On October 19th, that oh-so-magical date, Apple will announce a new machine, the IIvx, that includes an internal double-speed CD-ROM drive, reportedly from Sony. An external CD-ROM drive based on the same mechanism can't lag far behind, so you might wait before jumping to purchase a CD-ROM drive, or you could be tempted to jump up and down on it. (Of course, reports claim those external drives will be in short supply until January, but that's beside the point.)
NEC has the only double-speed drives available on the market, the CDR-73M and the CDR-74. Their double-speed technology allows the drive to spin twice as fast when reading data as opposed to when it reads audio information, which must (by decree of the standards committee on high) come off the disc at 150 KB per second. So, a double-speed drive can read data at 300 KB per second, providing significantly better response with QuickTime movies and the like as long as the head doesn't have to fly from sector to sector seeking widely separated information. If that happens, the double-speed technology makes no difference since double-speed drives suffer the same access time limitations (about 300 millisecond access time) as normal single-speed drives. Nonetheless, the increased throughput when reading sequential data sounds good and probably works well. Most of the time, anyway.
Alert and temporarily disgruntled reader Bill Leue wrote to tell us about a problem after he purchased a NEC CDR-74 at Macworld Expo in August. He purchased the drive from a major CD vendor, Educorp, and after the show called them to order the popular CD-ROM game from Reactor, Spaceship Warlock. When the order person heard he had a CDR-74, she informed him that Educorp's had discovered a conflict between the CDR-74 (and the CDR-73M) drive and some CD-ROM discs, including Spaceship Warlock. Bill then talked to a tech support person there who thought the problem lay in the driver software, and said that Educorp had reported the problem to NEC. Luckily, it turns out that NEC now has a new version of the driver software (2.25) that fixes this problem.
Further investigation on Bill's part turned up additional incompatible CDs, including Virtual Valerie, also from Reactor, Warner New Media's A View from Earth, and Educorp's own Educorp Shareware CD. Some of the possible problems include blank dialog boxes with only an OK button, the bottom third of the display becoming corrupted with black bands, "Not enough memory to load saved game" messages, and flashing bomb boxes.
Since this story ended happily, I'm running it mainly to warn owners of these NEC drives who may have strange problems. Bill noted that although Educorp's technical support people were prompt and friendly and sent him the new driver without being asked, he had trouble getting NEC to even answer the phone. That meshes with my experience with NEC and with things I've heard, so if you need a new driver, talk to your dealer first and NEC last. I hope version 2.25 of the driver software indeed solves all of the problem listed above.
I cannot say if this problem will appear on Apple's new double-speed drives as well, although I hope Apple tests the drive with these discs. I recommend that you wait and let someone else act as a guinea pig unless you have to buy one of these drives immediately. Forewarned is forearmed, but you can always complain.
Bill Leue - firstname.lastname@example.org