HP CD-Writer 8230e CD-RW External USB
The 8230e is built solidly enough to withstand the rigors of shared use, and its translucent-blue plastic trim makes it a bit more attractive than some of the other boxy, 5.25-inch external drives we've seen. The 8230e measures roughly 2.6 inches high by 11.2 inches long by 7.1 inches wide and weighs in just shy of 5 pounds, including the AC adapter.
Installing the 8230e is as easy as plugging it in and loading the driver. A poster-sized, copiously illustrated quick-start guide steps you through the process, although the eight-language format is a bit confusing at first. Troubleshooting and tech-support matters are covered in separate booklets, and an electronic user guide is included on CD.
The drive is compatible with flavors of Windows that offer USB support (98, Me, 2000), and it comes with HP's MyCD CD-mastering software and Roxio's (formerly Adaptec) DirectCD 3.01 packet-writing software. Advanced users might find MyCD's wizard-only interface a bit frustrating, especially when they learn that the program doesn't allow burning from or creating image files. The 8230e's otherwise well-rounded software bundle includes HP's Simple Backup 4.0; Broderbund's Multimedia Organizer Deluxe; and MusicMatch Jukebox for encoding, recording, organizing, or playing digital audio. For good measure, HP also tosses in disc-labeling software, labels, a label applicator tool, and a blank CD-R and CD-RW.
The HP proved to be pretty fast (for a USB drive), too. In CNET Labs' tests, it burned a 500MB CD-R in less than 17 minutes and wrote 400MB to CD-RW in 9 minutes, 45 seconds using packet writing. Both times are among the best we've seen in a USB CD-RW drive. We didn't get any data for the audio burn, though, because the MyCD software cannot create an image or write discs from images.
HP provides an industry-standard, one-year warranty and telephone support from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. mountain time. Unfortunately, it's a toll call. However, with the excellent Web-based support resources, including a knowledge base, downloadable updates, step-by-step instructions on installation and use, and more, you should be able to save your dime for other occasions.
The 8230e's low price, copious software, and faster CD-RW write performance makes it a top contender for your external USB money. The fact that it can be shared among a passel of PCs makes it a cheap way to provide rewritable storage for your small office.