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Indiana Jones and the bargain hunter

"Don't go bargain hunting without knowing exactly what you want," swore my grandmother. She never ever saw a CD-Rom, but had she seen this bargain box, she would have nagged again.

Quest is an upgrade to add a CD-Rom drive to your computer (Pounds 99 plus VAT). The drive is a passport to the thrills of modern software and, for a few dollars more, well Pounds 70-ish to be exact, you get the thrills thrown in on 10 separate CD-Rom discs.

The drive is the double-speed, Photo CD-compatible Panasonic 562B. Its caddy-less, motorised tray (just like a CD player) is perfect for home use and it performs well, coping with the most challenging video sequences. But installing this, or any internal CD-Rom drive, is a swine.

Open up the computer, slot it into an empty bay and plug it into the sound card. That's easy. Now fix it in place and install the software. That's hard. You could get this done in the shop and save the grief.

If you don't have a sound card, I suggest you buy it at the same time if only to get better technical support if you do choose to DIY and install it with a consenting expert.

A much easier alternative comes from Cumana. This CD-Rom drive, complete with a built-in power supply, plugs straight into the printer socket on any PC or Archimedes. (The printer can then plug into the back of the drive). Install the software and be stunned that it takes two minutes instead of two hours.

The Cumana unit uses the exact same Panasonic drive as before, but unlike other printer-socket drives this one has been optimised to match the MPC2 standard in other words, it should match the performance of the internal drive.

You still need to add sound to a PC, and an external sound box could be a solution. But there are some real advantages to the Cumana approach you can move it to another computer, another PC, an Archimedes or fit it to a notebook computer. And you can keep the drive when you get a new machine.

While the "plug and play" drive is never as tidy or secure as an internal drive, as long as CD-Roms are as scarce, as they are in schools, the idea of getting a shared portable drive could be this year's winner.

Never mind the woes and wires, using CD-Rom software is much more fun. The Interactive Quest Collection has plenty, and some are serious titles.

Compton's Encyclopaedia for Windows is a fair crack at everything you want to know. Micrografx Graphics Works is the next most serious title and the star. This has Windows Draw for making illustrations, and PhotoMagic for editing photographs, Photo-CD images or just painting if you like. There is a massive clip-art library and a flowchart drawing program with a weaker program for making graphs.

The rest is serious fun, including Indiana Jones and Day of the Tentacle (adventure games), the fantasy and role-playing Return to Zork, Ultima Underworld (almost virtual reality without the headset), Humans (a fairly amusing Lemmings derivative) and Wing Commander II (a costume drama, played in space suits).

That's it, save for three use-once-and-throw sampler discs quite a bundle for a home buy. Simple maths says it is a bargain, but as Granny would say, "Is that what you wanted, dear?"

Interactive Quest Collection, an internal CD-Rom drive and software bundle for IBM compatibles, Pounds 169 plus VAT (delivery included), from some branches of Debenhams or Silica,1-4 The Mews, Hatherley Road, Sidcup, Kent, DA14 4DX. Tel:081-309 1111. Cumana CD-Rom drive CAA232P, external parallel printer port drive for IBM and compatibles andor AcornA-series, Pounds 229 + VAT from Cumana, Pines Trading Estate, Broad Street, Guildford GU3 3BH. Tel: 0483 503121. (See upgrade requirements above)

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