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PC World

Waiting for recordable DVD in 1999

(IDG) -- Increasingly fast CD-ROM drives will continue to be a presence in new PCs for at least another year as a standards war hobbles the technology that is sure to replace them: recordable Digital Versatile Disc drives.

That's the consensus of a half-dozen analysts and PC product managers asked to predict the near-term future of PC storage. "The only reason to prolong the life of CD-ROM is that DVD isn't fully accepted yet," says Mary Bourdon, principal analyst at Dataquest.

The pricey DVD media that began appearing in the middle of last year were of the read-only variety. At 4.7GB, DVD-ROMs offer more than seven times the capacity of CD-ROMs. Current, second-generation DVD drives can also read CD-ROMs. Capable of playing full-length feature films, DVD-ROM drives are much more popular as consumer entertainment devices, though most high-end multimedia notebooks and PCs have them as options.

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At least three standards are vying to control the future of recordable DVDs. The two most widely supported ones, DVD-RAM and DVD-RW, each have the backing of major disc and drive vendors.

Still, no clear winner has emerged. "The DVD standard for readability probably won't be settled until 2000, if then," predicts Robert Katzive, an analyst at Disk/Trend.

Spin it up

In the meantime, buyers can look forward to a CD-ROM drive rotational speed increase to 48X, while DVD drives jump quickly to 2X (equivalent to a 14-18X CD-ROM), Bourdon says. DVD drives running at 5X and 8X should arrive by the second half of the year, says John Mason, director of product marketing at Compaq.

But there's a catch: Rotational speeds for both CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs are almost meaningless because few software developers take advantage of it.

That could change if Zen Research can convince game vendors and other performance-conscious software developers to adopt its TrueX Multibeam read technology, which allows faster performance that is consistent across wider areas of the disc. Bourdon says the technology could be a shot in the arm for CD-ROM technology.

DVD-ROM media capacities are also likely to increase (the standard supports up to 17GB). But again, the increase won't have much practical value because most commercial applications can't fill up the space, analysts say.

Mason, who is responsible for tracking and purchasing PC subsystems for Compaq's business-class PCs, says he likes DVD-RAM's chances because it has a strong base of suppliers and long-term price/performance advantages. "When the cost curve comes down and the standards stabilize, the third generation of DVD-RAM is probably going to become dominant," he says.

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