Shark swims circles around floppies

Large enough to hold many average text documents, the floppy's storage space hasn't
changed, but demands for storage have ballooned.


Many portable removable media options available today provide more storage but at the
price of easy use.


For instance, they generally require drives that are not integrated into the notebook
and need independent power supplies. It becomes a balancing act between how much extra
storage is necessary and how much a user wants to carry.


Avatar Peripherals Inc. has released a product that is so easy to carry and use it
makes an Iomega Corp. Zip drive look bulky. Called the Shark 250 mobile hard drive, it
takes a different approach than its competitors.


With the diskettes coming in at 212 inches, and the drive able to fit in a shirt
pocket, one of the first things you'll notice is the Shark's size. The second thing is how
odd the diskette looks. Why? The Shark uses hard disk, not floppy disk, technology.


Encased within the lilliputian diskette is a 250M hard disk platter. Called a
HARDiskette, it offers greater durability and access speeds than conventional floppy
media.


Although the Avatar Shark comes in an internal PC model as well, the GCN Lab tested the
external parallel port model. It can be used on a desktop portable. Another bonus feature
is the Shark's ability to draw power from the host computer through the keyboard port.


This means that besides the drive and the diskettes, there are only two cables to
carry-no AC adapter and no extra weight.


We tested the Shark on a Dell Latitude XPi CD portable computer with a 166-MHz Pentium
MMX processor and a 2G hard drive. We used the file access portion of the GCNdex32™
benchmark to test access speeds.


As a real-world test, we copied files from the Shark to the notebook's hard drive to
test its speed. Avatar is marketing the drive as an extension to the hard disk so we also
copied from one portion of the HARDiskette to another, mimicking what a running program
might do. In the Box Score for the product, we also list the access speeds on the
notebook's hard drive to provide a secondary baseline.


Avatar's press material hyped that the Shark can run full-motion video from a file
residing on the HARDiskette. To GCN's knowledge, no other product in this category can do
this. Initially skeptical, the lab staff was won over when the marketing spiel proved
true. For most users, however, this isn't a major selling point. So what is?


We loaded different files and programs on the Shark and got sound response times
running programs, opening files and saving files. Though not as fast as the test
notebook's hard drive, the Shark was faster than anything else GCN has tested in this
class.


One problem the lab noted was that after booting up or after a few minutes, the cursor
would hang as the computer accessed the Shark drive. This could be a minor or major
inconvenience, depending on your use.


Attaching the drive was simple. You plug in the parallel cable and the special power
cable to the keyboard/mouse port, and then load the drivers. Although you can use the
external Shark on a desktop or a portable PC, the keyboard cables were not long enough for
easy use on a desktop machine. It does, however, come with a PS/2-style cable and the
older AT-style keyboard cable.


One last note: With heavy use, the Shark drains a considerable amount of power from the
battery. If you have a notebook that has poor battery performance now, you might need to
factor that into your use equation.


inside gcn

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