Low End Mac's Online Tech Journal

Peerless Value?

Dan Knight - 2001.04.19

Way back in the early 90s, the 44 MB Syquest cartridge was the industry standard for removable storage. Despite valiant efforts by many to make 3.5" magneto-optical (MO) disks the next standard and Syquest's own push for 88 MB cartridges, the inexpensive Iomega Zip drive became the standard within months of its introduction.

Jumping from 44 MB to 100 MB wasn't a huge step. In fact, the MO drives offered 128 or 230 MB of storage. But Iomega had a $200 drive with $20 cartridges. That sold a lot of people on Zips.

But 100 MB soon became low capacity. Iomega and Syquest duked it out at the gigabyte level with the 1 GB Jaz vs. the 1.5 GB SyJet. Then Syquest died, the Jaz went to 2 GB, and still the price of drive and cartridge kept it from become a widely adopted standard.

Today the most common recordable media is CD-R, a painfully slow and inefficient standard that dominates because everyone has a CD-ROM player, you can burn music CDs on it, and CD-R blanks are cheap.

Today even Iomega makes a CD-R burner, as well as a 250 MB version of the Zip drive.

But that's all sub-gigabyte capacity. In an era when 10 GB is considered a small hard drive, there's a demand for something larger.

High Capacity Solutions

Jaz

The 2 GB external Jaz drive sells for $320. Cartridges (2 GB) are $120. To back up a fairly full 20 GB hard drive, you'd need to spend about $1,500. Ouch.

MO

Fujitsu and Sony have been pushing MO well beyond 230 MB. Today you can buy MO drives with 640 MB and 1.3 GB capacity, and a 2.3 GB standard has already been adopted. The DynaMO 1300 sells for $345, and 1.3 GB cartridges cost $30 - far cheaper than Jaz. Backing up a 20 GB drive would require at most 8 cartridges, for a total cost of $585. That's nearly $1,000 less than using Jaz.

Speed used to be a huge issue with MO drives, but the Fujitsu drives I've seen demonstrated at Macworld Expos in July and January were very impressive.

DVD-RAM

For a while, Apple offered DVD-RAM drives in the Power Mac G4. I have two words for them: very slow. These drives offered 2.6 GB of storage on each side of a 5.25" disk cartridge. A double-sided DVD-RAM could store 5.2 GB, had to be flipped to use the other side, cost about $35 last time I checked, and could take an hour or two to write each side. I don't consider that viable, although media cost was impressively low.

Hard Drives

With huge, fast Ultra66 drives available for $200 or so, one great backup solution is a second hard drive, either inside your computer or in an external SCSI or FireWire case. You can't beat it for speed, and there's little in the world of computing more convenient than plug-and-play FireWire drives. You can buy a 40 GB FireWire drive for as little as $230, making it the least expensive removable backup solution.

Peerless

But Iomega has a different idea. Their new Peerless drive ($250 in either USB or FireWire versions) works with 10 GB and 20 GB cartridges, priced at $160 and $200, respectively. For $450 you can back up a full 20 GB hard drive to a single Peerless cartridge. Very nice.

The Peerless specs are also very impressive: 15 MB/sec. speed, high reliability, instant crash recovery, and, of course, huge capacity.

The Bottom Line

Gigabyte-plus media is a growing market thanks to the zillions of MP3s out there, not to mention the huge files needed for digital video editing. Iomega wants you to use Peerless disks to record your favorite TV shows, archive all your MP3 files, and edit digital video.

I think it's going to be a very tough sell when an entire 40 GB FireWire drive sells for just $30 more than a 20 GB Peerless cartridge. Granted, that's only a 5400 RPM drive and faster ones cost more, but from here Peerless looks like a dead-end technology unless Iomega can cut media costs by half.

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