True to its name, MicroSolutions specializes in compact storage devices for portable PCs. Working with various OEM drive suppliers (most recently Mitsumi and TEAC), MicroSolutions has focused on lightweight enclosures and notebook-friendly interfaces. With more recent models, they have also included some nifty recording software, SpeedyCD, which is as straightforward and easy to use as anything available.
Their latest backpack bantam CD-R/RW drive works with four interfaces: USB 2, USB 1.1, PC Card, and Parallel Port. The last has long been a distinguishing feature of MicroSolutions drives, if kind of a last resort for CD recording, since it can't handle the throughput demanded by the latest recorders operating at maximum speed. It's main virtue (like USB 1's) is convenience: via MicroSolutions' "printer pass-through" configuration, you can connect the bantam to your PC's parallel port and attach the printer through the bantam. MicroSolutions claims 6X and 8X, respectively as maximum speeds for Parallel and USB 1.1 recording; even on a desktop Dell Pentium IV (1.5gHz), the drive maxed out at 4X for both interfaces. But the drive does its best work, not surprisingly, with USB 2 and PC Card, especially with Orange Micro's PC Card slot USB 2 adapter (sold separately). In addition to the Pentium IV desktop, the bantam was tested in a more typical environment, a 700mHz Celeron laptop, using all four interfaces.
Based on TEAC's CDW-216E mechanism, the bantam's maximum speeds are as follows: CD-R writing, 16X; CD-RW writing and rewriting, 10X; and reading of all CD formats, 24X. Using USB 2 on both the desktop and laptop testbeds, the drive hit all maximum speeds on various types of CD recording projects (CD-Audio, VideoCD, and multisession data). Straight-up PC Card recording was a little slower, succeeding mostly at 8X and once at 10X. Parallel port and USB 1 speeds were more disappointing, if predictably so; but given that MicroSolutions supplies a PC card cable, and with the availability of the Orange Micro USB 2 card, there's really no reason to exercise the slower interface options.
True, there are faster drives available today, offering speeds of 40X, and shortly after this review's publication, 48X. But speed isn't necessarily the optimum goal of the itinerant professional taking a notebook-based digital studio on the road; for one thing, the compact portability of the bantam is worth a couple extra minutes on the recording side, and for another, high-speed recording is often beyond the ken of notebook PCs, which are often slower and more system resource-deprived than their desktop contemporaries. While the Orange Micro card enables recording speeds even faster than the bantam's 16X Max, it can only do so effectively because it has its own power supply.
The bantam scored up to spec with Nero CD Speed, achieving 16X speed via USB 2 without difficulty. CD Speed's disc error checking program also showed burned discs to be error-free.
While the bantam package does not include a USB 2 card (Orange Micro's PC Card slot USB 2 adapter, or a comparable device from another vendor is recommended for use with portable PCs), it does come with USB and PC Card cables, as well as the excellent Speedy CD software. And at a mere 20 ounces, it's svelte and light enough to make a welcome companion on your travels.