Thin is in, especially if you're a road warrior shackled to everything from a notebook computer to a cell phone. So, with this in mind, I took a look at two small CD burners that won't break your back, or your budget.
At first blush, the CRW70 Spyder ($299), from Yamaha, and the Backpack Triple Play Bantam ($249), from MicroSolutions, seem similar. But that, my friends, is just an illusion. In fact, both have features that would make any computer geek proud to show off.
The Spyder is a bit smaller than the Bantam, measuring 7.25 inches in diameter, 5.25 inches wide and a bit more than an inch high, and can easily fit in a notebook computer case or a desk drawer. The Bantam measures 8.5 inches in diameter, 6 inches wide and an inch high.
Neither of these drives is a speed demon compared with their larger brethren, but they surpass, by far, the sluggish standards set by their predecessors. Older drives of this type wrote CDs at an agonizingly slow 4X, which amazed us in ancient times, but isn't anything to crow about today.
The Spyder writes CDs at 12X, writes to rewritable disks at 8X and can read them at 24X. It can also rip (copy) audio CDs at a maximum speed of 24X - five times faster than conventional CDRW or DVD-ROM drives. A lot of this is due to its use of USB 2.0 technology, which, at the moment, transfers data at speeds that leave all other standards - including firewire - in the dust.
The speed of the Bantam differs depending on which standard you use when connecting it to your computer. Because it's "triple play," you can connect it to your computer using a PC card, a parallel port or a USB port. All of these connections are made through a parallel port connector on the back of the drive, which means all data is handled at the highest speeds possible no matter how it's connected.
The Bantam was a bit faster than the Spyder when I connected it to the USB 2.0 port on my computer, writing to CDs at 16X and writing to rewritables at 10X, but read CDs at 24X. These numbers go down significantly using other interfaces, including USB 1.0, bottoming out at 6X for all three functions.
Both drives also have their own form of BurnProof technology, Yamaha calling its SafeBurn and MicroSolutions simply labeling its as Buffer Underrun Protection.
As far as software goes, I preferred the Ahead Software (including Nero 5.5) bundle included with the Spyder, because I was more familiar with it, but the SpeedyCD package included with the Bantam was more than adequate. Also, Spyder owners are eligible for a free upgrade to Yamaha's Audio Master software, which allows you to create professional-quality audio CDs that won't suffer from the jitters during playback.
This is a tough choice, with each having its own benefits and drawbacks, although it's really a no-brainer if you're using an older computer or Microsoft Windows 98 (or earlier) or Windows NT. The Bantam's triple-play feature makes it your only choice.
But it's really a toss-up for those of us on the other end of the spectrum, with the Spyder being smaller and lighter and the Bantam being a hair faster.