Removin? on up


Every year, files get bigger. In the old days, a 24-bit colour image could swamp a standard 40MB drive. Nowadays, machines ship with 20GB drives ? and are swamped instead by massive digital-video files. Whatever your set-up, it?s likely that its storage capacity is out-stripped by the need to save large files. The answer is usually some kind of archive or back-up system ? something that relies on a removable storage media. Removable storage usually involves a disc ? either magnetic or optical ? that sits in a cartridge. You can use these cartridges to store files, or as a medium to transfer large files. There are more than a dozen formats to choose from, and each format can come with a selection of connectivity options. This makes it difficult for a novice ? or sometimes even old hands ? to choose the most sensible solution. This month, we look at the range of drives available, and test their suitability for the job. Removable-storage formats come and go, and it?s easy to get stuck in a technological dead-end. Deleted formats include SyQuest 44, 88, and 200MB, SyJet, EZFlyer, Floptical, Bernoulli, and, if you go back far enough, Winchester drives. The jury is still out on floppies, but I say kill ?em. It?s almost impossible to predict which formats will survive ? new formats may never take-off and old ones may just run out of steam. For real longevity, compatibility is the key. If lots of your friends and colleagues use a particular type of removable drive, it?s probably worth investing in ? unless, of course, they?re propping-up obsolete formats. Different uses require different capabilities ? so, if you need to transfer pictures from a digital camera, a 5GB optical drive isn?t the right tool. Equally, backing-up a network won?t work if you use floppies. Here are a few scenarios that you may come across, and some options for handling them. The home user
You have an iMac full of the kids? homework, your domestic accounts and your family-tree project. There?s no floppy drive, so there?s no way to make these precious files safe from the disaster of, say, a system meltdown. First of all, if you have Mac OS 9 you can use iTools ? it?s incompatible with earlier versions of the Mac OS. Part of the iTools package ? a free service from Apple ? is iDisk (see page 92). For a more solid storage solution than iDisk, a USB or FireWire solution is needed. Iomega offers Jaz, Zip, and Clik solutions in 2GB, 250MB and 40MB options respectively. The Clik drive is the most recent addition to the line-up, but it isn?t your average removable drive. It consists of a tiny silver cartridge that contains a tiny disc. This disc is so small, that it can be used inside Clik-equipped digital cameras ? rather than using solid-state memory, such as SmartMedia or Compact Flash. And Clik discs are relatively cheap at around £7. More useful for backing-up and file transfers is the Zip 250, or, better still, Jaz formats. At around £70 for a 2GB disc, a Jaz drive isn?t a cheap way to store data ? but it does have the advantage of large capacity and good compatibility. Because it?s one of the leading formats, you?ll find many professional users that you are likely to share data with will use a Jaz drive. The Zip drive is even more popular, though there are more of the 100MB drives around than the newer, more versatile, 250MB version. A cheaper way to store data is to use a CD-RW ? a machine that can write to blank CDs or re-recordable CD-RW media. It does have a number of limitations ? the disc can?t be used as a hard drive, as can normal removable media. Instead, you must burn CDs, which is more complicated than just drag-&-dropping files onto an icon. However, Macs have CD, or CD-supporting DVD drives, so compatibility will be 100 per cent. You can also burn CDs for use on Windows PCs. Trawling the SoHo market
SoHo users will probably have a G3 or G4 Mac, either in a home office, or a small studio with a couple of other Macs. Files need to be transported to and from clients and repro houses. Compatibility is the key here, so the more obscure formats are out of the running. Zip and Jaz drives are popular ? both with agencies and repro houses ? and are a sensible choice. On the other hand, magnetic media is less stable than its optical counterpart, so MO (magneto optical) drives are also popular. There are two MO formats ? 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch ? both of which come in a variety of capacities. Initially, the 3.5-inch MO media could hold 128MB of data, but over the years, this has doubled at regular intervals. Now, you can squeeze 1.3GB on a 3.5-inch MO disc, and retain compatibility with most previous capacities. The 3.5-inch discs come in 230MB, 640MB and 1.3GB options. The larger 5.25-inch discs are available in capacities of 2.6GB and 5.2GB, and are ideal for archiving. One issue with using removable storage for transferring data is the cost of the media. If files are constantly being shuttled from one company to another, discs get ?lost? or damaged. This isn?t so bad with the smaller-capacity cartridges, but, at around £70 for a Jaz disc, this can be costly. Using a CD recorder cuts costs, because blank discs now cost less than floppies used to ? so clients can keep them at little cost to you. Because they?re unshielded, CDs are prone to wear and tear. If using them for long-term archiving, it?s worth paying a little extra to get higher-quality scratch-resistant discs. The best way to build long-lasting archives is to use MO discs. They aren?t the cheapest, but if you want to be able to access files ten years from now, MO offers the best chance of them standing the test of time. For the semi-pro, archiving for long-term storage should be done with an optical format. This includes DVD-RAM, which is cost-effective. For sharing files, simply check what formats the people you are sharing with support. Corporate solutions In larger offices, data-integrity is essential, and archiving needs to be reliable. Magnetic media, such as Jaz and Zip, are great for moving data, but lack the long-term integrity offered by optical formats. Optical formats can last as long as 100 years, so are ideal for important data. Backing-up data is important for all businesses, but is something that is often neglected. In business, you can?t afford to leave backing-up to chance. One piece of back-up software has dominated the Mac market for the last ten years: Retrospect from Dantz (, Computers Unlimited, 020 8200 8282). It can handle every aspect of backing-up, and also allows just about any media to store data. Many larger networks run with an NT server, but Retrospect also supports NT and older Windows software. This means that, if a network runs a mixed environment, the back-up can be on a server ? whether it?s a Mac or PC. This is the only solution for backing-up PCs to a Mac server. Tapes are also an option for large companies looking to back-up entire systems as well as files. Tape capacity now tops-out at around 50GB ? the only draw-back being that, unlike the other media, tape back-up isn?t simply a case of drag-&-dropping to a desktop icon: restoring data from a tape can be a hugely time-consuming and complicated matter. As well as Retrospect there is Iomega?s bundled QuikSync, which is back-up software designed to work with Iomega drives only. It?s perfectly capable of personal back-ups, but lacks the power of Retrospect server back-up.
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