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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
jewel cases

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 files.

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 software.

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

Bottom Line:

Microform CD-Finder Pro v.3.4
US$168 (or US$129 for Lite version)
Locally from: Media Replication Services (contact Peter Bauer )
Phone: 819-647-5700
Fax: 819-647-6500

Originally published: September, 2003

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