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In an ideal world, the $339 LaCie should have installed quickly and easily; FireWire and USB are both hot-pluggable interfaces, plus Windows provides the drivers and LaCie supplies both FireWire and USB cables. A Windows 98 SE or Me system should recognize the drive easily.
Unfortunately, the LaCie drive installation was troublesome under Windows 98 SE. Even with a capable Adaptec 4300 SPB2-compliant FireWire adapter, connecting the LaCie drive resulted in repeated problems. Windows recognized the new device, but the drivers failed to load, and blue-screen fatal-exception errors occurred each time the drive was connected. A call to LaCie technical support finally helped to correct the trouble: The drive needed to be turned off and then on again. The USB connection was a bit more forgiving, but it took USB driver updates from the LaCie Web site to make Windows 98 SE recognize the device. As if this weren't unfriendly enough, documentation is also sparse--so novices should definitely shy away.
The 161040's companion CD is light on tools. The LaCie CD carries just a few basic utilities, such as Easy CD Creator 4.03 and DirectCD 3.03; Mac users get Toast 4.1.2 and SilverLining Pro 6.4f2. But if you've used CD-R/RW drives in the past, chances are that you already have such tools on your system.
Third, at best
In CNET Labs' tests, the LaCie was generally a disappointment. It lagged behind the TEAC CD-W516E, the QPS Que Fire 16X/10X/40X, and the Plextor PlexWriter 16/10/40A in everything except audio recording. For both the 400MB packet-writing test from hard drive to CD-RW and the 500MB single-session data burn, the LaCie was the slowest of all the drives. Audio operation was a bit more competitive; the 161040 extracted a 27-minute audio track in an average of 72.14 seconds--still a few seconds slower than the QPS and the Plextor. Also, the 161040 burned a 43-minute audio CD in just 3.8 minutes--faster than the QPS but slower than the TEAC or the Plextor. The LaCie managed to install Office 2000 SBE in about 4.2 minutes, a minute longer than the TEAC and Plextor drives and only slightly shorter than the QPS.
Like its performance, the LaCie's service and support fall short. Your purchase of the LaCie 161040 gets you a brief (but typical) one-year warranty. Free phone support (but not toll-free) is available for the United States, Canada, and Australia and has somewhat extended hours: in North America, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 12 noon PT. Driver updates, e-mail support, and Web support are available 24/7 online. LaCie's site appears to have little real troubleshooting aid at first glance, but with a little digging, you can find FAQs and some basic troubleshooting tips.
The LaCie drive worked as a FireWire drive and a USB drive (once the drivers were updated), but it was easily outperformed by the internal CD-R/RW drives on almost every test. The sparse utilities and thin documentation make the drive rather intimidating for beginners--especially if the drive doesn't like your FireWire card. Unless you have a particular need for the external connection schemes offered by FireWire and USB, opt for one of the faster, internal drive models.