ProSwap lets users change notebook drives on the fly

Pros and cons:
+ No rebooting to swap devices in notebook bay
– Doesn’t work with all Dell notebooks, possibly others

Real-life requirements:
Win9x, 4M of RAM, 500K free on hard drive, 31/2 inch floppy drive

Tioman ProSwap from Agate Technologies Inc. may turn out to be one of those obscure
products that sweeps the computing world.

Try it if you always have to reboot your notebook computer to switch from CD-ROM to
floppy drive, or vice versa.

Many notebooks have what’s called dual-spindle support, meaning simultaneous
access to two spinning devices—usually the internal hard drive and a CD-ROM or floppy
drive. To switch the device in the modular bay, you have to keep rebooting.

Tioman ProSwap eliminates the hassle. A couple of clicks lets you switch back and forth
between most devices that fit in a notebook bay. I successfully tried ProSwap with floppy,
CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives as well as a spare battery. The documentation said ProSwap works
with SuperDisk LS-120 drives from Imation Enterprises Corp. of Oakdale, Minn., and Zip
drives from Iomega Corp. of Roy, Utah.

Notebook users who run Microsoft Windows NT are out of luck, though. ProSwap works only
under Windows 95 and Windows 98, and not on every notebook even then. I found it crashed
the operating system and prevented boot-up of some current portables from Dell Computer
Corp. I did successfully use ProSwap on several units from IBM Corp., Compaq Computer
Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Agate also reported testing ProSwap on notebooks from Acer America Corp. of San Jose,
Calif.; AST Research Inc. of Irvine, Calif.; Fujitsu PC Corp. of Milpitas, Calif.; Gateway
Inc.; Hewlett-Packard Co.; Micron Electronics Inc. of Nampa, Idaho; NEC Computer Systems
Division of Boxborough, Mass.; Samsung Electronics America Inc. of Ridgefield Park, N.J.;
and Toshiba America Information Systems Inc.

If you install ProSwap on a notebook that cannot support it, remove the utility in
Windows 9x Safe Mode. Press F8 during boot-up and select Safe Mode.

For the many systems for which ProSwap does work, the user can hot-swap devices without
turning off power.

On Hewlett-Packard and Compaq notebooks, however, I found it necessary to warm-swap,
putting the units into suspend mode during the switch.

Why hasn’t Microsoft Corp. built such a swap ability into its operating systems,
all of which are being used on notebooks? According to notebook makers, Windows 9x has
only one hot-swap software hook, used for attaching a notebook to a port replicator or
docking station.

But most notebook makers today have added a third spindle or a special cable for
connectivity to a third device.

Some IBM systems do their own version of device swapping. No one else has come up with
comprehensive swapping software or hardware.

All too often, notebook users need to access both floppy and CD-ROM drives when a PC
Card is plugged in. The drivers for the PC Card are on a floppy, whereas Windows may
require protocol and other files located on the operating system CD.

Too bad Tioman ProSwap doesn’t work on a more comprehensive list of notebooks. For
many road warriors, this little utility could be a godsend.  


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