8.2 Cartridge-Based Removable Hard Disk Drives

Cartridge-based removable hard disk drives were an odd product category. They provided the capacity and performance of an obsolete hard disk, but in removable form. In previous editions, we covered such cartridge-based removable hard drives as the Iomega Jaz, the Iomega Peerless, and the Castlewood ORB, but we (and the market) have now declared them officially dead.

The availability of cheap, huge, fast hard disks and such technologies as CD writers and DVD writers has killed the demand for cartridge-based removable hard drives. Cartridge-based drives still find limited use for such tasks as transferring image files and other prepress material to service bureaus, but even those uses are dwindling fast. Most people are far better served by standard hard drives in internal, external USB 2.0, or frame/carrier-based removable form and by writable technologies such as CD-RW, writable DVD, and tape.

8.2.1 Dealing with Orphaned Cartridge-Based 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:

  • Transfer all data from the orphaned drive to hard disk, CD-RW, writable DVD, tape, or a similar standard technology while you can still do so. Neither your drive nor your disks will last forever. Your data is rotting as you read these words.

  • If you have valuable data on disks you cannot read because your drive has failed, search the Web for data recovery services that can read the type of disk you use. There are many such services, and most of them are reasonably priced. Or at least they're reasonably priced if the drive is the problem and the disks themselves are readable. For disks with read errors, expect to pay a high price to have that data recovered, if indeed it is recoverable. Alternatively, search online auction services to locate a functional drive that will read your disks. If you have many disks to transfer or if you're concerned about security, buying a working used drive is definitely the less expensive way to go.

  • Once you have good copies of all your data (or all that can be recovered), stop using the orphaned drive. Do a full format of all of your disks, and put the drive and disks up for sale on one of the online auction sites. Not only can you recover some of your investment, but you may be doing a favor for someone who's searching desperately for a way to read his own disks. If you're concerned about someone recovering your data from the disks you formatted, use any of the "secure erase" utilities you can find on the Internet to overwrite your data such that it cannot be recovered.

  • If you simply must be able to read orphaned disks of a particular type on an ongoing basis, stock up on spare drives that will read those disks. For example, we know of one service company that told all its clients to buy SyQuest SparQ drives. That company frequently exchanges data with its clients on SyQuest SparQ cartridges, and so has bought several used SparQ drives to guard against drive failure. Recognize, however, that those with whom you are exchanging data are also subject to drive and disk failures. Encourage them to upgrade to something sustainable and standardized, such as CD-RW, writable DVD, or DDS tape (see Section 9.1).