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                          The Search For Storage
  Paul Idol                           

I'm sick and tired of floppies.  I have a couple hundred of them, probably
not as many as plenty of other people, but enough to drive me nuts.  
They're always developing read-write errors, getting crushed by
steam-rollers, or accidentally being used by well-meaning fools as cold
drink coasters.  I have no idea how much data I've lost over the years to
floppy disks, but it's a lot.

So the desire was growing in me to buy a removable hard drive, or maybe an
optical drive, or something, anyway.  (It's always something, isn't it?)
But they were always too expensive and too slow for me to justify buying
one to myself.  Until recently.

Iomega, and then shortly thereafter, Syquest, both released cheap new
removable drives this year--and I mean cheap!  They're less than twice as
expensive as floppy drives!  It seemed that salvation was at hand.
However, trying to find hard information on which to base a purchasing
decision proved to be difficult.  Mac people apparently almost
overwhelmingly prefer the Zip, but they weren't much help at explaining
why.  (Maybe that's reason enough to stay away from the Zip...  <G>) Even
Amigans seemed to prefer the Zip, though by a more slender margin.  And the
magazines were rather ambiguous, praising both drives, though they too
favored the Zip.

I, on the other hand, fusty curmudgeon that I am, was rather skeptical.  
On paper, it seems that the EZ135 wins in most categories: it's about twice
as fast (in fact, at almost 2MB/sec, it's the fastest removable media hard
drive ever), its cartridges offer 32MB more formatted space each, the drive
can be set to any SCSI ID (unlike the Zip, which can only be set to 5 or
6), and it has standard centronics connectors on the back instead of db25
connectors that require hard-to-find adaptor cables and make it a PITA to
add or remove devices from your SCSI chain.

So what, if anything, is better about the Zip?  Well, it looks cooler, it
has a nicer load/eject mechanism, and the media are a little smaller--and a
little more durable, or so I'm told.  The other oft-cited advantage of the
Zip, that it's lighter, is of dubious value in my opinion.  The Zip, at
about 1 pound, just feels flimsy to me, like I could accidentally crush it
with my hand while picking it up.  The EZ135, at about 2 pounds, isn't all
that earth-shakingly heavy, and it feels much more solid.  It's not
anything like twice as big as the Zip, either--more like 20% larger, at a
guess.  But don't take my word on durability.  I just made some totally
unscientific palm-of-the-hand tests.

In my opinion, the one really annoying thing about the EZ135 is its
brain-dead archaic load/eject mechanism.  In that respect, the Zip works
just like a floppy drive: you push in a disk, it appears in a few seconds;
you hit the eject button, it pops out.  To load an EZ135, you have to push
the cartridge all the way in, then slide a lever all the way over to the
right and wait up to 10 seconds while the drive spins up.  Not as nice as
the Zip, but hardly the end of the world.  To eject, however, you have to
hit a button on the front of the drive, wait for the cartridge to spin down
and the lever to pop back a bit, and then move the lever back to the left.
There is no mechanical assistance, so the last quarter of the lever's
travel is quite difficult, and I was initially afraid that I was going to
break something.  But finally, reluctantly, the cartridge slides out just
far enough to grab and pull out the rest of the way.

So, which to choose...  To make a long story short, I bought the EZ135, as
you may have guessed.  :) So far, I'm quite happy with it.  I transferred
my collection of archives onto a cartridge--or rather that part of the
collection which hadn't been lost to read/write errors and the like.   I
made an emergency boot/recovery cartridge with Diavolo all set up and ready
to go.  And I'm slowly copying all my original program disks over to
another cartridge.  After all, how much point is there really to making
floppy copies of those disks when the copies are probably more likely to
fail than the originals!?


I've noticed one vaguely annoying quirk about the drive.  Periodically, for
no apparent reason, it churns for a couple seconds as though something is
accessing it.  I ran VirusChecker...  no viruses.  I guess it's just some
SCSI thing.

And I've had one genuine problem.  I can't seem to get AFS to work with the
drive.  I can't prepare an AFS cartridge from scratch, and any AFS
cartridge that I make with ffs2afs disappears after I reboot.  I don't know
where the problem lies.  If anyone has any ideas, please email me!  FLD,
perhaps because of the holidays, hasn't gotten back to me.  :(


Well, down to the nitty-gritty.  My system is as follows: an A3000 desktop
with OS3.1 in ROM, a WarpEngine 3040, 16MB of fast RAM, a RetinaZ3 running
CyberGraphX, and AFS Pro 2.2.  I installed the EZ135 simply by attaching it
to my external tape drive, which is hooked up to the A3000's native SCSI
controller, with a standard centronics-centronics SCSI cable.   Then I used
HDToolBox to prepare and format a cartridge, SCSIMounter to mount it, and I
was off!


The EZ135 is available for about $229 versus the Zip's $199 (both models
appear to be coming out in cheaper internal versions, but you lose drive
portability) but I think the extra $30 is worth it.  And prices are always
falling.  Cartridges, just like Zip disks, cost $20 singly.

In the end, I guess the best argument in favor of the Zip is that more
people have it.  It came out sooner and looks cooler, so you'll be able to
swap disks with more people.  But to that argument I say, "Come on, you're
using an Amiga!"

In conclusion, all I can really say is that my 525MB tape drive is starting
to look mighty small...