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Storage Notes

I’m always interested in newer and bigger forms of mass storage, and a number of interesting announcements have come out in the last few months. Probably the storage device that will gain acceptance the fastest is the 88 MB SyQuest drive, which will first appear from PLI, MicroNet, and Mass Microsystems. Prices will be high at first, a bit under $2000 for the drive and about $200 for the cartridge, both of which are more than twice as much as you might pay for a 44 MB SyQuest drive from a reputable vendor. The drives won’t be any faster than their predecessors, but SyQuest says that they are more reliable. SyQuest will continue making the 44 MB version indefinitely, and the 88 MB drives will read but not write existing 44 MB cartridges.

The 88 MB SyQuest drives may hurt the market for another storage technology that has been around for a while. Pinnacle Micro announced a 130 MB magneto-optical drive quite some time ago, and it should start shipping in volume sometime this summer. The drives are similar to the 650 MB erasable opticals, but the 130 MB drive uses a 3.5" optical disk. The smaller disk allows the heads to move a shorter distance, decreasing the access times to about 35 milliseconds or about the speed of a slow hard disk. Part of the problem faced by these drive is the price, which runs about $3000, though I’d expect to see that drop once the drives are in full production. The SyQuest drives came down in price once they became popular, so if the erasable opticals offer enough speed and reliability, they could do quite well.

In May, a company called DJK plans to ship a 20 MB floptical (it uses high density magnetic media with servo tracks optically encoded onto the disk surface) that will use 3.5" floptical disks that look like standard floppies. The external SCSI device will be relatively slow with an 85 millisecond access time, and it has a mean time between failures of 15,000 hours. The developer of the technology, Insite Peripherals, claims it achieved its goal of being able to read and write standard Mac and DOS floppies (though not 800K Mac disks). The main questions still remaining are the price and the media reliability. There is an excellent explanation of how these beasts work in the Oct-90 issue of BYTE.

CD-ROM and WORM drives are becoming more and more similar all the time. A group with the vaguely odd name of the Frankfurt Group (JVC, Sony, and Philips are the main members) released a spec for a write-once CD-ROM drive that can read all current CD-ROMs, although current CD-ROM drives can’t read all the writable CDs. There are a couple of possible reasons for this limitation. First, there might be a different method of laying down the data between which the user would have to choose (concentric circles instead of a single spiral for instance). Second, there could be other variables, such as media tolerances that some standard CD drives could read but others couldn’t. No telling at the moment. JVC has a drive which will probably be priced around $2500 for end users, but no word on what each disk would cost.

As CD-ROMs get closer to WORMs, WORMs get closer to erasable optical drives. Reflection Systems has a drive that uses a phase change technology to flip bits optically, much as magnetic media does with magnetic bits. The phase change method is quite a bit faster (about 90 milliseconds) than standard magneto-optical technology, which has to erase the existing data, write the new data, and verify it, taking three passes to the single pass necessary with phase change. The phase change technology is fast enough that the DVI (Digital Video Interactive) people are interested because it combines massive rewritable removable storage with decent speed for full motion video. The only drawback to the phase change method is that it may cause the disks to wear out faster, though only time will tell on that account. The drives will be marketed by Panasonic (aka Matsushita, the original maker), Corel Systems, Avid and Montage for about $4000 and the disks will run about $250 each. That sounds pricey, but each disk will hold 1 GB of data (500 MB per side and yes, you do have to flip the disk manually), so it’s extremely cost effective after just a couple of disks. For an explanation of how phase change works, check out the article on it in the Nov-90 BYTE.

Back in the mundane world of floppies, it’s looking like the next size for the standard floppy will be 2.8 MB. NeXT standardized on the Sony 2.8 MB drive when it added a floppy to the NeXTstation and NeXTcube, and I’ve heard rumors about Apple putting a 2.8 MB drive into future Macs. I gather that people at Apple aren’t that thrilled with the 2.8 MB technology because switching standard disk formats tends to confuse and irritate users for a year or two after the switch. In addition, 2.8 MB just isn’t that much more than 1.4 MB these days. Floppies are primarily used for backup and transfer, neither of which require somewhat larger floppies. Now 20 MB floppies – that’s a different story.

Corel — 613/728-8200
DJK Development — 313/254-2632
Mass Microsystems — 800/522-7979 — 408/522-1200
MicroNet Technology, Inc. — 714/837-6033
Panasonic — 800/742-8086 — 201/348-7000
Pinnacle Micro — 800/553-7070 — 714/727-3300
PLI — 800/288-8754 — 415/657-2211
Reflection — 800/445-9400 — 408/432-0943

Information from:
Pinnacle Micro propaganda
Joe from Reflection Systems.

Related articles:
PC WEEK — 25-Mar-91, Vol. 8, #12, pg. 101
InfoWorld — 25-Mar-91, Vol. 13, #12, pg. 8
MacWEEK — 26-Mar-91, Vol. 5, #12, pg. 29
MacWEEK — 19-Feb-91, Vol. 5, #7, pg. 1, 8
BYTE — Oct-90, pg. 301
BYTE — Nov-90, pg. 289

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