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Micro Solutions Backpack Triple Play CD-Rewriter (32X/10X/40X) review:

Micro Solutions Backpack Triple Play CD-Rewriter (32X/10X/40X)

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The Good Includes three interfaces for maximum compatibility; extremely rugged; drivers for DOS and most flavors of Windows.

The Bad Packet-writing software is incompatible with Windows 2000, NT, and XP; no Mac support; mediocre performance for its class.

The Bottom Line The Backpack could be great for offices with a diverse inventory of PCs because it's capable, rugged, and compatible with just about any computer ever made. But its packet-writing software puts the Backpack a bit behind in the applications curve.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

6.0 Overall

Micro Solutions' rugged Backpack Triple Play CD-Rewriter 32X/10X/40X drive is the kind of hardware product that managers dream about. In addition to its PC Card and parallel-port interfaces, the drive also boasts a USB 2.0 connection that's backward compatible with USB 1.1, so it should work with just about any computer still in service. But alas, while the company aims to create an indispensable tool, the Backpack's performance is undermined by inadequate software. The bundled drivers support all Windows operating systems and DOS, but Mac support is nowhere to be found, and the drive's Backpack UDF packet-writing software won't run under Windows 2000, XP, or NT. Micro Solutions' rugged Backpack Triple Play CD-Rewriter 32X/10X/40X drive is the kind of hardware product that managers dream about. In addition to its PC Card and parallel-port interfaces, the drive also boasts a USB 2.0 connection that's backward compatible with USB 1.1, so it should work with just about any computer still in service. But alas, while the company aims to create an indispensable tool, the Backpack's performance is undermined by inadequate software. The bundled drivers support all Windows operating systems and DOS, but Mac support is nowhere to be found, and the drive's Backpack UDF packet-writing software won't run under Windows 2000, XP, or NT.

Installing the $229 Backpack CD-Rewriter is easy enough, though there's a lot to unpack: the drive, a hefty AC-power adapter, and a PC Card interface, plus mini-USB-to-USB and parallel-port cables. Installing the software from CD is a one-step operation, and the Backpack Windows drivers will sniff out the drive no matter which interface you're using. (Note: Under DOS, you can attach the drive by parallel port only.) The documentation provides adequate guidance for setup, but additional help, such as troubleshooting information, is scant.

Tons o' fun
The off-white Backpack Triple Play measures approximately 11.6 by 7 by 2.1 inches and weighs nearly five pounds, including the power brick, the interfaces, and the cables. But heftiness is the price you pay for a product that can withstand the rigors of bouncing around the workplace. The drive's back panel is populated with a power connector, a ministereo audio-out jack, a mini-USB jack, and both female and male parallel ports--the latter to pass signals through to a printer. The front panel features a headphone jack, a volume control, and an Eject button. The drive also uses buffer-underrun protection for more reliable burning.

Mixed performance
The Backpack's versatility is impressive, but its performance (using the USB 2.0 bus) in CNET Labs' tests left us underwhelmed. Note: You'll reach the drive's rated performance only on a USB 2.0 bus. Speed peaks at about 12X/10X/12X using the PC Card interface, 8X/8X/8X with a parallel port, and approximately 6X/6X/6X on the USB 1.1 bus. Using Micro Solutions' proprietary SpeedyCD mastering software, the Backpack turned in so-so scores for a drive with a 32X rating: 3 minutes, 22 seconds to burn a 500MB folder to CD-R and 4 minutes, 32 seconds to create a 43-minute audio CD. The Backpack fared better at reading, installing Microsoft Office Small Business Edition in 1 minute, 47 seconds. But it took 1 minute, 31 seconds to rip a 27-minute audio track, which is longer than average.

The biggest test problem occurred when Micro Solutions' packet-writing software wouldn't run on our Windows 2000 test PC. The software also falters under Windows NT and XP. We used Ahead Software's InCD instead for packet writing, and the drive wrote 400MB to CD-RW in an average time of 6 minutes, 38 seconds. Many users just burn to CD-R instead of dealing with a CD-RW's packet-writing scheme, so this shortcoming is minor, and the company is working to update its software. You can also do what we did and get another packet-writing app to use with the drive. However, Micro Solutions' failure to keep up with newer versions of Windows will give many users pause.

The company offers the industry-standard, one-year warranty on the Backpack. Live telephone support is available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT, but it's a toll call. A 24/7 fax-back service is also available. Online support includes software and driver updates, FAQs, and a knowledge base.

Imperfect yet versatile
You couldn't ask for a more versatile piece of hardware than the Backpack Triple Play CD-Rewriter. Its rugged construction, in addition to its USB 2.0, PC Card, and parallel-port interfaces make it a nearly perfect external CD-RW drive for a rough-and-tumble, multiplatform, or legacy-heavy environment--and it's reasonably priced. If you can get around the current lack of comprehensive software support, the Backpack is a good deal.

Write tests
Time, in minutes, to complete tasks (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Audio burn to CD-R from image on hard drive (from 43 min., 11 sec. audio CD)   
Single-session data burn to CD-R (500MB directory)   
Packet-write from hard drive to CD-RW (400MB directory)   
Yamaha CRW3200EZ (20X/10X/40X)
2.52 
2.72 
6.56 
QPS Que Fire (32X/10X/40X)
2.62 
3.03 
11.66 
TEAC CD-W524E (24X/10X/40X)
2.68 
3.21 
8.90 
Micro Solutions Backpack Triple Play CD-Rewriter (32X/10X/40X)
4.59 
3.36 
6.63 
 
Audio extraction tests
Time, in minutes, to extract a 26-minute, 58-second audio track (shorter bars indicate better performance)

QPS Que Fire (32X/10X/40X)
0.89 
TEAC CD-W524E (24X/10X/40X)
0.99 
Micro Solutions Backpack Triple Play CD-Rewriter (32X/10X/40X)
1.52 
Yamaha CRW3200EZ (20X/10X/40X)
1.63 
 
Read tests
Time, in minutes, to install Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition (shorter bars indicate better performance)

QPS Que Fire (32X/10X/40X)
1.71 
Micro Solutions Backpack Triple Play CD-Rewriter (32X/10X/40X)
1.76 
TEAC CD-W524E (24X/10X/40X)
1.82 
Yamaha CRW3200EZ (20X/10X/40X)
1.88 
 
The Backpack Triple Play installed Microsoft Office Small Business Edition with alacrity. However, when burning data and audio CDs, the Backpack's performance fell behind even that of the 24X-rated Yamaha and TEAC drives. And because Micro Solutions' UDF writer wouldn't work under Windows 2000, we had to switch to Ahead's InCD to get the packet-writing test results. (Note: All tests were performed using the USB 2.0 interface.)

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