Review: Que! Fire CD-RW Drive
Developer: QPS, Inc. (product page)
Requirements: Mac with FireWire, Mac OS 8.6.
The release of the Blue and White Power Mac G3 in January 1999 marked the first time that Apple shipped a professional desktop computer without a standard SCSI port. Instead, it had two USB ports (introduced five months earlier on the original iMac) and two brand new FireWire ports. Apple promised that FireWire would become the industry standard for high speed data transfer, and, in particular, streaming audio and video.
When I purchased my G3 (in April 1999) I knew that I would eventually buy a CD burner as well. I could have ordered the computer with a SCSI drive and SCSI port, but decided instead to wait out my options. Recently, I made my decision, and purchased a Que! Fire CD-RW drive.
QPS Inc. had been a pioneer in USB CD-RW drives with their original Que! drive. Though rated at 4x2x24, this drive, and all other USB drives, were unable to burn audio at faster than 2x. Since higher burn speeds result in higher quality audio, USB (at least Apple’s implementation) turned out to be inadequate for audio CD burning, which, as a musician, was my principal reason for buying a CD burner. FireWire, though, has a much higher bandwidth than USB and seemed a perfect solution for both CD duplication and external storage (I’ll discuss my choice of an external hard drive next month). I priced various models, and found a great deal through Outpost.com (one of our sponsors) on the Que! Fire 8x4x32 CD-RW drive.
Usually, I don’t think much about packaging, but QPS does a superior job with their merchandise. Upon opening the box, I found a stylish soft black case with “Que! Drive” emblazoned in gold. Inside the case, the drive, cables and included media were neatly packaged. I’m not sure that I’ll ever need a carrying case for my Que! drive, but it’s a nice touch.
This is where the advantage of FireWire (and its slower companion, USB) over SCSI becomes obvious. Installation is so simple. One cable (with power supply adaptor) plugs in your power strip and the other connects to the FireWire port. Power it up, and it’s time to install software.
This part is almost as easy. The Que! drive ships with a software CD featuring Adaptec Toast. As long as the correct Apple FireWire drivers are in the extension folder (at least version 2.2), installing Toast also configures the drive and installs the correct extensions. I did say “almost as easy” and here’s the catch. After rebooting, go to Extensions Manager, disable Toast USB Support, and reboot again. My drive had some problems at first, which I solved by disabling the unnecessary USB extension.
Ready to Burn
First, I tested the drive as an audio burner. Using the inexpensive generic CD-R included, I burned a data file at 8x with no problems. Then, using another cheap disc (which I would never recommend), I burned an audio file at 8x. The drive and the interface had no problems with the extra demands of audio either. Note that I only did this as a test. For real-world use, I recommend good quality blanks (blue is good, gold is a bit better) and a 4x burn. Though quality does increase with burn speed, some older CD players (and most car stereo systems) can’t read discs burned at faster than 4x.
Then, I tested the drive with rewritable media. Here’s where high quality discs seem to make a big difference. Using the included disc (Mr. Platinum 650MB), I was unable to burn successfully above 2x. I was able to run 4x in simulation mode, however, which suggest the problem was with the disc, and not the burner. Subsequently, I ran the same test with an Imation CD-RW, and was able to burn data successfully at 4x. I’m not sure whether it’s the interface or the burner itself that’s picky, but save yourself some time and trouble and buy good media (this is sound advice in general).
The Que! Fire drive is easy to set up, and easy to use, and when I had problems (the extension conflict I mentioned above) technical support was very helpful. One strange side note, though. My internal drive was unable to play DVDs for a few weeks. This problem appeared mysteriously after I installed the Que! drive, and disappeared just as mysteriously when I updated to Mac OS 9.1. I'm not sure if it was a conflict or just a coincidence.