1. First Impressions
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Most of us have wished that sometime in their burning carrier to had a portable
CDR-W in order to burn CDs away from their main system. Following that desire
we tested the FreeCom Traveller Premium 4/4/24 CDR-W drive. How can this drive
perform? Can it replace your main CDR-W drive? Read our review to get all the
First Impressions ? Look and "feel"
We received four boxes straight from Freecom. You might wonder why? Three
of them contained the necessary cables for the connection of the drive to the
PC. That's right, there's no cable included in the CD-RW package itself. The
customer is asked to buy the cable (or cables) that suits his needs. Of course,
someone might already posses a Freecom cable from another Freecom drive (from
the Portable or Traveller series), which also works with this Traveller Premium
that we tested. The cables we had the option to test were:
Interface: PCMCIA type II
Data transfer rate: up to 3.000 kB/s
Supports: Win95/NT4.x, Win98/2000
Including Enhanced Prefetch Technology- enables 50% higher data transfer
rate and top quality DVD film and multi media playback.
- Only this cable allows you to burn your CD's on 4x speed on USB ports
- Interface: USB-I
- Data transfer rate: up to 1.000 kB/s
- Supports: Win98/2000
- Length: 100 cm
- Colour: Berlin blue transparent which complements the latest trends
in PC and MAC design.
- Plug and Play, hot swapping
- Interface: Parallel Printer Port
- Data transfer rate: up to 1.200 kB/s
- Supports: DOS/Win3.x, Win95/NT4.x, Win98/2000
- Only this cable allows you to burn your CD's on 4x!
- Including printer pass through connector
Shortly, we will add the results from the test of the FireWire (1394) Cable
Let's stick on to the drive itself, which you might easily characterize as
eye-catching. It's made of this transparent, iMAC-like plastic that we are used
to see on many devices that have come out this year.
The blue and white coloring is pleasing to the eye and favors
the drives with personality. The second thing you notice while looking at it
is its thinness. The drive measures only 1.9 cm height. It's footprint is also
tiny, and measures 17,3 x 13,6 cm, while it's weight barely reaches 600g with
the battery included. Yes, you heard right, maybe the only portable CD-RW that
can be powered from a battery pack. It's a 1500mAh Ni-MH battery pack (although
we would like to see it with a Li-Ion battery) that gives the drive extra functionality.
Fiddling with the drive a little more, you can easily spot the special connector
that you're supposed to attach one of the Freecom Cables, the 5V DC Input (the
power supply is included and is also of very little dimensions), the Line out
connect and a little switch that let's you select the power source among DC/Battery
or PC, but we'll talk about that a little further on. Finally, on the top there
is this little 3-colored led (red, orange, green) that informs you about the
The drive itself opens up like a typical portable CD-ROM, as the ones you
usually see mounted on laptops. There is no mechanism for the tray, the Eject
button just unlocks it and pops it out. You then have to open in by hand, place
the CD inside and then close it by hand. This part can get a little tricky,
because in order for the drive to shut properly, you have to hold it with both
hands while closing it, or find the proper spot that you have to press in order
for the drive to shut using one hand only. Can be a little tricky at the beginning,
but we can assure you that very quickly you'll get used to it and it won't bother
Freecom Traveller Premium Specs:
Dimensions: 17,3 x 1,9 x 13,6 cm
Weight: 450 g without battery-pack 600 g with battery-pack
Write 4X, Rewrite 4X, Read 20X: (re)Read speed: 4X (600 kB/s) / 20X speed (3000
Access time: 120 ms
Media: writes CD-R and CD-RW, rewrites CD-RW media, reads all CD-Formats incl.
CD-R and CD-RW
Full speed, even when in battery mode! - up to 2 hours (access dependent)
Ultraspeed CD-RW 4x4x20x drive: 600 kB/s (re)write and, 3000 kB/s read,
buffer 2MB, access time 120 ms. with integrated battery pack, user manual in
7 languages (US, D, F, NL, I, E, T), AC Adapter, Adaptec Easy CD Creator, Adaptec
Direct CD, CD-R disk, CD marker pen.
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Because of the special role of the Freecom Traveller, we thought that it
wouldn't be proper to testing on a desktop PC. Therefore, we used a laptop to
do all the tests and finally compare the three connection possibilities (USB,
PCMCIA, Parallel Port). Of course, the drive was also tested on a variety of
desktop systems, but the results we are presenting you are based on the Laptop
Fujitsu-Siemens Scenic Mobile 750 AGP
PIII Mobile 450Mhz
6.4MB Toshiba HDD
ATI Rage Pro AGP
Matsushita UDJA-140 Internal 24x IDE CD-ROM
Two PCMCIA Slots
Two USB Slots
We started the installation procedure by first trying on the USB Cable.
After plugging both the USB Cable and the Freecom Cable in the drive, we plugged
the other end to the laptop itself. The Cable was recognized at once as Freecom
Cable and we were asked about the proper drivers. There are some issues here:
Freecom supplies the drive with a DriverChoice Program that lets you pick one
of the three available drivers for the interface. These are the High Speed driver,
the Compatibility Driver and the Win Standard driver (sorted by speed). The
difference between the first two is that the first one requires an IRQ, whereas
the second doesn't but it sacrifices some speed. The third driver is supposed
to be used only when compatibility problems are faced. The driver revision we
used was rev. 010 for Win98/2000.
The same issues also apply to the PCMCIA Cable, which shares the same driver
with the USB interface. As we had installed the drivers for the USB before,
the drive could be used at once.
A slightly different procedure is followed here. Before plugging the drive
in, we had to install the accompanying driver. It installed an initialization
program that runs on Windows' Startup as well as a Freecom Configuration Program
that lets you control the parallel port mode or leave it to auto detection.
The supported modes are: Unidirectional (SPP), Bi-directional (SPP), Standard
EPP and Fast EPP in both Read and Write Modes. You can also select manually
the parallel port address and the IRQ. For our tests, we used the Fast EPP Mode.
It must be noted here that the Parallel cable can be used in conjunction with
a Printer, which can be normally connected on the parallel port cable, which
acts as a pass-through. In our tests, we kept a BJC-5100 printer connected and
didn't notice any inconvenience.
3. The Performance Tests
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The Performance Tests
- Reading Tests
We used CD Speed v0.66 and CD Winbench 1.1 to test the reading performance
of the Freecom Traveller 4x4x20. We used three different types of media: a
Mitsui SG data CD (69:09 mins), an overburned CD-RW (77:00 mins, made by Fornet)
and a pressed Audio CD (75:36 mins).
4. The Performance Results
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The Performance Results
The drive's performance is quite adequate for reading, especially if using
the PCMCIA interface. The USB and EPP interfaces produce similar results and
are limited to 600kb/s in the WinMark 99 test. Comparing to other non-portable
CD-RW drives in the market today, you can see that the Freecom isn't actually,
what you would call a killer. Nevertheless, that's not what one must look
for when purchasing a portable CDRW drive. The drive performs adequately and
reliably and using it with the PCMCIA, interface boots it's performance at
the level you would expect from a 4x4x20 drive.
Going into more detail, that becomes clearer. We were pleasantly surprised
by the drive's performance when reading a CD-RW disk, which sustained an average
rate of 10,72x, which is quite faster than many of the CD-R and CD-RW drives
on the market today (like the Internal Matsushita 24x of our laptop, which
is limited to 4x, and even the Ultraplex 40x with the 1.0x firmware is limited
to 8x CLV). On the other hand, the result of the Audio Extraction with the
USB interface (2.51x) was a little disappointing, and didn't have to do with
a drive limitation rather than an interface or driver limitation that we hope
to be arranged in the future.
It's seek time of course can't compete with a CD-ROM drive, but it's adequate.
The CPU Usage, as expected, stays a little high on the USB and EPP, whereas
with the PCMCIA it remains at normal IDE levels.
As you can see the drive supports almost all the major CD-R/RW modes except
CD-TEXT and MMC DAO RAW, two features that the average user of this drive
wouldn't miss much, but we would love to see the drive supporting them in
We used Nero Burning Rom v188.8.131.52 as the recording software to perform our
tests. The CD-R tests were in general successful. The drive could write at
4x at all types of media that we tested on (Princo 8x &12x, Mitsui SG,
EMTEC 8x, TDK) on all three of the interfaces that we tested. We never got
any buffer underruns and the CPU usage remained always under 10%. Trying to
use That's Write 80min CD-R media tough, we discovered that the drive was
unable to burn them at 4x, whereas we could write on them perfectly at much
higher speeds (8x+) with all the other CD-RW drives we had available.
Furthermore, we faced a similar situation though our CD-RW tests. We used
Princo 4x, Formet 4x, Matsushita 4x and Princo 2x Media. The Formet and 4x
Princo preformed flawlessly at 4x. The Matsushita 4x and Princo 2x could not
be written at all with the Freecom Traveller Premium 4x4x20, even at speeds
as low as 1x. The drive would either refuse to write on them presenting an
"Incompatible Speed error" or would halt and spit out the CD-RW
in the middle of the burn. Testing the same media with the other desktop CD-RW
drives that we had available at that time, we assured that it was not a media
problem, as all where successfully burnt at their specified speeds.
To sum up, the results show that the Freecom Traveller Premium 4x4x20 for
sure faces some compatibility problems with several of the media out today,
which are more severe when writing to CD-RW media. Let us note here again that
by using media that the drive "liked", we never faced a single problem
and the drive was a pleasure to use. Our suggestion is that if you buy this
drive and before buying media of big quantity, make sure that the media you
have chosen is compatible with the Freecom. As we test more media with the drive,
we'll try to keep this list updated, but you can mail us your experience with
certain media on this Freecom, as well.
5. Usability Tests
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Usability Tests ? Using this drive as a portable recorder
The drive made our day several times the past two months! You can't imagine
the pleasure of plugging it in at the USB interface, burning up those two
large files that you just downloaded though your friends PC that isn't equipped
with a CD-RW drive yet, and take them home with you. You don't even have to
search for a spare plug for the power supply as the internal battery does
it's job perfectly! Speaking about the battery, the maximum charging time
is about 2h for a completely empty battery pack if you charge though the power
supply and you don't use the drive in the meantime. The battery can be also
charged though the PCMCIA interface, from the battery of your laptop! ;)
That of course may shorten the available battery time for the laptop itself,
but it's still a possibility. Let's us note here that our own Fujitsu-Siemens
sometimes couldn't stand the load from the laptop being powered though the
PCMCIA interface and rebooted. That's when the little switch at the side of
the drive comes in handy. With it you can force the Freecom to be powered
from it's own battery than from the laptop one, which is something that solve
our problem. The battery can also be charged though the FireWire (1394) interface,
but we'll keep that for a future test...
With a fully charged battery, you can use the Freecom for about 2-3 hours
of sporadic usage. We also wanted to check how many CDs would the Freecom
burn in a row. We wrote the same CD-RW (650MB) with Nero at 4x DAO and as
soon as it finished, we erased it and started over again. The maximum we could
achieve was three successful burns and erasing. The drive would pass out having
completed the 75% of the forth burn, after being used constantly for 1:20
hours. Quite a good performance for a small 1500mAh battery pack?
But here comes the second problem: How do you know if the battery power
that you have left, is adequate for writing a CD, if it's not fully charged?
The answer is you don't? A battery meter on the drive (or better, a software
battery meter) is something that this drive really misses. It happened to
us sometimes at least, when thought that because the drive was sitting there
doing nothing, only having some little data read from it infrequently, that
it would maintain it's battery state and right afterwards got a coaster.
Something else that could be useful in this situation would be a power saving
mode, which the drive misses as well. The drive can't be turned off and stays
on as long as the PC stays on. You can preserve the life of the battery a
bit If you take advantage of the Hot Plug feature of the USB interface and
unplug the drive when you don't need it, but the same thing isn't as easy
with the PCMCIA interface and can't be done at all with the parallel port.
One last comment is about the little three colored led on the drive: The meaning
of the colors change depending on the way the drive is connected to the PC and
combined with the fact that there is a blinking and non blinking state with
two of the three colors makes the user a little confused so he has to reach
the manual (which is excellent) to get some explanation. Finally, we have to
remind you that although the drive is a portable one, you shouldn't test it's
portability when burning a CD because, as with all CD-R/RW drives, it's sensitive
to vibration and a coaster can be created very easily.
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Positive (+) :
Negative (-) :
- Great portability!
- Very lightweight.
- Good internal battery
- Gives you the option to choose any of the four available connection
interfaces according to your needs
- Great performance with the PCMCIA interface
- Great performance when reading CD-RW media.
- Supports Overburning
- Excellent Manual in 7 languages
- Poor compatibility with
certain media (check out before you buy..)
- Expensive combo in case you want more than on connections
- No way to find out the remaining battery life
- No power saving technique
- Poor DAE performance through the USB interface
- The 3-colored led is confusing
Overall, provided that you can cope with the drive's major problem which
is the poor compatibility with certain media, positive points are much more
vital that the negative ones. The drive may not be as strong as a writer,
but it's contingency is what rewards you as a buyer!
If you own a laptop, our suggestion is to choose the PCMCIA interface,
which provides the best performance, and though it, you can have the unit
battery powered though the laptop's one. Though, to fully enjoy the connectivity
potential, get the USB Cable as well and always keep on you a CD with your
favorite CD-R software and drivers and you've got your solution to all your
data transportation problems.
You can buy the Freecom Traveller Premium directly from Freecom www.freecom.de.