Choices available in portable storage; Options: Different types of removable devices with far greater capacity than 1.44-megabyte floppy drives are getting bigger, so choose the one best for you.


Having some form of large, removable storage on a personal computer is becoming more and more crucial. Though it remains an important part of any PC, the standard 1.44-megabyte floppy drive no longer has the capacity for what many people are doing with their systems these days.

The plummeting price of hardware has made removable storage much more affordable, in many different forms. However, there's not yet a defining standard that is as ubiquitous as the floppy, so you'll have to choose based on what's best for your needs.

Here are three drives that illustrate two approaches to having megabytes to go:

Zip 100 USB: $130, Iomega Corp. The Zip drive is the closest thing we have to a new standard as a "super-floppy," but it's not quite there. More and more new computers come with them, but usually as an option. You can't rely on everyone having a Zip drive, as you can with a standard floppy.

In the past, if you wanted a portable Zip drive, you had to rely on either the SCSI or parallel-port models. The SCSI version required that a PC have a SCSI card, which few do. (Not so for the Macintosh version -- all Macs up until recently had SCSI connectors.) The parallel port, which could be used on virtually every PC, was dog-slow. Copying the contents of a nearly full, 100-MB Zip disk seemed to take forever.

At long last, Iomega has introduced a USB-based version of its 100-MB Zip. The company was not planning to move as quickly as it did, but the popularity of Apple Computer's iMac -- which has no floppy disk but includes a USB port -- forced Iomega's hand.

While the USB version is not as fast as the internal model, it is significantly peppier than the parallel port. It took only a few seconds to transfer a 10-MB file, compared with nearly 90 seconds for the parallel-port Zip.

Zip 250 Parallel: $200, Iomega Corp. When I heard that Iomega was going to sell a Zip with a capacity of 250 MB, and that it could read the original 100-MB disks, I was overjoyed. Then I learned the awful truth.

There are only two configurations -- SCSI and parallel. Where's the USB model? At best, somewhere in Iomega's plans.

I tried the parallel port version, and while it wasn't as sluggish as the original Zip, it is no speed demon. It seems to be about 30 percent faster, but much slower than the USB model.

It took a full minute to copy a 10-MB file. Having 250 MB of space, though, is quite a plus, one necessary for Iomega to compete with Sony and other manufacturers who have introduced 200-MB-plus removable disks. The greater capacity should be particularly helpful for working with large graphics or video files.

The 250-MB disks cost more than the 100-MB disks: $17-$18 in multipacks, compared with $12-$13.

Backpack CD-ReWriter: $449, MicroSolutions. If your need for removable space goes beyond 100 or even 250 megabytes, you should consider a writeable CD-ROM drive -- either an internal and external model. Internals are cheaper and faster, but the external models can be used on multiple PCs.

MicroSolutions' new external drive can handle both kinds of writeable CDs -- CD-R, which lets you write to the disk just once; and CD-RW, which lets you write to it over and over, as with a hard or floppy disk.

Each has its benefits. CD-R disks are cheap -- about $2 to $3 in bulk -- and faster. CD-RW disks are more expensive -- $17 to $20 each -- and write a little slower.

CD-R is great for making duplicates of existing disks, or storing programs or data you don't expect to change. This is the medium you'd use to make audio CDs to use in any compact disc player.

CD-RW can be used to back up crucial data. Unfortunately, it can be read only in CD drives that support the Multi-Read standard.

The Backpack CD-ReWriter can write to a drive in 4X speed (four times the speed of the first CD-ROM drives), and reads at 6X speeds. It takes about 20 minutes to fill a 650-MB disk. On older computers you may not achieve these speeds.

It comes with an older version of Adaptec's excellent Easy CD Creator software, which makes creating a CD in either format a snap. I'd highly recommend upgrading to the newest version, Easy CD Creator Deluxe 3.5, which comes with very useful components. For example, it has CD Spin Doctor, which lets you turn your vinyl LP collection into CDs, and a module for putting video on CD.

I'm enthusiastic about the Backpack, but parallel ports can be finicky. I had problems getting a Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 882C printer to co-exist on the parallel port with this drive. I'd love to see MicroSolutions offer a USB version of the Back CD-ReWriter.

Pub Date: 03/22/99

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