The ability to create compact disks has pretty much become standard with today's computers, but I'm always intrigued when something new comes along. That's why I jumped at the chance to look at the new HP CD-Writer Plus 9110i from Hewlett Packard and the CD-/RW and DVD-ROM from Ricoh.

Both are internal devices, which means you have to attach them to the IDE port inside your computer. And both retail for about $250, which is about half of what they would've cost a year ago.Both devices come with Easy CD Creator and Direct CD from Adaptec Software, but where the HP balks at using the newest version of the software (Version 4.0), the Ricoh had no problem with it. Nevertheless, I still give the HP a slight edge.

The HP writes at 8X, which means it can burn a complete CD (640 megabytes) in about eight minutes. The Ricoh is a bit slower, rated at 6X. The rewrite speeds are identical, but the CD-ROM speed favors the HP at 32X compared with the Ricoh's 24X.

So why buy the Ricoh drive? I can spell that out in three letters - DVD, for digital video drive.

If you don't have a DVD-ROM drive, the Ricoh product is the perfect all-in-one solution. It comes with Software Cinemaster to play movies and other DVD video.

The catch here is that your processor has to be fast enough to handle it. I usually recommend that folks wanting to play DVD titles install an MPEG-2 decoder board if their computer is rated at less than 300 megahertz (a low-end Pentium II).

The Hollywood II board from Sigma Designs is a good choice and works with most DVD drives.

I've also been playing with Maxtor's new 40-gigabyte hard drive ($249). This baby's a 7,200-rpm speed demon that can access data in less than 9 milliseconds. But, while I'd love to recommend it for everyone, I can't.

Unfortunately computers equipped with an older BIOS, which dictates how the computer sees hardware and how it will function, have a problem recognizing the drive. For them, there's a jumper setting on the drive that will allow you to let the computer see it as only 32 gigabytes - but not without a major sacrifice.

You have to use the MaxBlaster software that comes with the drive to install it and, because of that, you can't install Windows NT or Windows 2000.

It seems that information the computer needs to see the drive is installed in what is known as the ''boot sector'' of the drive, where NT needs to install its setup information. In this case, never the twain shall meet, leaving NT users out in the cold.

However, I had no problem installing the drive on my Pentium III, where it happily coexists with a competitor's 30-gigabyte unit.

Because of this, I strongly suggest that, unless you have a brand new Pentium III or have no wish to use NT or Win2000, that you opt for a drive of 30 gigabytes or less.

I must emphasize that this problem is not unique to the Maxtor drive. The older computers will have the same difficulty recognizing any of these large-format drives, no matter who makes them.