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Protect Your Game Discs from Careless Kids

Remember audio tape? Sound quality was poor, play time was limited, and cassettes wore out quickly if they weren't first destroyed by the tape deck. Once we caught on to MP3s, there was no turning back. MP3s offered clear advantages over the analog medium they replaced. Now we play music continuously for hours, create custom play lists, and take our music wherever we go. Best of all, we don't have to lug around all those tapes or discs, because MP3s can be stored on something as handy as a USB key. So while the music goes everywhere, the discs stay at home.

Parents of young children, however, still have their share of problems with those OTHER discs: the expensive CDs and DVDs that you need to run PC games and disc-based applications. Once touted as "durable," CDs are remarkably fragile: hairline scratches or even a few smudges can make them unplayable. Supposedly designed to be portable, they're not all that easy to transport, but they are incredibly easy to lose. Too often, shared discs are treated badly. Left out their jewel cases and exposed to kids and pets, game discs are quickly damaged beyond all use.

Traveling disc collections are not long for this world: volume 2 of a set may be forgotten in a motel room, volume 3 at a rest stop down the road. The disc-based software that accompanies you on the family trip frequently comes back ruined -- if it comes back at all. MP3-LIKE CONVENIENCE FOR DISC-BASED APPLICATIONS Virtual CDs bring MP3-like ease use and portability to video games, CD-ROM clip art collections, educational software, and other disc-based applications. They're the perfect disc management solution when you're sharing disc-based games and applications with members of the family or transporting CDs and DVDs from place to place. You'll need a CD emulator to convert your physical disc into a virtual CD, or a file that runs directly on a computer's hard drive. Since it's just an electronic file, a virtual CD can be stored on a laptop computer or just about any digital storage device. A virtual CD plays just like a physical CD, only there's no need to load the physical disc -- you simply click on desktop shortcut to launch a favorite game or application. You can have several virtual CDs running simultaneously in one of several virtual drives. It may seem like a silly idea to keep so many virtual CDs loaded, but gamers in particular like to hot swap between titles or volumes. Although it emulates a physical CD, a virtual CD operates directly on the hard drive, improving playback times by as much as 200% and eliminating wear and tear on the CD-ROM drive.

It can be shared over a network, customized to contain multi-disc sets and expansion packs, and organized with other virtual CDs in a searchable library with a Windows-like directory tree. CHOOSING THE RIGHT CD EMULATOR Most commercial CD emulators cost between $30 and $60 -- a bargain compared to many game titles, and well worth the price of admission if you're able to spare just a few of your discs from abuse. But while nearly all CD emulators have certain basic features in common, not all offer the same usability and disc support. You should also be aware that while a CD emulator is a great tool for most PC games, educational software, and unprotected DVDs, any legal CD emulator will not work with a CSS protected DVD. In other words, don't expect to transform your Hollywood videos into a virtual DVD library. If you'd like to purchase a CD emulator, you might want to download an evaluation version first. Try to determine which product works best with the discs in your collection. Decide which brand gives you the best value for your money and offers ongoing technical support. FarStone Technology makes a solid CD emulator in the form of VirtualDrive (http://www.farstone.

com/software/virtualdrive.htm), which weighs in just under 30 dollars. An evaluation download is available at www.farstone.com. CD EMULATOR RESOURCES FarStone VirtualDrive http://www.farstone.com/software/virtualdrive.htm General Emulator Listings http://www.thumbshots.

net/webguide.aspx?cat=Computers/Hardware/Storage/Optical/Emulation.


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