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 (LS-120/LS-240) 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 prepress 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 discs 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 in which high-capacity FDDs make sense, so we'll spend this short chapter 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 its 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 SuperDisk Drives with CD-R/RW shown for comparison. Transfer rates and access times are the best available, and may be inferior for some interfaces and drive models. Prices are approximate in US$ and are current as of July 2003.

Table 7-1. Key characteristics of high-capacity FDDs, with CD-R/RW shown for comparison
 

Zip100

Zip250

Zip750

LS-120

LS-240

CD-R/RW

Native capacity (MB)

100

250

750

120

243

700

IDE/SCSI/Parallel/USB

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Rotation rate (RPM)

2,945

2,945

3,676

720

1,500

variable

Average read access (ms)

39

39

37

112

65

65

Sustained transfer (MB/s)

1.4

2.4

7.3

0.2

0.4

7.2

Typical drive cost

$60

$75

$100

$100

$180

$75

Media cost (per cartridge)

~ $7

~ $9

~ $12

~ $8

~ $10

~ $0.20

Media cost (per gigabyte)

~ $70

~ $36

~ $16

~ $65

~ $40

~ $0.29

Bootable

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Read / Write 1.44 MB?

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CD-R/RW is clearly a better choice for most uses, particularly when media cost is an issue. Zip Drives and SuperDisk Drives do have some advantages, however:

  • Zip Drives and LS-120 SuperDisk Drives are a bit more convenient to use than CD writers and slightly faster if you need to write only a few small files. A CD writer is faster if you need to write a large amount of data.

  • SuperDisk Drives can read and write 1.44 MB diskettes, so a machine with a SuperDisk Drive doesn't need a standard 1.44 MB FDD, assuming the system BIOS supports booting from a SuperDisk Drive.

  • LS-240 SuperDisk Drives support FD32MB technology, which allows formatting a standard 1.44 MB diskette as a write-once 32 MB diskette. Although that sounds like an attractive way to recycle old 1.44 MB diskettes, FD32MB diskettes can be read only in LS-240 drives and their reliability is questionable, particularly for long-term storage.

  • Unlike a CD, a Zip disk or SuperDisk disk fits in a shirt pocket and is protected by its case and shutter.



     
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