Stacker does it and you don't even have to open your CPU


March 30, 1992|By PETER H. LEWIS | PETER H. LEWIS,New York Times News Service

The hard disk on my vintage-1987 computer used to be a lot bigger. When it was new, it had an enormous 33 megabytes of open space.

Today the same hard disk is cramped and claustrophobic, with a capacity of a measly 33 megabytes. It's funny how things are almost always larger in memory, except memory itself.

A few million bytes here, a few million bytes there, and pretty soon you're talking about real storage problems. Transferring files to diskettes for storage is one option.

Buying a new, larger-capacity hard disk or removeable cartridge drive is another. But the easiest and most convenient option, and one of the least expensive, is to get Stacker version 2.0.

Stacker 2.0 is a data compression product that in most cases doubles the effective capacity of the hard disk drive. There's no need to fool with controller boards and partitions and transferring data from one drive to another.

Stacker comes in two forms: software only (list price $149) and software coupled with a co-processor card that is installed in a standard expansion slot.

The hardware-software combination costs a little more ($189 to $299, depending on the type of computer) and yields faster performance.

Stacker version 2.0 compressed all my existing files and, true to its claims, more than doubled the amount of available disk space.

The best part is that there has been no significant performance penalty, even with the software-only version; the characters in my word processing program aren't any skinnier, or anything.

The bad news is that just as junk expands to fill any increase in attic space, data seem to proliferate to fill hard disk space. Stacker will not prevent you from running out of space; it will merely delay it.

Stacker is an on-the-fly compression and decompression engine that operates invisibly and automatically. There is a barely perceptible lag each time a file is stored, as Stacker squeezes it into an electronic girdle, and each time it is retrieved, as Stacker inflates it to normal size.

The technique is used by such popular backup programs as Norton and PC Tools. Version 2.0 of the software is faster than earlier versions.

After months of tap-dancing and file-swapping in an effort to exist in the last precious megabytes of open space on my C drive, I suddenly have about 30 megabytes of open space.

The space is doubly sweet because it came so painlessly. There was no need to open the computer case and stare into the dusty green innards.

For those who feel comfortable with a screwdriver, the co-processor card is simple to install. The card includes a special chip that takes over the compression and decompression chores from the main processor.

Stacker 2.0 works with standard floppy disks, regular hard disks and even removable hard cartridge drives and tape drives.

Its greatest benefit may accrue to notebook and laptop computer owners, since the miniature hard disks in these small portables rarely have the same capacity as the ones in desktop systems.

In fact, many computer makers will put a 40-megabyte hard disk in a notebook, include a copy of Stacker and advertise it as an 80-megabyte drive. The practice is misleading, but the drive will indeed hold 80 megabytes of data.

The new version has a "Command Assistant" screen that displays all the Stacker utility commands in a menu, along with explanations and help.

The installation has been automated, too, and we were grateful for such tricks as deinstallation and reinstallation of all memory-resident programs.

It took about 25 minutes to install the Stacker software on our humble system; it may take longer on bigger computers.

Anything that alters the way data are stored on the disk runs the risk of rendering disk maintenance tools inoperable. Stacker claims to work well with Norton Disk Doctor and PC Tools.

Stacker also claims to be 100 percent safe, which is something that none of its competitors can say. It works with DOS 5.0, Windows 3.0 and popular memory managers.

Stacker is made by Stac Electronics of Carlsbad, Calif., telephone (619) 431-7474.

It requires a minimum of 512 kilobytes of system memory for installation. The software and co-processor board combination for PC-XT computers is $189; for 16-bit AT computers, $249; and for 16-bit Micro Channel PS/2 computers, $299. Upgrades from earlier software versions are $49.

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