCs. I copied an entire CD-ROM to one of the hard drives on the Aptiva and timed the new CD-ROM drive and the hard drive in transferring those files to a third drive. The "TrueX" drive could not match the hard drive overall, but came close, showing about two-thirds of the speed of the hard drive.

As for the overheated drive, right now we're turning off the Aptiva as often as possible to cool it down. I'm planning to install a small fan somewhere in the console. If that doesn't work, we'll have to mount the drive in the PC's tower case. We prefer the console because the CD-ROM can be right at your fingertips even when the PC tower is many feet away.

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