Apex 4.6G magneto-optical drive is pricey but worth it

Removable media is H-O-T.

 Consider the storage benefits gained from Travan tape drives and Iomega and SyQuest
cartridge drives, and look at the digital versatile disk, or DVD, which is on the horizon.


 To achieve these advances, storage companies such as Pinnacle Micro Inc. are bending
or outright breaking standards. They initially take a proprietary path, but the computer
industry has a history of taking a proprietary method that succeeds and endorsing it as a
standard.

 Pinnacle Micro has just released a magneto-optical unit that leapfrogs its
removable-media competition. The Apex 4.6G MO drive writes and reads the same 2.6G media
as other optical drives. But it also supports 4.G disks, leaving it unmatched in
performance and capacity.

 MO drives have been around for years at 680M capacity. Only in the past few years
have optics, media and mechanics worked together to increase capacity.

 An MO drive has an actuator that roams over the spinning disk, focusing a light beam
that burns in data at 150 degrees Celsius. Both sides of the disk can be recorded and
read, though you must physically reinsert the disk.

 I tested an external Apex drive on a pair of computers, one running Microsoft
Windows 95 and the other Microsoft Windows NT. The drive is also available for Apple
Macintosh and Unix computers.

 My test unit came with an Adaptec SCSI card and software for MS-DOS and Windows 3.x.
For Windows 95 and NT, I didn't need the software. Installation was fairly painless, given
the right hardware interrupts and direct memory access channels for the adapter card.

 With a Fast SCSI card, it should be even easier. The adapter card is Plug and
Play-compatible and installs quickly under Win95. Under NT, you must find the appropriate
driver through the SCSI Devices icon in the Control Panel.

 Once the adapter and drive are installed, you can format the media. Under Win95, you
format only with the File Allocation Table system. But for NT, you have the choice of FAT
or the NT File System. You'll get better performance with NTFS for a disk this capacious.

 Pinnacle Micro's specifications claim maximum throughput of 6 megabytes/sec, faster
than most magnetic hard drives currently installed on desktop PCs. During the benchmark
tests, I found Apex performance variable for both operating systems, though always on a
par with benchmark tests done earlier on each system's hard drive.

 Many users of removable-media drives rely on them as portable, bootable hard drives.
But in the past, slowness made such use a problem.

 The Apex performed comparably with a magnetic hard drive overall, but for the most
common disk action-small-file access-it worked more slowly.

 You could use the Apex as an extension to your PC hard drive, as a backup device or
as a way to exchange large files as you would with a SyQuest or Iomega Jaz disk.
Considering that one Apex disk can hold more than four Jaz disks, the price per megabyte
is quite attractive.

 Even so, at $1,895 retail, Apex is not cheap. The price tag does include one MO
disk. For large archival files, image files and disk backups, there just aren't any other
devices with this much capacity and speed.

 The drive also supports write-once media, and Pinnacle Micro sells optical library
systems holding 75G up to 5 terabytes. With that much scalability from the desktop to the
enterprise level, Apex stands a chance of pushing MO from the fringes into the mainstream.


 The disk looks like a CD-ROM in a permanent caddy, with staggered lines running
across the surface. Pinnacle claims a 4.6G disk will last up to 30 years without data
corruption or magnetic instability problems. Plus, physical write-protection supports data
sharing without the worry of accidental or intentional modification.


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