To burn or not to burn is no longer the question

Last week, we took a look at some of the parts of a modern computer, which included the processor, RAM, and hard drive. These are the bare parts of the machine—without them, your machine can’t run, period.
But without this week’s pieces, you won’t be able to do much with your machine.
•Burn Time—CD/DVD/RW
Historically, the most common way to get almost any kind of data—software, music, documents—onto your computer has been the ubiquitous optical drive.
When Philips and Sony collaboratively invented the CD-ROM in 1984, they probably never would have imagined the many uses for the format. All CD-based drives are optical drives—the information on the discs is read by a laser and converted to a digital signal.
The original drives were read-only disks and drives, meaning you couldn’t copy or move data to a CD-ROM—it only was possible to copy from the disk to your hard drive.
DVD discs and drives are very similar to CDs, with the exception that they hold seven-10 times the amount of data.
Almost every computer now ships with drives that “burn” to discs; that is, they allow you to write data to certain CDs and/or DVDs, as well as read information from them.
These discs typically are referred to as CD-R, CDRW, DVD+R. DVD-R, DVD+RW, and DVD-RW (note the difference in the plus and minus; we’ll come back to that later).
There are several variants of these drives to be aware of:
•CD-ROM—only reads CDs
•CDRW—Reads and Writes to CDs and CDRW (Re-writable CDs)
•DVD-ROM—Reads DVDs and CDs
•DVD +RW or -RW—Reads and Writes DVDs and CDs
You’ll notice above that there are “+” and “-” symbols scattered through the definitions. That’s because + or – discs are two different kinds of formats.
One (the “plus” group) is supported by Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and Philips while the other (minus) is supported by Apple Computer, Hitachi, NEC, Pioneer, Samsung, and Sharp.
DVD-RW are more compatible with consumer DVD players while DVD+RW burns less-compatible, but more computer-friendly discs. The best bet? Look for one of the newer drives that burns both “+” and “-” formats.
•NIC of Time—Network Interface Cards
Network Interface Cards (NICs) are the most-recent “standard” add-on to consumer PCs. As the number of computers in any given household has increased, so has the need for those machines to talk to each other.
With the addition of a NIC card and a length of network cabling, you can copy files from one machine to another easily—without the hassle of floppy disks or CDs.
More importantly, however, if you include two copies of either Quake III Arena or Command & Conquer, that network cable allows you to battle head-to-head against another member of the house.
It’s sibling rivalry taken to a whole new level: one that doesn’t require bandages afterwards.
Typical NIC cards cost between $10-$20, which makes the inclusion of one in your next computer an easy choice.
Alternately, if you have more than two computers that you want to network together, you’ll need a small hub or switch, which usually are between $50 and $100 in price.
•56K or Not?—The modem
The modem is, in my opinion, the most misrepresented computer part. With the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web, modems have become a crucial part of computer systems, especially when you live in an area—like ours—that still doesn’t have access to high-speed Internet services.
56K is named inaccurately; it should really be called “53K” because that’s the fastest rate available over regular telephone lines, due to regulations concerning voltage over phone lines.
And, it should really only be called “7K” since most browsers measure your connection as kilobytes per second (KB) and 56K actually is 56 kilobits per second (Kbps). Remembering that one byte is equal to 8 bits, so 56 kilobits (divided by eight) is actually only seveb kilobytes (K) per second.
The real frustration is that we should be comparing megabits (Mb) to megabytes (MB) when taking about our Internet connection.
However, as our local Internet access options are limited, we spend more time on the World Wide Wait than the World Wide Web—but that’s a topic for another column.
Relevant links:
•DVD formats explained
•Networking two computers
•Transfer rates explained

Posted in Uncategorized