Q. Computer ads scream about the speed of CD-ROM drives. What does this 10X and 12X stuff mean, and does it make any difference?

A. The speed of CD-ROM drives seems to matter a lot to computer executives. But it may not matter all that much to consumers.

Audio CD's were designed to pump out data at 150,000 bits per second, and the first CD-ROMs ran at that speed. That's fast enough for audio, but not for full-page graphics or video, so engineers quickly learned to double and quadruple the data rate. In 10X, for example, speeds have now been pushed to 1.8 million bits. And since the extra speed comes cheap, computer makers bought the faster drives.

The problem is there are still millions of 4X drives in use, and to reach the biggest market, most games and other multimedia products are designed to run at only 4X. So buying a PC with a 10X or 12X drive doesn't always give you the improvement you'd hoped for.

Now the industry's attention is shifting to new super-high-capacity digital video disk drives that should start showing up in quantity later this year. So it's unlikely that your 16X CD-ROM will ever live up to its potential.


Updated June 15, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.
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