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The Predator currently comes in two varieties: USB for $269 and FireWire for $329 (PCMCIA and USB 2.0 versions will be available later this year). Setup is simple in either case, especially because the package includes all the necessary cables. Just snap on the interface adapter, plug in the power and data cables, run through the installation CD, and you're ready to burn. Like portable CD players, the Predator is top loading, so you can switch discs when your computer is not powered up. The headphone jack and the volume control knobs are conveniently located on the front of the drive, and there's a line-out jack in the back.
At about 6.5 by 7.75 by 1.5 inches and 1.14 pounds (sans adapter and cables), the Predator's small size and flashy blue-and-silver design make it stand out. It's a bit larger than a portable CD player but significantly smaller than most other external CD-RW drives (Sony's Digital Relay Drive being one exception). While the Predator is easily small enough to pack and tote along with your notebook, unfortunately, it's not as rugged as other external drives. The drive's plastic casing seems weak or even fragile, and though the interface adapters clip firmly to the back of the drive, they hang there rather flimsily, as though they might fall off. Also, the drive requires an external power supply, so you won't be able to use the Predator in transit--or, at least, in the absence of a power outlet.
The Predator is rated as an 8X/4X/32X drive, but performance is dependent on which interface you choose. FireWire will give you full performance, while the USB connection limits the drive to 4X/4X/6X speeds. USB 1.1 has an absolute-maximum transfer rate of 1.5MB per second, but in reality, it's much slower--around 6X if you're lucky. In CNET Labs' tests, the Predator performed in line with our expectations. The USB performance matched that of other USB drives CNET's tested, but with the FireWire adapter, the Predator showed significant performance gains in both the CD-R- and CD-ROM-dependent scores.
The Predator's software package includes applications and drivers for both Macs and PCs, making it easy to share the drive between the two platforms. PC software includes Roxio's (formerly Adaptec) Easy CD Creator 4.0, a CD-authoring application, and DirectCD 3.0, for packet writing. PC users also get MusicMatch Jukebox Plus, a digital music application, and Adobe ActiveShare, a photo-management tool. The same functionality is provided for the Mac with Adaptec Toast 4.1.1, MusicMatch Jukebox, and MGI PhotoSuite.
The Predator's one-year warranty is nothing to write home about; on the other hand, Iomega's extensive tech support is. Toll-free phone 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. But Iomega's great (if not overblown) Web-based support should prevent you from having to test the phone hold music. The Web site, powered by Ask Jeeves's natural-language querying technology, makes it easy to search for documentation. You can also send questions via e-mail, participate in forums, or chat live with a support technician. We were able to get a helpful response to a question via chat in a matter of minutes.
Iomega's Predator offers portability and performance at a decent price, with style to spare. Given the numerous technical problems we've seen with CD-RW drives in general, solid support resources are significant. Although the drive doesn't feel particularly durable, the small size means you'll actually want to carry it around. For those requiring faster performance, we recommend the FireWire version.