8.2 Cartridge-Based Removable Hard Disk Drives
Cartridge-based removable hard disk drives such as the Iomega Jaz Drive, the Iomega Peerless, and the Castlewood ORB Drive are an odd product category. They provide the capacity and performance of an older-generation hard disk, but in removable form. The availability of cheap, huge, fast hard disks and such technologies as CD writers and DVD writers has made cartridge-based removable hard drives a niche product. Cartridge-based drives still find limited use for such tasks as transferring large image files and other pre-press materials to service bureaus, booting a computer to multiple operating systems, and making instantly accessible (and bootable) backups. Although cartridge-based drives remain useful for such specialized purposes, most people are better served by standard hard drives in either internal or frame/carrier-based removable form and by such writable technologies as CD-RW and tape.
Numerous companies, such as SyQuest, have entered and then departed this market. That makes the ongoing availability of media a concern, because it is always proprietary. The three remaining mainstream products in this niche are the Iomega Jaz, the Iomega Peerless, and the Castlewood ORB, which are described in the following sections.
8.2.1 Iomega Jaz Drive
The recently discontinued Iomega Jaz Drive is a cartridge-based removable hard disk drive. When it was introduced several years ago, the Jaz Drive was quickly adopted by pre-press graphics houses, service bureaus, and other organizations that needed to transfer large amounts of data conveniently. Iomega originally produced a 1 GB Jaz Drive, which was discontinued, and until recently produced 2 GB Jaz Drives in internal and external models, which remain on the market. The Jaz Drive is available only in SCSI, although Iomega produced USB and FireWire adapters that allow the external SCSI model to be used on desktop and notebook systems that do not have SCSI adapters installed.
Jaz Drive cartridges are usable only in Jaz Drives. Jaz 1 GB Drives accept only 1 GB cartridges. Jaz 2 GB Drives accept either 1 GB or 2 GB cartridges. The very high cost of Jaz cartridges $90 or so for a 2 GB disk is the major reason that Jaz Drives are seldom used nowadays except for transferring graphics files to and from pre-press graphics houses, which are the sole remaining Jaz strongholds. Even there, however, alternative technologies like the Castlewood ORB Drive, CD and DVD recorders, and DDS tape are beginning to make inroads. We do not recommend purchasing a Jaz Drive unless you absolutely require Jaz compatibility for such purposes.
8.2.2 Iomega Peerless
The Iomega Peerless is a cartridge-based removable hard disk drive system. Iomega positions the Peerless as the follow-on to the Jaz Drive, although the Jaz Drive and disks will likely remain available for some time to come. The Peerless system comprises three pieces: the base station, which is the docking station; an interface module that connects to the base station; and the removable disk itself, which is available in 10 GB and 20 GB versions. You can purchase these components as a package, or any one component separately.
The base station accepts any Peerless interface module. Interface modules are currently available for USB 1.1, which provides unacceptably slow performance, and FireWire. Iomega plans to introduce USB 2.0 and SCSI interface modules, although those were not available as of June 2002. In theory, this modular approach has a couple of advantages, including "future-proofing" the drive and reducing cartridge cost by locating the drive electronics in the base station rather than duplicating them with each disk.
In reality, we think the design of the Peerless system is ill-considered, poorly implemented, and much too expensive. Having three separate components makes the Peerless awkward to move from system to system, and the need to duplicate both the base station and interface module makes the Peerless system very expensive if you want to equip two PCs such that only the disk need be moved between them. Products like the LaCie 10 GB PocketDrive combine the base station and both USB and FireWire interfaces into one component, and sell for less than the Peerless system. Also, Peerless disks are quite expensive compared to standard hard drives.
We suspect that Iomega designed the Peerless system in the hope that it would replace the aging Jaz Drive as a de facto standard. As with most recent Iomega products, though, we think the Peerless system is a case of too little, too late, and much too expensive. The Peerless is not backward compatible with the Jaz Drive, which eliminates as a factor the Jaz installed base in niche markets such as pre-press graphics. Lacking any compatibility advantages, the Peerless will have to win or lose on its own merits. We think the Peerless will lose, and suggest you avoid it.
8.2.3 Castlewood ORB Drive
Like the Iomega products, the Castlewood ORB Drive, shown in Figure 8-1, is a cartridge-based removable hard disk drive, which is available in 2.2 GB and 5.7 GB variants. Although both versions are currently sold, the ORB 5.7 will eventually replace the ORB 2.2. Unlike the Iomega Peerless, which is incompatible with the Iomega Jaz, the ORB 5.7 can read (although not write) ORB 2.2 cartridges.
Figure 8-1. An external UltraSCSI Castlewood ORB 2.2 drive and cartridge
The ORB 2.2 is superior to the Jaz Drive in most important respects drive cost, media cost, disk capacity, performance, and choice of interfaces. In particular, the low cost of ORB disks $25 or so for a 2.2 GB ORB disk versus $90 or so for a 2 GB Jaz disk has allowed ORB Drive market share to skyrocket at the expense of the Jaz Drive. The ORB disk is about the size of a thick 3.5" floppy disk. It appears similar to the Jaz disk, but can be used only in ORB drives. Similarly, the ORB 5.7 is superior to the Peerless in most respects other than capacity. The ORB 5.7 costs less, uses less expensive media (both per cartridge and per GB), and uses a standard IDE interface rather than the slow USB 1.1 or the uncommon FireWire interface.
In our experience and that of many of our readers, the ORB 2.2 seems more reliable than the Jaz, both in terms of drive reliability and media reliability, and less likely to cause system conflicts. Early production runs of ORB 2.2 drives and cartridges had some problems that gave the ORB Drive a bit of a bad reputation. Castlewood addressed those problems, and current production runs of both drives and cartridges seem to be as reliable as it's possible for a cartridge-based removable hard disk drive to be, which is to say reasonably good but not up to the standard of traditional hard disk drives. We do not yet have sufficient experience with the Peerless or the ORB 5.7 to judge reliability.
Although, like all cartridge-based removable hard disk drives, the Castlewood ORB 2.2 Drive is a niche product, it is well suited to some applications. The primary strength of the ORB is the low cost of both the drive itself and the disks it uses. The ORB Drive costs about the same as a CD writer and little more than a Zip250 Drive. At $22 or so, an ORB disk costs only a few dollars more than a Zip250 disk, and provides nearly ten times the storage space and significantly faster performance.
Measured against a hard drive, the ORB 2.2 Drive comes up short in performance, capacity, and cost per megabyte stored. Measured against the Zip250 Drive, though, the ORB suddenly starts to look a lot better. We consider the ORB 2.2 Drive a good fit for the following applications:
Although the ORB 5.7 Drive has higher capacity and performance than the ORB 2.2, it is less flexible, both because it cannot write disks that can be read by older ORB 2.2 Drives and because it is available only in an internal IDE version. Also, as of June 2002, ORB 5.7 Drives cost about twice what ORB 2.2 Drives do. The only real application we can see for the ORB 5.7 Drive is a situation where an IDE internal drive is acceptable and 2.2 GB disks are too small.
The only real downside of ORB Drives is that many pre-press graphics houses do not yet support them, instead preferring the Iomega Jaz. If you're in that situation, you'll need at least one Jaz Drive, but otherwise we recommend the ORB Drive.
8.2.4 Comparing Iomega and Castlewood Drives
Table 8-1 compares the important characteristics of the Jaz and ORB Drives. The prices listed are in US$ as of June 2002.
The Castlewood ORB 2.2 Drive has the advantages of higher performance, availability for more interfaces (although USB and FireWire adapters are available for the Jaz), much lower drive cost, and media cost less than a third that of the Jaz Drive. Interestingly, since the preceding edition Castlewood has reduced the warranty on media from lifetime to one year. The Iomega Jaz Drive has the advantages of marginally faster average read access time, a better bit error rate, and the fact that it is more commonly used by service bureaus and other organizations to whom you may need to transfer data. The ORB 5.7 has the additional advantages of larger capacity than the ORB 2.2 Drive and somewhat higher performance.
8.2.5 Dealing with Orphaned Drives
Even the best-selling cartridge-based removable hard drives have always been at best a niche item. Some manufacturers have used the King Gillette model giving away the razor and selling the blades and so have sold their drives for less than what it costs to make them, expecting to make large profits by selling high-margin proprietary disks. Unfortunately, it often hasn't worked out that way, as many manufacturers apparently greatly overestimated the number of cartridges that people would buy.
The predictable result has been bankrupt manufacturers and orphaned drives, such as the 230 MB EzFlyer, the 1 GB SparQ, and the 1.5 GB SyJet (all from SyQuest), and the 250 MB Avatar Shark. Although support, maintenance services, and media are still available for some orphaned drives, either from the original manufacturer or from a third party, these drives and disks are on their way out, and it's foolish to depend on them, let alone throw good money after bad. If you have an orphaned drive, we recommend taking the following steps.
Also recognize that today's hot new technology may be tomorrow's orphaned product. For example, we were greatly enamored of the OnStream series of inexpensive tape drives, which combined high capacity, excellent performance, and reasonably high quality. But in spring 2001 OnStream closed its doors, orphaning its drives and stranding its users. Fortunately, as we write this in June 2002, it appears that OnStream's parent company has re-entered the market with compatible new drives and tapes, so all may not be lost. However, there's a lesson to be learned here. Be very careful about adopting single-source technology. At the very least, you want media to be available from multiple sources, and it's better if the drives are second-sourced as well. Although your CD writer or DDS tape drive may be orphaned, it will almost certainly remain usable although not necessarily repairable and you will never have a problem buying media for it. The same may not be true of proprietary products.