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28 What's the cheapest/fastest/most reliable/most common removable drive?(Macintosh hardware)


This article is from the Macintosh hardware FAQ, by Elliotte Rusty Harold elharo@shock.njit.edu with numerous contributions by others.

28 What's the cheapest/fastest/most reliable/most common removable drive?(Macintosh hardware)

The oldest and most established format for removable media is the
Syquest 44 megabyte 5.25" cartridge drive. (The size in inches
refers to the diameter of the circular platters in the cartridges.
Each cartridge is actually square and a little larger. For purposes
of comparison a CD is also 5.25" diameter.) 44 megabyte Syquest
drives are sold by many different vendors for under $200 and
cartridges cost around $45 each. However this format is showing its
age. It's too small for a complete backup of most hard drives; the
cartridges are big and bulky; and it's not difficult to create
Photoshop, Quark, or PostScript files that are larger than one of
these cartridges. Consequently most service bureaus also accept at
least the Syquest 88 format. 88 megabyte Syquest drives cost about
$200 and can read and write (but not format) the older 44 megabyte
cartridges. 88 megabyte cartridges run about $55 each so they're
considerably more cost-effective. Finally there's a 200 megabyte
5.25" Syquest drive that costs about $400 and can read and write (but
not format) all 5.25" Syquest cartridges. However it's much slower
reading and writing 44 and 88 megabyte cartridges than a dedicated
44/88 MB drive. 200 megabyte Syquest cartridges cost around $90
apiece. Although five and a quarter inch Syquest cartridges are the
most commonly used form of removable media for Macs, (especially
the 44 megabyte size) they do have a reputation for unreliability
and data corruption. They're suitable for moving large files from
your Mac to a service bureau, but not for making an important backup
and certainly not for use as a second hard drive. I do not recommend
5.25" Syquest drives unless you must exchange disks with someone who
only has a Syquest drive.

Syquest also manufactures a 3.5" 270 megabyte drive that is not
compatible with its more popular 44 and 88 megabyte drives (though it
will read and write the less common Syquest 105 format). At only $400
for the drive and $65 per cartridge, this drive has reasonably low
cost per megabyte. Furthermore it's got the largest cartridge size
among non-optical drives so it's the easiest with which to perform
backups. Hard drives of 240 megabytes or less can be backed up to
one of these monsters just by dragging the hard disk icon to the
Syquest icon. These cartridges are also much more resistant to data
loss than the 5.25 inch SyQuest media.

Somewhat more trustworthy are the Bernoulli MultiDisk 150 and
Multidisk 230 from Iomega. Iomega has been making removable drives
longer than anyone, and their drives and cartridges have a reputation
for speed and reliability. I would be willing to trust an important
backup to a Bernoulli disk or to use a Bernoulli disk as a second
hard drive. A Bernoulli 230 drive costs about $500 direct from Iomega
(1-800-756-3959). 230 megabyte disks cost about $100 so the cost per
megabyte is higher than the Syquest 270. An additional advantage is
that these drives also read and write Bernoulli 35, 65, 90 and 105
megabyte cartridges so you can pick a cartridge size and price to fit
your needs.

Iomega has also introduced a new drive called the ZIP which holds
cartridges of up to 100 megabyte capacity for only $20 a cartridge.
Street price for the drive itself is about about $200. To keep
costs low the Zip has no power switch, and only two possible SCSI ID's
(5 and 6). It weighs extremely little and is VERY portable. To keep
the size and price down the Zip has two DB-25 SCSI ports (like the
one pon the back of the Mac) rather than the more common Centronics
50 pin port. The Zip ships with a DB-25 to DB-25 SCSI cable, but
if you're like me you'll plug the Zip in between two 50 pin SCSI
devices with the extra DB-25 to Centronics 50 cables you accumulate
with every external SCSI device. Iomega claims that this drive will
be as reliable as their well-tested Bernoulli drives but that remains
to be proven in real-world use. Still at this price the ZIP drive may
well become the most popular removable media format since the
floppy disk.

SyQuest recently introduced a Zip competitor known as the "EZ135." This
drive holds about 30% more data per cartidge, costs the same (about
under $200) and is faster than the Zip. It also has a power switch,
a full complement of SCSI ID's, and 50 pin SCSI ports. EZ cartidges
are a couple of dollars more expensive than the lower capacity Zip
cartirdges. The drive is about twice as heavy as a Zip (and thus half
as portable). The software bundled with the EZ 135 is not nearly as
useful as the Zip software. So far the market seems to be favoring
the Zip drive.

Magneto-optical drives are another increasingly popular technology.
They're slow but very reliable. Depending on the drive a cartridge
can hold between 128 and 4300 megabytes. 230 megabyte drives are the
most popular. They cost about $500-$800 and are available from the
usual selection of hard drive vendors like APS. Next to the
reliability of the media the biggest attraction of these drives is
the extremely low cost per megabyte ($0.08) with 230 MB disks selling
for as little as $20 each in quantity. Higher capacity and higher
priced optical drives have been introduced with capacities reaching
into the multi-gigabyte region and prices from $1600 to $5000.
Standards are still a little unclear and prices a little high among
the higher capacity optical drives. I recommend waiting a few more
months before investing in this technology. Regardless of standards
all these drives are too slow to be used as a second hard disk. Their
high reliability and capacity makes them ideal for long-term backups

Finally there is one older technology you may still run across,
"flopticals." A floptical drive is about the size of an external
floppy drive, costs around $450 and can store 21 megabytes of data on
3.5" disks that cost about $18 each. Since floptical drives can also
read and write high density (but not 800K) floppies they're a
reasonable choice if you need a second floppy drive. However the
twenty-one megabyte disks are too small for backing up large hard
drives or for transporting desktop publishing files and graphics.
Furthermore at only about twice the speed of on ordinary floppy the
media is slower than its competition. Since higher capacity drives
in other formats cost about the same, I advise against floptical


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