Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 160 / JANUARY 1994 / PAGE 146

Lightning CD. (disk/file management software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May

Newcomers to the world of multimedia computing expect to be dazzled, and few are disappointed. Experienced users, however, know not to expect miracles from a CD-ROM drive. Although one of the most cost-effective means of data retrieval, with drives starting as low as $150 and discs capable of holding up to 650MB of information, CD-ROM drives are no speed demons. Even top-of-the-line CD-ROM drives find and transfer data at a speed about 15 times slower than the average hard drive.

Before you get discouraged, take a look at Lucid Corporation's excellent Lightning CD, a data-caching utility designed specifically for CD-ROM drives. The company claims speed increases of more than 1000 percent in best-case scenarios. Realistically, you can expect an average, consistent speed increase of 20-50 times. For many DOS and Windows/MPC applications, those little numbers can make a huge difference in the performance of your programs.

How does it work? Like all disk caches, Lightning CD analyzes and stores frequently used information in RAM. When a program asks for data from hard disk or CD, the computer first looks to its memory cache, and if the data is there it rockets this information to the CPU in a fraction of the normal access time. Caching won't eliminate disc access, but can substantially decrease drive activity. In the data-intensive world of CD-ROM, your computer needs all the help it can get.

Unlike some CD-caching products which store recently accessed data on your hard drive, Lightning CD caches directly from RAM. Of course, the more RAM you have, the more information you can store, which determines the overall effectiveness of the cache. If you can't afford at least a 2MB RAM cache - culled from either expanded or extended memory - you won't utilize the program's full power.

A cache works only with frequently repeated disk activities. Although Lucid clearly markets the product at multimedia game players, the linear structure of most CD-based games - such as role-playing or adventures - means the cache will be constantly flushed with new information, and therefore offer little benefit. Folks who use CD-based encyclopedias and other reference works, Photo-CD discs, and clip-art discs will see a more dramatic speedup than gamers. A game might seem a little snappier, but an encylopedia search may go from 10 seconds to less than a second on subsequent accesses.

The manual does a good job of explaining the program's many command line parameters and configuration nuances. Besides speeding CDs, the program can also cache hard disks and floppy drives. Available options include a handy write-delay feature, memory lending, performance reports, write protection, and the ability to read ahead a user-defined number of sectors. This last feature is particularly useful for full-motion video.

The program performs flawlessly under both DOS and Windows, but doesn't support OS/2. The biggest problem most veteran users will encounter is simply finding room in the system configuration for another TSR. If your system has room, you can load the program entirely into upper memory.

No disk-caching program will magically transform a slow CD-ROM drive into a speed demon, nor will it perform similar miracles on slow video cards and ancient CPUs. For those with reasonable expectations, however, Lightning CD offers immediate rewards.