We’ve been trying out a new Pioneer external drive that’s just perfect for storing your files, photos or music to DVDs or CDs.

At 16X speed for writing DVDs, the Pioneer DVR-S806 is currently the world’s fastest such drive and can also read or write to the new double-layer disks. We found

you could buy it for less than $250 from discounters. This is more than you would pay for an internal drive of this type, but going external has several advantages, and we think they’re worth the extra cost.

For one, you don’t have to open the computer case and fool with the cables when you have an external drive. Just plug it into a USB or Firewire port, and you’re ready to go. Like most external drives, the Pioneer will work with either PCs or Macs, and it comes with both USB and Firewire cables.

You can put it on a shelf within easy reach (instead of trying to reach the computer when it’s under your desk), and perhaps the best thing of all about external drives is that they are portable. One drive suffices for all computers in a house or office. Want to make a copy of someone’s files, music or photos? Just take the drive to that computer and plug it in. Unlike a thumb drive, a DVD will hold four or more gigabytes of data, or 8.5 gigabytes if you use double-layer DVDs.

This particular Pioneer drive handles all formats of CDs and DVDs, solving a problem that sometimes causes confusion. The use of double-layer disks allows you to record up to four hours of continuous video, long enough for nearly any movie. Check out other specs at www.pioneerelectronics.com.

EDITING PDFs

PDF Transformer is just one of three nifty utilities we found that can take any PDF file and turn it into a Microsoft Word document that can be edited, including both words and pictures. The documents look and read exactly the same as before, except now you can make changes.

PDF means Portable Document Format and is Adobe’s program for preserving the format, pictures and type style of any document. It’s like a snapshot and, like any snapshot, it is not the thing itself but a picture of the thing. That means the person who receives it cannot normally edit it.

PDF Transformer reads the PDF document and saves it to Microsoft Word as a completely editable file. It can also save it as an HTML file, which can then be posted directly to the Web. You can also choose to convert only some pages of a document.

The program sells for under $100 from Abbyy Software www.abbyy.com. A free trial is available. (Abbyy is well-known for its “Fine Reader” OCR (optical character recognition) software, the best we’ve ever tried for “reading” documents and converting them to editable text.) The company says PDF Transformer can convert number reports into Excel spreadsheet format. We tried this several times, but the results were unsatisfactory. It works if you have a simple table to convert.

Solid Converter PDF also has a free trial version, and can be found at www.voyagersoft.com.

Solid Converter works in both directions: It can either convert a PDF into a Word Document, or convert a Word document into a PDF. Its conversion wizard gives you the option to remove the images from a document if you wish, which could save line transmission time.

PDF Converter 2 from Scansoft (www.scansoft.com) can immediately turn PDF e-mail attachments into Word documents directly from the incoming mail in Microsoft Outlook.

If you’re using Internet Explorer as your browser, you can right-click any PDF you find on a Web site and convert it to an editable Word document.

HAVE FIREWALL, WILL TRAVEL

ZyXel’s ZyWall P1 is a hardware firewall, the toughest kind to crack. It is designed to establish what they call a “VPN” in the network security business. High-tech companies love acronyms, and what this one stands for isVirtual Personal Network.

ZyWall P1 is designed primarily for corporate use and is priced accordingly. We found it, but the device is so popular that almost everyone was out of it.

The ZyWall P1 itself weighs about 4 ounces and can easily fit in a shirt pocket. To use, you simply connect an Ethernet cable between the device and your computer, and another Ethernet cable between the device and a router or Ethernet network socket. You can then communicate securely across the network. (This is especially handy in a hotel room.) It works with Windows, Mac or Linux systems. Power can come from either a small transformer or a computer’s USB port. This is high-tech, high-power communication security for those who want it or need it.

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