It is hard to find one of those 5 1/4-inch floppies that came with the first personal computers, and 3 1/2-inch floppies are becoming passe. Two new data storage disks create interesting possibilities for computer users while dredging out some old anxieties.
Iomega's Clik! drive and miniature 40 megabyte disks give laptop, handheld PC and digital camera users a way to transfer and store files all in a portable drive the size of a TV remote control. A new drive configuration Iomega announced last week will be small enough to disappear inside a laptop's PCMCIA slot.Castlewood System's 2.2 gigabyte Orb drive, in internal and external varieties, adds a competitively priced storage option in the high-capacity disk arena.
The Deseret News tested both drives and was quickly faced with the same angst potential buyers will have, wondering if the devices will be broadly accepted or whether users will be confined to using the disks only in their own drive.
Such consternation is reminiscent of the days when consumers had to decide whether to buy beta-format video or the ultimately surviving VHS format. And don't forget the overlap between vinyl records, 8-tracks and audio cassettes, which inevitably left music buyers with an antiquated collection no matter which format they chose, after the compact disc came along.
The lifesaver in today's digital world is that consumers are growing accustomed to both the short life span of digital hardware and the portability of digital computer files -- whether music, text, photographs or something else.
Iomega's Clik! line competes with a number of products designed to give small devices more storage space. Flash memory has caught on with digital cameras and handheld PCs, for example, but Clik! provides an economical option for extra space.
Clik! disks are small enough to hide under a business card and provide 40 megabytes of storage for $9.99 each, when purchased in a 10-pack. Flash memory, on the other hand, runs anywhere from $4.50-$11 per megabyte, depending on the configuration purchased. IBM is rolling out a miniature 340 megabyte hard drive, called the Microdrive, which is even smaller than the Clik! drive. But each Microdrive sells for about $300, making it much more expensive to carry spares.
External Clik! drives are available in several configurations. The $249.99 digital camera bundle includes a FlashCompact and SmartMedia reader that snaps onto the Clik! drive and comes with photo printer software. Using the reader is an all-or-nothing proposition: Files cannot be moved onto the Clik! disk individually, so the disk must have enough room for a wholesale transfer of all of the files on the SmartMedia or compact flash card. Iomega also recommends saving photo files in JPG format; included PhotoPrinter software does not read TIF or GIF formats.
Iomega sells a $199.95 configuration for mobile computer users that has a PC Card interface. Iomega's $299.95 Plus Bundle contains the pieces in both of the other options.
The external drive connects to a PC through a parallel port, using a pass-through connector so the printer can stay connected. Ironically, the parallel port cannot be shared with a Zip or other Iomega drive. A docking station allows reasonably convenient file swapping between the Clik! drive and a PC.
The Clik! drive's portability also makes it somewhat cumbersome. No fewer than nine pieces and cables come out of the Plus Bundle box, leaving the user to decide how many extra gadgets to carry when packing a digital camera or computing device.
Iomega's biggest breakthrough with Clik! was announced last week with its plans for a PCMCIA drive that slips inside the Type II PC slot found on most laptop computers. And since many laptops have two Type II PC slots, the drive can remain on-board without having to be swapped with other common PCMCIA devices like modems, LAN cards and flash memory cards.
Iomega is not yet promoting the PCMCIA drive for use in Windows CE-based handheld PCs because models now on the market may not have enough battery power to support the drive. On the other hand, Iomega won't rule out the possibility the PCMCIA Clik! drive could be used in a Windows CE device -- especially if the handheld is running with the AC power adapter attached.
Castlewood's 2.2 gigabyte ORB drive features disks that are roughly the same size as the 2 gigabyte disks in the mammoth competitor it is challenging: Iomega's Jaz line.
The EIDE internal ORB drive tested well as long as the computer's boot drive was also EIDE. Documentation doesn't tell you the internal EIDE drive will not work in a CPU that has a SCSI card -- something Castlewood acknowledges it is trying to correct.
Castlewood is currently shipping an external parallel ORB drive but also has ultra SCSI internal and external drives planned.
There are bigger drives. Much bigger. A company called OnStream has drives with removable disks in the 30 gigabyte and 50 gigabyte range. But the competition today is most active in the market where Castlewood is trying for a toehold.
Castlewood's approach in the challenge with Iomega is most visible in its pricing. Iomega's external-only 2 gigabyte Jaz drive sells for $349.95 with disks selling for $124.95 each or $299.95 for a three-pack. Castlewood is debuting an external parallel drive and an internal EIDE drive for $199.95, including one disk. Additional disks are priced at $29.95 apiece.