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Appeared on: Sunday, February 17, 2002
Freecom Traveller Premium CD-RW

1. First Impressions
Freecom Traveller Pre mium -  Page 1

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 answers...

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.

USB Cable:
- 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

Parallel Cable:
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 as well?;)

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 drive's status.

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 at all?

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 kB/s)
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)

Package includes:
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.

2. Installation
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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 Tests.

Test System:
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
Win98 SE

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.

Parallel Port:
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
Freecom Traveller Premium -  Page 3

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.

Writing Tests

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 the future.

We used Nero Burning Rom v4.0.0.9 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.

6. Conclusion
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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.

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