Chapter 7. High-Capacity Floppy Disk Drives

   

Many vendors have tried and failed to establish a standard for a high-capacity FDD. All these so-called superfloppy drives have suffered from some combination of nonstandardization, incompatibility with standard diskettes, lack of boot support, expensive media, small installed base, lack of OEM acceptance, low reliability, and poor performance.

Iomega Zip Drives and, to a lesser extent, Panasonic SuperDisk (Imation LS-120) Drives have sold in moderate numbers, especially in some niche markets. Others, such as the fast, 200 MB Sony HiFD and the Samsung Pro-FD had features that compared favorably to the Zip Drives and SuperDisk Drives, but either never shipped in volume or were not adopted in numbers large enough to reach critical mass. The story of high-capacity FDDs has largely been one of too little, too late, and too expensive.

The ubiquity of inexpensive, fast, reliable CD-RW drives has effectively killed the market for high-capacity FDDs except in specialized niches such as pre-press graphics work, which remains a Zip Drive stronghold. In what may be the final straw, Iomega settled a class action lawsuit in spring 2001 filed on behalf of those who had purchased Zip Drives between 1995 and 2001. In settling that lawsuit, Iomega in effect admitted that Zip Drives and disks were unreliable, which doesn't bode well for the continuing existence of the Zip Drive.

All of that said, there are a (very) few applications where high-capacity FDDs make sense, so we'll spend a few pages talking about them. A high-capacity FDD is a reasonable choice in the following situations:

  • You frequently need to transfer files larger than will fit a standard FDD between systems that are not networked and are not equipped with CD writers. For example, you need to move work files back and forth between home and office, or between a notebook system equipped with an internal high-capacity FDD and a desktop system.

  • You receive files from people who have a high-capacity FDD but not a CD writer. That, of course, is increasingly uncommon, as CD writers have become ubiquitous.

  • You have a "guest computer" for use by visitors who carry their work with them and need access to a computer to make on-the-fly last-minute changes to their work. Using a high-capacity FDD on such a machine minimizes the footprint of multiple casual users and is easier to support than a CD writer.

  • If your corporate mail system is slow or limits the size of file attachments, a high-capacity FDD can be used to "sneakernet" files between departments that do not share servers or mapped drives on the corporate network.

  • Per Iomega's suggested uses for their Zip Drive, you can "Store encoded secret files before you hand them over to Russia." (We are not making this up.)

Table 7-1 lists the key characteristics of Iomega Zip Drives and Panasonic LS-120 SuperDisk Drives with CD-R and CD-RW shown for comparison. (Note that CD-R blanks are not reusable; prices in US$.) Other high-capacity floppy technologies, including HiFD (Sony), LS-240 (Imation/Panasonic), and FD32MB (Panasonic) are moribund, killed by manufacturing problems, high media costs, or simple lack of market demand. Even LS-120 drives and disks are becoming hard to find. Costs are approximate and are current as of June 2002.

Table 7-1. Key characteristics of high-capacity FDDs (versus CD-R and CD-RW)
 

Zip 100

Zip 250

LS-120

CD-R

CD-RW

Native capacity (MB)

100

250

120

~ 650

~ 480 - 650

IDE/SCSI/Parallel/USB

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Rotation rate (RPM)

2,945

2,945

720

variable

variable

Average read access (ms)

39

39

112

125 - 350

125 - 350

Sustained transfer (MB/s)

0.225 - 1.4

0.4 - 2.4

~ 0.2

1.2 - 6.0

0.6 - 1.8

Typical drive cost

$ 75

$ 110

$ 100

$ 150

$ 150

Media cost (per cartridge)

$ 9

$ 12

$ 10

$ 0.50

$ 1.50

Media cost (per gigabyte)

$ 90

$ 48

$ 80

~ $ 0.75

~ $ 2.00

Bootable

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Read / Write 1.44 MB?

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    PC Hardware in a Nutshell
    PC Hardware in a Nutshell, 3rd Edition
    ISBN: 059600513X
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2002
    Pages: 246

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