Jaz drive offers speed and capacity at a price

Personal Computers

July 15, 1996|By Stephen Manes JTC

NOW YOU CAN keep the entire valuable contents of your one-gigabyte hard drive close to your heart, right in your shirt pocket.

On the heels of its popular little Zip drive, the Iomega Corp. has introduced the Jaz drive -- significantly faster, more capacious and more expensive, although the company recently cut the price $100.

Why would you want all that Jaz capacity? For one thing, to be able to restore a gigabyte of data when your hard disk files for unemployment. For another, to move information around flexibly. you work on graphics or multimedia, you may regularly produce files that clutter your hard drives but exceed even the Zip's 100-megabyte capacity.

The outboard Jaz I tried comes in an attractive dark green case compatible with Iomega's other storage devices. It now costs about $500; an inboard model is available for about $400. The Jaz must be connected to a so-called SCSI interface, something built into every Macintosh but rare on PCs. Iomega's revised Jaz Jet costs about $100, a very attractive price for a Fast SCSI-II interface card that runs from one of the P.C.I. slots found in most Pentium-powered PCs and, unlike most P.C.I. cards, can also run in Power Macs with P.C.I. buses.

Installing SCSI devices on PCs has typically involved pain, frustration and curses. On my machine, P.C.I. and Windows 95 make installing the Jaz Jet card reasonably simple. Programs on a Jaz tools disk and a standard floppy make the drive easy to install, too. Suddenly you can use proprietary removable hard-drive cartridges that cost about $100 and hold a gigabyte of data in a space not much bigger than 3 1/2 -inch floppies stacked together.

On my Pentium 90 PC, tests revealed that Jaz in its fastest mode was about 88 percent as fast as my one-gigabyte hard drive.

Using Windows 95's facilities or Iomega's software, it took about 20 minutes to copy 179 megabytes of data from the hard drive to the Jaz. Windows 95 lets the copying proceed in the background while you work on something else.

Compared with standard nonremovable one-gigabyte hard drives that are faster and cost about $200, savings do not enter the picture until you have used five cartridges. But the cartridges are cheaper per megabyte than most of their removable competitors, and removability and expandability are benefits not be taken lightly. The outboard Jaz can even be used with notebook computers that have SCSI interfaces.

There are problems.

Iomega estimates the disks' shelf life as 10 years, which may be insufficient for archival storage. The drive I tested intermittently refused to be turned on; the culprit appeared to be the power connector or switch. The Jet card offers many puzzling adjustable parameters. The built-in configuration program tells users to read the manual, but its entire advice on the subject is "change the settings of the options listed on the Adapter Configuration menu as needed." The package for the new Jet calls it "the only SCSI P.C.I. card guaranteed to support Jaz tools software," which seems like puffery; the software will work with other makers' SCSI cards.

The manuals for the Jaz are annoyingly incomplete. It may be possible to boot a Windows machine from the Jaz drive, but there is not even a whisper about how to do it. There is no mention of partitioning disks into virtual drives for greater efficiency by using the DOS FDISK program, but files that took up 219 megabytes on my carefully partitioned hard drive occupied 394 megabytes on the unpartitioned Jaz. And Iomega's software is rudimentary at best. The "copy machine" is inflexible, backup tools with the ability to restore a system in a snap are missing (though promised before winter), and the formatting utility can wipe out the data on virtual drives and the drives themselves without warning.

The race among big, fast removable magnetic drives has just begun. Syquest Technology Inc.'s Syjet, a similar but incompatible drive with about 30 percent greater capacity, will not be ready before fall.

But for now, the Jaz may give many users the most bang for their bucks. The day your hard disk dies, you will thank your lucky stars you have its twin tucked away in your shirt or your drawer.

Pub Date: 7/15/96

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