Peerless

The history of removable media is full of funny names, odd-shaped disks, and expensive obsolescence. Bernoulli, Floppy, Floptical, Ricoh, SyQuest, SparQ, SyJet, Orb, Zip, Jaz… some were legends of their day, some fooled only a few, and some still survive. n the days when a 100MB internal hard-drive was something to whistle at, removable 44MB SyQuest cartridges (the first “classic” removable disk) offered us the chance to transport files without having to lug our IIci over to the repro bureau. It was that, or format hundreds of floppies a week. Now you can buy 9GB DVD-RAM disks for under £40, and tiny 20GB FireWire hard drives for as little as £199. At Macworld, we stopped using Jaz disks for sending files to our repro house when the cost of blank CDs dropped below 50p. Up next
So, with cheapo blank CDs and giant DVDs, what’s the future for Iomega’s Zip and Jaz? While assuring us that these two formats have massive installed bases, Iomega has just released a totally new removable format, with obligatory funny name and weird-shaped disk. The Peerless drive incorporates IBM’s rugged Travelstar hard-disk technology. By separating the electronics from the mechanism, Iomega has ensured that the hard-disk’s electronics don’t have to be built into every disk – which should save money and weight. The £230 base station that the disks slot into is connected to the Mac or Windows PC via SCSI, USB or FireWire. USB is available now, but FireWire bases should be shipping by August. Iomega expects SCSI bases to ship in September, with USB 2.0 by the end of the year. A Mac OS X software patch to the IomegaWare drivers is expected in September. Disks – about the size of a Palm PDA – are not tied to any one interface, and can therefore be swapped between USB, FireWire and other interfaces. 10GB disks cost £135, and 20GB are priced at £170 each. The disk is fully sealed, eliminating the risk of dust contamination. This isn’t an alternative to Zip, which maxes out at 250MB. But Peerless offers up to ten times the disk-size of Jaz – so if you regularly have to resort to two or more Jaz disks per transport, switching to the new format could be a wise move. 20GB of Jaz disks costs £600, for crying out loud. But, as with all new removable formats, you have to make sure that the person you’re sending the disks to also has the base station. And it will take a while for Peerless to be as ubiquitous as Jaz – now, like SyQuest and Zip before it, a bureau standard. Another barrier in Peerless’ way is the price. £199 for 20GB is certainly not expensive, but remember that you must buy at least one base station as well. One base station bundled with a 20GB disk costs £340. If you’re using Peerless to transport data between home and the office, for example, your minimum outlay (two bases and one disk) is £570. With FireWire hard drives – such as Mac & More’s FireLight, which is also based on the Travelstar – costing £199 for 20GB, Peerless just doesn’t compete. Unless Iomega drops the price by some margin, Peerless can’t compete against the likes of the FireLight, which requires only that the sender and receiver have a FireWire connection and cable (£8). Peerless could be an option for those Macintosh users who don’t have a FireWire connection, but the USB model is too slow for words. (OK, I’m exaggerating. The words are: it took 25 minutes to transfer 1GB of data from my hard drive to the Peerless disk via USB.) Iomega could supply us with only USB bases for testing, but claims that the FireWire model allows data-transfer rates of up to 15MB per second. USB-only people should buy a FireWire card if they can install one in their Mac, or stick to using CDs – which have about the same maximum speed (4x) as Peerless USB – if their folder sizes don’t often go above 2GB. If you handle 5-10GB files often, get a FireWire connection before you get Peerless. As discussed above, FireWire users should stick with cheaper hard drives until Iomega drops the price of the disks. Separating the electronics from the drive mechanism is meant to mean lower costs per gigabyte, but there’s presently no sign of any savings with Peerless. Peerless could have a place where several different interfaces co-exist. Transferring very large chunks of data between SCSI, USB-only, FireWire and, later, USB 2.0 systems can be a real headache if you’re not on a network. As the disks fit in any Peerless base, there’s no trouble transferring data from your system via FireWire and passing the disk to someone who’s got only SCSI. Iomega also has plans to get Peerless into in-car entertainment systems for music and back-of-the-seat movies. You could fit about 350 albums on one 20GB disk, which should give most people enough choice for even a trip on the M25. The company is also talking to Satellite TV set-top box manufacturers.

OUR VERDICT

At today’s pricing, Peerless provides a solution for multi-connection data transfers only. The USB model is too slow, and people with FireWire can save having to buy the £230 base station by purchasing today’s slim, inexpensive FireWire hard drives instead. We’ll speed-test the Peerless FireWire when we get one, but the real stumbling block is price per gigabyte – and Iomega needs to slash its prices to ribbons before Peerless can truly live up to its name.

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