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Upgrading Your Upgrades, Part 2 Is it Time for a New Removable-Media Drive?

Upgrading Your Upgrades, Part 2 Is it Time for a New Removable-Media Drive?

Since the mid-1990's, the venerable 1.44MB 3.5-inch floppy disk has had a lot of company in the removable-media business. New drives and faster interface types have poured out of Silicon Valley and other locations from Utah to Japan. Along the way, some drives and interface types won, and others lost. Maybe it's time for you to buy a successor to your "bigger than a floppy" drive or tape backup.

Can't Find the Media? It's Time to Replace These Drives

Are you having trouble finding media for your drive? That's one of the surest signs that it's time to change to a different removable-media drive. Whether the drive uses proprietary media made only by the drive company or a more widely-available media type, media scarcity is like the canary in the mineshaft; when it drops dead, run! And, if your removable-media drive manufacturer is no longer around, or is clinging to life while supplies last, it's also time to look for alternatives.

The Avatar Shark is one recent example of a near-orphan, with only one company, Weymouth Technologies (http://www.weymouthtech.com) supplying media and replacement drives. While Iomega, maker of a long line of Bernoulli drives, is still around, Iomega washed its hands of the product line some time ago; limited support is available from Comet Enterprises (http://www.gocomet.com). SyQuest products are the most famous of the near-orphans; you can still buy some recent drives and media for many models from SyQuest successor SYQT (http://www.syqt.com), but how long the supply will last is anybody's guess. Rivals to the LS-120 SuperDisk drive which can also read and write to standard floppies are also out of the game, such as the IBM/Sony HiFD drive and the Caleb UHD144/it drive.

Tape drives aren't immune, either. Media for many of the proprietary extensions of the QIC-80 and Travan technologies such as Sony's QIC-Wide series and Iomega Ditto are also getting harder to find at your friendly computer and office-supply store. Remember, a drive isn't any good without media.

This Operating System Has Never Heard of Your Drive

The second reason to consider removable-media drive replacement is if your current or upcoming operating system doesn't support the drive. Unlike traditional drive types such as floppy and IDE hard drives which are supported by the system BIOS, removable-media drives live and die by operating system support or, in the case of tape drives, backup software support. If you can't download updated drivers for the latest operating systems such as Windows Me or Windows 2000, there's no chance your drive will work with the upcoming Windows XP (based on Windows 2000) due out this fall.

You Need The Right Connections to Succeed

The last reason to consider a removable-drive replacement is to consider how your current drive connects to your system. There's a good reason that parallel-port versions of drives like the Iomega Zip and the LS-120 SuperDisk are going for fire-sale prices: the parallel port is beginning to fade away. So-called "legacy-free" systems no longer have parallel ports, and this trend is expected to continue. The parallel port's more versatile replacement is the USB port. Drives that use the USB port provide equal or much greater levels of performance, especially with the new USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed USB) ports and devices. Also, USB peripherals can be moved from machine to machine without rebooting, and work with the latest Windows versions available now and in the future. Some of the newest systems even support USB drives as bootable devices.

What Are Your Options?

If you decide to keep an orphan in operation for as long as you can, you'd better stock up on media while you can and download the latest drivers. Just remember that when the supply of media dries up or you decide to upgrade to a newer version of Windows that can't support your drive, your drive will be toast.

If your parallel-port drive is available in USB, SCSI, IEEE-1394, or IDE, consider switching to a newer interface now. Unlike parallel, the other interface types are likely to be around for some time to come and all but USB (excepting USB 2.0) offer faster performance as well. And, you won't need to worry about transferring data to different media because the drive mechanism is the same; only the interface is different.

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