Installing the $229 Predator is easy enough; plug in the power brick, run the USB cable to the computer, and you're good to go--assuming you already have a USB 2.0 adapter. If you don't, factor that into the installation difficulty. You can, of course, run the drive off of a USB 1.1 bus, but then the best speeds you'll see are 4X/4X/6X. Installing the Predator's software bundle is simple but annoying. You're required to enter personal information as a first step, though thankfully, you're not required to submit it. The software includes HotBurn for CD mastering and packet-writing, MusicMatch Jukebox for playing or extracting audio, and Adobe ActiveShare for organizing and sharing images over the Internet.
At approximately 5.8 by 7.75 by 1.8 inches, the Predator is a bit smaller than most full-sized, external CD-RW drives, but it's still a little too large to travel with. It's styled in dark gray and blue curves with a psychedelic spinner visible through the clear window in the light-silver pop top. Overall, the Predator's construction seems sturdy enough, but we have doubts about the rather flimsy lid; its hinges might not survive in less-than-friendly environments. The drive also features a headphone jack and a volume control on the right side of the unit; the AC power jack (the Predator can't run off of USB bus power) and the proprietary USB-cable connection are located on the back.
Fast 'n' slow
The Predator's performance in CNET Labs' tests was a roller-coater ride of highs and lows. It blew through our mastering tests, writing 500MB of files to a CD-R in a mere 3 minutes, 4 seconds; it wrote our 43-minute audio image to CD-R in only 2 minutes, 22 seconds--both new records for a USB 2.0 CD-RW drive. Also, the Predator took a mere 53 seconds to extract (a.k.a. rip) 27 minutes of audio--one of the best scores we've seen from any CD-RW drive. Unfortunately, when it came to packet-writing, the drive took a left turn down Tortoise Avenue. Writing 400MB of data to CD-RW was a 35-minute ordeal. Such ponderous performance is equivalent to about 1.3X speeds--not what you'd expect from a $229 drive. Switching to other packet-writing software bumped the Predator up to the 8X range. This is still well short of the drive's 10X rating, but the exercise led us to believe the problem was software related. Iomega is looking into the matter and promises a fix soon.
The Predator carries an industry-standard, one-year warranty. Toll-free telephone support is available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. MT. Iomega's online support supplies software and firmware downloads, answers to common questions, and an e-mail link to customer service.
The Predator USB 2.0 drive has a lot going for it, but despite its outstanding mastering performance, we can't recommend a drive whose software hobbles it to 1.3X packet-writing speeds. The problem is fixable, so if the drive's low price and high ratings pique your interest, keep an eye on Iomega's Web site for a software patch.
Time, in minutes, to complete tasks (shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Audio extraction tests|
Time, in minutes, to extract a 26-minute, 58-second audio track (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time, in minutes, to install Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition (shorter bars indicate better performance)
The Predator posted a mix of outstanding and abominable scores in CNET Labs' performance tests. It wrote to CD-R with blinding speed and was one of the best audio extractors we've ever seen, but its packet-writing scores were just this side of tragic. Informal testing with other software improved the Predator's performance, leading us to believe the problem was software related; Iomega is looking into the problem.