CD-Finder Pro v.3.4
by Bob Gowan
We have a wide range of choices when it
comes to storing our ever-growing collections of CDs and DVDs. I've tried
a number of them: the "flipper" trays from the "dollar" store that hold
about 20 CDs, a variety of plastic or wire racks and towers that hold 10,
or 30, or 50, or more, and also several shelf units, crates, and even plain
cardboard boxes, and I'm always looking for something better. Nonetheless,
with my "thrifty" and practical nature, it has always shocked me to see
CD storage units as sculptures, "objects of art", and "fine furniture",
costing $300 to $500, even $2000, in ads in in-flight shopping magazines
or at furniture boutiques. As they say, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder".
But then, I spotted something that I just
had to have. The idea is simple enough - it starts with a carousel,
much like the nearly-obsolete slide projector carousel, and a disk cataloguing
software. Add a dust-proof and locking cover, a motor to spin the carousel
and a USB cable to allow it to communicate with your computer. And
it is just as simple to use: put a disk in your CD drive, the software
reads and saves its label and contents, spins the carousel to the next
free slot, and prompts you to load the CD through the "window" in the cover. You can add
full titles, categories and "notes" to describe the CD and contents.
When you want to use a CD, or find a file on one of them, just search using
the software, click on the disk or file you are want, and the carousel
will spin to bring the CD to the opening and lift it so you can pick it
out of the slot. No more flipping through stack of CDs, fumbling
with jewel cases, or wracking your brain to remember where you put that
one you need right now!
No more flipping
through stacks of
CDs, fumbling with
The "CD-Finder" hardware is made in Taiwan,
but the "package" is put together by Microforum Spa Inc., an Italian corporation
with offices in Toronto. This means that the assembly instructions,
the software and the manuals are straight-forward, complete and readable.
The unit is distributed locally by CD production and duplication service
provider, Media Replication Services. The "CD-Finder" is well-packaged,
in a cardboard box a little larger than a mid-tower case. The beige
plastic unit base and clear plexiglass cover are nested in formed styrofoam,
which also has pockets to hold the AC adaptor, software, manuals, cable,
etc. Clear and well-illustrated instructions for assembling the hardware
are provided in the manual, but also in cardboard insert that protects
the CD slots. There is no trick to putting the unit together - just follow
the illustrated steps in proper order. It is solid and well-made, and easily
assembled as its parts fit perfectly. The unit can also be used separately
from a computer, and a "records notebook" for manual entry is included.
As usual, I neglected the software installation
instructions, and missed the differences in procedures for Windows flavours, so the drivers did not
install properly on my Windows 2000 Pro system. The software would still
scan and save CD labels and contents, and I could manually select the next
slot in the carousel, but the computer was not communicating with the CD-Finder.
A 1-800 call to Microforum in Toronto reached a voice mail box, but my
call was returned in less than 10 minutes, my problem was diagnosed in
a minute, and updated drivers and clear, step by step instructions, with
screen captures, for removing existing drivers and installing the updates
were e-mailed to me immediately. Software registration also requires
a phone call with registered user name and a hardware-generated code to
obtain a software key code, but this, too was quick and painless.
The software can be set to load on startup,
and it "docks" behind a small "tab" located just below the top right corner
of your desktop. One click on this tab launches a small CD-Finder dialog
that can be used to locate a CD by label or title.
Highlighting the label and clicking on
the "Get CD" button will rotate the carousel to the appropriate slot and
lift the CD so it can be retrieved. The "Enhanced" button opens another
dialog that reveals the full record for the CD.
This is essentially the "main" screen for
data entry, viewing and editing operations. It includes buttons for
viewing detailed contents, and a wizard for finding files or CDs
and for adding CDs.
I gave the unit a good test run, with
a variety of software CDs, audio CDs, shareware and clipart compilations,
and my own backup and data CDs. It can also catalog DVDs and VCDs. I loaded
the first 30 CDs in about an hour, but most of that time was spent typing
in several lines of notes. The time to scan the CD contents depends,
of course, on the number of folders and files to be read. In most
cases, the scan was completed in seconds after CD-spin-up. Where autorun
launched an installation program or CD browser, there would be some delay
in scanning, but it was often helpful to read these screens while entering
the catalog "notes" on the CD. Some of the compilations, containing 10,000
to over 30,000 files, were scanned in 30 to 45 seconds.
I have now loaded nearly 100 CDs and estimate
this has taken in a little more than 3 hours. In most cases, I used the
wizard which steps through the data fields and seems most convenient for
scanning CD contents. There are two other data entry modes, Auto-CD
and CD-Manual, which may be more convenient for cataloging CD titles only.
There is also a lower priced unit with a "Lite" version of the software
that scans only the CD title, and not the files it contains. Someone using
the unit to store and retrieve pre-recorded CDs - commercial software and
music, might find the Lite version adequate, but anyone creating their
own CDs (e.g. backups) would surely want the capability of finding individual
A single unit holds 150 disks and multiple
units (up to 128) can be "chained" using USB hubs. They are designed to
stack (but safely just 3 high) and their footprint is less than that of
2-20CD "flippers". I expect that I will continue to refine the CD
descriptions as I use the unit, but I found the initial cataloguing to
be efficient. From my experience to-date, this product does what its developers
say it will. A minor irritation is the need for extra care in loading some
CDs with relatively thick labels - they may have to be gently pushed down
into the carousel slot, rather than dropping freely.
I have used disk catalog software in the
past and in comparison, I find that the CD-Finder's software is rather
basic. More recent versions of most of the stand-alone disk catalog
utilities I have examined now have the capability to scan archives (zip)
and cab files. Some also include internet CDDB searching that provides
track lists for audio CDs. The current version of the CD-Finder Pro software
identifies the number of tracks on an audio CD, but titles must be entered
manually. Although the latter is not critical to me, many users would
appreciate this capability and I encourage the developers to incorporate
these features in an upgrade. On my wish list, I would also add at
least rudimentary (CSV, delimited) data import and export features. The
data is currently stored in an MDB (MS Access database) format. I have
not attempted to examine or manipulate the data outside of the provided
The main advantage of this system will
of course be in its future use for locating CDs and archived data files.
If your free time is as "challenged" as mine, and if you spend anywhere
near the amount of time I have, searching for CDs and files, then you cannot
afford NOT to get one of these beauties. I have since spotted a few similar
carousel-type units, some with smaller storage capacity, but all with,
I believe, similar software and comparable (per CD stored) costs.
There's also a similarly priced tower with similar software that feeds
you the requested CD on one of its stack of 75 motorized trays!!
But then, you might want to check the
"Thunderbird - design is carved and painted on the door and top ...
stained in golden oak" - holds 150 CDs - $459 (on sale). Or how about
the "African Media Cabinet: traditional Ghanaian mask on a contemporary
CD holder - Curved sides with a carving make this a Swahili favorite"
- holds 85 CDs - US$149. Then there's my favourite: the ""Aqua Tower: Triple
clear acrylic 3" diameter columns transmit the internal flow of colored
bubbles ... with interchangeable color filters" - holds 160 CDs - US$479.
All works of art, I'm sure; but the practical functionality and space efficiency
of the CD-Finder makes it, to my eyes, a true "thing of beauty".
Microforum CD-Finder holds 150 standard (5") CDs/CDRs/DVDs, etc.; USB cable, AC adapter, 2 keys (for mechanical lock) included; CD-Finder Pro v.3.4 software for Windows 98 and later, or Mac OS9.x or OS/X; P166 or Mac Power PC, 8MB RAM required
Microform CD-Finder Pro v.3.4
US$168 (or US$129 for Lite version)
Locally from: Media Replication Services (contact Peter Bauer )
Originally published: September, 2003
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The opinions expressed in these reviews
do not necessarily represent the views of the
Ottawa PC Users' Group or its members.