Data box: Designing electronics these days is as much about deciding what to leave out as what features to include.

The epitome of this maxim is the current must-have computing choice: the netbook. These inexpensive, 1.3-kg (and lighter) PC wonders are configured for mobile consumers in a wireless world. In the process of shrinking the size of screens, keyboards and touch-pads down to their smallest usable levels, built-in optical drives and big hard drives became expendable. Somewhere along the way, USB became indispensable. However, one company’s design decision is another’s marketing opportunity.

It was not all that long ago that floppy-disk drives (1.4 megabytes) suffered the same marginalization. They were replaced by recordable CD (700 MB), which has been swallowed up by recordable DVD (about 4.4 gigabytes).

The netbook trend is pushing makers of peripherals — those extra gadgets that you attach to a computer — to fill the void with light, battery-friendly devices, overwhelmingly connected by USB.

Logitec’s contribution is the LDR-PMD8U2L external DVD drive. This slim, aluminum-bodied drive measures 134×160×18 mm, and weighs 415 grams. It’s available in black now, but will also be out in red in January.

Like other portable drives, the LDR-PMD8U2L can draw power from the computer’s USB port or from an AC adapter. The catch is that writing speeds for both DVDs and CDs take a hit when powered by USB. For example, it has a 3x rewriting speed for a DVD-RW disk when it is on USB power, but double that when the AC adapter is used. The Logitec unit is compatible with a wide range of discs, including DVD-RAM, double-sided DVD and recordable CDs.

In this PC-centric world, it is a refreshing change to find that the LDR-PMD8U2L works with both Windows and Mac OSX operating systems and that Logitec provides disc-authoring software for both platforms. Notably the device is ready to partner with the MacBook Air, which has already gained deserved notoriety for its high price and lack of an optical drive.

If you do buy a netbook, and making the reasonable assumption that it has no optical drive, then an external device would have to top the list of accessories that you need. Optical drives remain just too valuable. Considering its svelte dimensions and capabilities the Logitec gadget will do the job, especially as it costs only ¥8,480. www.logitec.co.jp/press/

Cool but effective: Thanko Corp. has earned a reputation for crafting distinctive gadgets that seem to appeal more for entertainment value than fulfilling a real need — gems such as USB-powered hand and foot warmers, pens that play music, video-camera watches, notebook cases with an extendible walking stick. The company’s real forte, however, may be closer to furniture.

Once you get past the wacky necktie coolers and lunchbox heaters, Thanko sports an interesting selection of flexible monitor arms, compact tables and ergonomic cushions. Add the new CoolPad to this latter list.

Thanko’s new multifunction “dock” not only cools down your notebook computer (by way of a built-in fan), it also includes a three-port USB hub and a slot for an external 2.5-inch SATA hard drive. Like any powered hub, the CoolPad connects with two cables: one for power and one for data. The power (DC 5 volts) comes from the notebook’s USB; the data comes from another USB port. So you will need two free USB ports on the notebook to fully connect the dock.

The CoolPad weighs 225 grams and measures 219×159×16 mm, making it suitable for smaller laptop computers.

It’s a fact that most electronic devices work better in chilled environments, and computers are no exception. It’s also a fact that notebooks rarely ever melt down in a normal home or office environment (battery problems not withstanding). When you consider that you can reduce the heat buildup by about 20 percent for free — prop up the back on a thin book so there is more space for air to flow underneath — then the cooling function is borderline novelty. But for a data hub with the extra utility of SATA, ¥2,480 makes for a competitive purchase. The CoolPad is available now through Thanko’s Web site and from GeekStuff4U.com. www.thanko.jp/mininote_st/

Sound approach: RockridgeSound is incongruous in its approach to providing iPod accessories. Its new iSR-VT02 iPod dock sports a rather retro look, bucking the sleek Apple-inspired designs that grace so many of these devices.

It’s also got the retro touch inside — the iSR-VT02 uses vacuum-tube amplifiers in its speakers, which are heralded as providing a softer, more natural sound.

The RockridgeSound box houses two 12-watt speakers and includes an AM/FM radio tuner. The iPod fits into a slot on the top, grouped with the key controls, including the one slick bit of retro style — a large volume dial (remote control included). The case finish comes in metallic black or wooden brown.

The device works with almost the whole range of iPods, although for some reason it excludes the original 2G-model iPhone. Hooking up your iPod to a decent sound system gives the favored gadget a new dimension.

Although the iSR-VT02’s looks are not without appeal, it is the sound that counts. But even audio purists will be forgiven for spending the estimated ¥35,000 just to watch the vacuum tubes glow. www.rockridgesound.co.jp


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