Cartridge drive is much better than diskettes for storing files


SOMEWHERE ON MY desk, probably only a few inches beneath the software packages, overnight mail envelopes, old coffee cups and last week's unopened mail, is a faxed news release declaring October to be National Clean Up Your Office Month.

Here it is, on the floor. It is actually "National Clean Your Flies Month."

Oops, one of the words was obscured by a coffee stain. It is really "National Clean Your Files Month."

A cynic might suggest that National Clean Up Your Files Month is merely a marketing ploy by Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. Inc., the sponsor of the campaign, to sell more diskettes, tape backup cassettes and diskette storage boxes.

After all, one way to clean up your personal computer files and xTC make more efficient use of your computer's hard disk is to transfer old or seldom needed documents to another form of storage. Then a prudent worker would back up the remaining files onto diskettes or tape regularly as a security precaution.

So yes, Fuji is right, this is a good month to clean out and back up your files.

But in the best spirit of professional investigative journalism, I dug deeper into the story -- all the way to Page 7 of the news release -- and discovered some amazing facts.

Fuji commissioned a survey of workers who were asked, "Do you wish that your work area at home or at the office was more organized?" The responses were enlightening: 64 percent said "yes," 35 percent said "no," and 1 percent said "don't know."

The results appears to prove that 35 percent of workers are either unnaturally neat or happy slobs, and that 1 percent will soon be out of the work market because of social Darwinism.

The survey also found that 17 percent of the people polled chose Angela Lansbury as the "most organized celebrity," edging out Tony Randall and Martha Stewart. How do they know? Perhaps they are recalling Ms. Lansbury's performance in "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," in which she and her partner ran an efficient home-based meat pies business in London.

But enough goofing off. It is time to get organized.

With all due respect to Fuji and Darwin, the diskette is becoming a dodo. It is still the least expensive way to back up a megabyte's worth of files and the easiest way to transfer a small group of files from one user to another.

There are some problems with diskettes, though.

The most obvious is that hard disk drives are becoming more capacious (500 megabytes seems to be an average capacity these days, with 1,000 megabytes becoming increasingly common), and backing up those drives a megabyte at a time on diskettes is inefficient.

Another, less recognized problem is that diskettes wear out. After a few years the magnetic recording particles on a diskette can begin to flake off the plastic backing, known as the substrate, causing data loss.

The same problem affects video and audio cassettes as well, but with data diskettes the results of going flaky can be more devastating.

The simple and cheap solution is to copy the contents of older diskettes onto newer ones.

A better long-term solution is to invest $200 to $250 in one of the new removable cartridge drives.

The two leaders for the Macintosh system are the Zip Drive from Iomega and its newer rival, the EZ-135 drive from Syquest.

Removable-cartridge storage devices make a lot of sense. Instead of having a fixed disk with a fixed capacity, one can attach a Zip or EZ-135 drive to any computer and, in theory, have unlimited storage. Need another 100 megabytes of space? Just buy another $20 cartridge. Need to back up 100 megabytes? Ditto.

Anyone old enough to remember paying the equivalent of a month's rent for a 10-megabyte hard drive will appreciate the fact that the cost of storage is now less than 20 cents a megabyte.

The Zip drive costs $200 and comes with one cartridge, not much larger than a regular 3.5-inch diskette, which stores 100 megabytes of data. Extra cartridges are $20 each. The Zip drive itself is small and lightweight. Data from computer's hard disk can be transferred to the Zip cartridges at a rate of about a megabyte a second.

The EZ-135 drive costs $240 and comes with one cartridge, which stores 135 megabytes of data. Extra cartridges, about the size of a CD-ROM case, are also $20 each. The EZ-135 drive itself is twice the bulk of the Zip drive, but it transfers data at twice the speed, which means that backups take half the time.

Iomega has also introduced a new "Jaz" drive, the Zip's big brother, which stores as much as 1,024 megabytes on a single cartridge. I have not tested the Jaz, which costs $600 for the drive itself and $75 or $135 for each cartridge, depending on capacity. The Jaz appears aimed at graphic arts professionals, in terms of both price and performance.

For most organizational and backup needs, the Zip and the EZ-135 are the two leading contenders.

From a technical perspective, the EZ-135 is the superior device. It zaps the Zip in virtually every performance category.

But from a practical standpoint, the choice between the Zip and the EZ-135 will probably come down to whichever one is in stock. Both are in short supply.

More information about the EZ-135 is available from Syquest Technology Inc. of Fremont, Calif., at (510)226-4000.

More information about the Zip and Jaz drives is available from the Iomega Corp. of Roy, Utah, at (801)778-1000.

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