TEAC CD-C68E six-disc CD-ROM changerReview date: 2 February 1999.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
(Note: As you can see above, this is an old review; IDE CD changers like this one only work right if you're using Windows 98 or earlier. Maybe ME, definitely not 2000 or anything later. They work as a single drive, and you can manually mount and unmount discs in different slots, but there's no way to make them work properly.)
Hands up everyone who's sick of swapping CDs? Games, applications, reference discs, Windows - everything's got a CD, and everything seems to want its disc when you least expect it.
Here's the cure.
The TEAC CD-C68E is a six disc 8X CD changer - it holds six discs, but can only read one at a time. It fits in a standard 5.25 inch drive bay, just like any other CD-ROM drive, and it runs from the same IDE interface as every other cheap CD-ROM drive. It has an average seek speed of 190mS, not counting disc-changing time.
On the front are six buttons, one for each CD slot, each with a status light, and a volume control and headphone socket. It costs less than $350 (Australian dollars) for the bare drive.
I've been living with a C68E for some months now, and I love it.
Installing the C68E is no harder than installing a standard IDE CD-ROM drive. It's slightly longer than a standard CD-ROM drive, as this comparison shows, but your case would have to be pretty darn cramped for it not to fit.
When people first see it they tend to marvel at the fact that six discs and a changer mechanism fit into a regular 5.25 inch drive bay, but fit it does, with no problems. The C68E is a little longer than a standard CD-ROM drive, but there was still plenty of room behind it in my modest midi-tower case. Like any other IDE device, it can be set to "master" or "slave"; if two IDE devices are plugged into one IDE channel (all current PC motherboards have dual IDE channels) one must be the master and the other the slave. Screw in the drive, plug in the IDE and power cables, and the audio cable to the sound card if you like, and you're done.
Windows 98 recognises the C68E automatically. This was the first time I'd installed something in Windows, seen six identical devices show up in the Device List, and actually been pleased. As far as Windows is concerned, one C68E is six drives, all the same. No driver installation, no messing around; it just works.
You feed the C68E its discs through a slot reminiscent of a car CD player - press the button for the slot you want to put the disc in, and the little dust cover flips up and the appropriate light flashes orange and green, alternately. Push the disc in half-way and the C68E pulls it the rest of the way, closes its dust cover and checks the disc out. When it's successfully read the disc, the light turns solid green; if the disc is illegible, the C68E spits it out again. To eject a disc, just push its button. Out it comes, and the C68E leaves the door open for a replacement disc for the slot. If you don't want to insert one, just press the button again to close the door.
Loading all of the slots this way is done in seconds. The slot-load system could, conceivably, result in disc damage if used often enough, but the whole idea of a changer is that you don't have to swap discs all the time. Put the discs you need all the time into the C68E and forget them. They'll be there when you need them. You won't even be able to leave them behind if you take the computer somewhere else.
The C68E is largely idiot-proof; it automatically rejects discs inserted upside-down, and it won't try to eject a disc if there's already an ejected disc sitting in the slot.
Accessing a disc that happens to be the one currently loaded is exactly like accessing the disc in a regular 8X CD-ROM drive. If you want to access a disc that isn't already loaded, you have to wait for a few seconds while the changer chunka-chunks the old disc out and the new disc in. The changing and spin-up process only takes from four and a half to five seconds, depending on how many slots the changer has to traverse. Just looking at the root directories of the discs can be done instantly, provided the discs have already been accessed once in that session; the C68E caches the root directory contents.
There are some caveats. The C68E takes about 30 seconds to chunka-chunk its way through all six discs. It will do this at least twice in every computing session; once when you power up or reset the computer (the boot process continues while this happens - everything doesn't pause while the changer shuffles discs), and once the first time your operating system decides to take stock of all of its drives (which, in Windows, pretty much DOES cause everything else to pause). Windows 95/98 does not do this by default when it starts up; it generally does it the first time something opens a file requestor or otherwise demands a drive list. To avoid a 30 second chunka-chunka session the first time I try to open a file, I've stuck a shortcut to My Computer in the Windows\Start menu\Programs\Startup directory. This doesn't make the problem go away, but it gets it over with when I boot the computer. I think an extra six CD-ROM drives is well worth a 30 second slower system startup time.
If you're running two or more applications which simultaneously want to access different discs in the changer, it would flog hopelessly. Realistically, though, I don't know how this could happen, except in a network server with many people accessing its resources. With a five second swap time, occasional swaps don't hurt overall performance much.
The C68E's rather languid 190mS 1/3rd stroke seek speed is another problem, though not in my opinion a major one. Using a slowish device like this as your primary CD-ROM drive could prove slightly annoying, but I don't think that's the C68E's niche; it works better as an adjunct to an existing, faster CD-ROM drive. Slow seek speeds aren't that bad, anyway; do your really care if a CD-flogging operation that's done in 20 seconds on a faster drive takes 35 on the changer?
The C68E also can't handle CD-single sized discs - and comes with a warning sticker on the front which says as much. Since practically nobody uses these little discs, who cares? Again, if you keep your regular single disc drive, there's no problem; pretty much all single disc drives work fine with singles.
The only way I can see a C68E causing real difficulties is if it stops working, because I have no idea how much fiddling would be required to get the discs out of it if the eject mechanism failed.
Anybody who's annoyed about swapping game CDs and reference CDs and application CDs who knows what other kinds of CD in and out of their single CD-ROM drive will love a CD-C68E. Don't throw away your current CD-ROM; with the dual IDE channels of current PCs, anyone with three or fewer currently installed IDE devices will be able to install a C68E as well. Keep whatever disc you're using intensively in your single disc, higher speed CD-ROM drive, and keep all the ones that get accessed regularly but not too heavily in the changer. For under $350 (Australian dollars), this is a marvellous product.