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Double your disk space - double your fun!

Do you constantly find yourself deleting files on your hard drive just to make room for more important things? Are you contemplating the purchase of a larger hard drive to accommodate those monster programs, but you can't afford it? Well, a less expensive alternative is available which may give your hard drive new life - hard drive data compression. Although similar, this technique should not be confused with popular file compression programs such as PKZIP and PKARC.

There are several companies which have released software which claims to increase the capacity of your hard drive. One of the leaders is Stac Electronics which has released a data compression program called STACKER. I purchased this program instead of dishing out a tidy sum for a new and larger hard drive. Stac offered a 30-day money back guarantee with a full refund if I was in anyway dissatisfied with the product.

Installation was fairly straightforward. The install menu leaves little room for error as it guides you through the various prompts. However, I suggest you read the manual thoroughly, and make back-ups of your important files prior to installation. Some experience with editing the AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files is required after installation, and special instructions for programs such as WINDOWS, AUTOCAD, and other programs are also required.

Installation on my 286 IBM Clone took approximately one to two hours using an incremental install option which allows for installation on a full hard disk (make sure you leave at least 1 Megabyte free). This had me worried at first. I would hate to install it on an XT; a colleague with one had to leave it running overnight. Plan on going out to the movies if you are the impatient type. However, the final results were well worth the wait.

Once installed, STACKER operated invisibly. As you work at your computer, STACKER operates in the background to store and retrieve data from your hard disk or RAM disk. It accomplishes this task through a resident device driver (much like your mouse driver) which intercepts data to and from your hard and/or floppy disk drives and compresses and/or decompresses files on the fly. You may be asking yourself if this slows down the access speed of your hard disk? Good thought; however, this does not seem to be the case, The hard disk seemed to have no noticeable reduction in speed on both my 40-Megabyte MFM Seagate drives. Actually the access time may be enhanced due to the organized (continually de-fragmented nature of the files contained on the STACKER drives. You will never need to use de-fragmenting programs such as NORTON SPEEDISK or PC TOOLS again.

The device driver used in STACKER consumes a meagre 30-k RAM minimum and it can be loaded into the high memory portion of your RAM (for those of you with at least 1 Megabyte of memory). Memory managers can be used to decrease the size of the base RAM the driver consumes, so seriously consider either an upgrade to DOS 5.0 or some type of extended memory support. For those of you with memory caches, STACKER provides its own cache program which will alleviate some memory constraints. Unfortunately, since I did not have a cache, I was unable to test this feature. I suspect that there may be some incompatibility problems with various memory configurations that exist.

After installing STACKER, the results were astounding. The capacity of my hard drive was doubled, from 40 to 80 Megabytes! I also noticed that the data on my drive remained unchanged. File compression ratios as high as 16:1 were achieved, but values of 1.5 to 2.5:1 were more the average. One drawback to STACKER is that previously compressed files, using other file compression programs, do not receive further compression from STACKER. These files must first be decompressed to be compressed by STACKER.

A number of supplementary commands allow users to work with their files. However, you need not abandon the old DOS standard with the exception of those using DOS's FASTOPEN hard drive feature. Some of the more important commands are:

* SATTRIB: Allows the changing of file attributes;

* SCHECK: Verifies the integrity of STACKER volumes through comprehensive display of information;

* SCREARE: Creates a new STACKER volume (only for the brave);

* SDIR: Displays the compression ratio for each file and directory;

* SREMOVE: Removes a STACKER volume (not recommended since all data will be lost on the STACKER volume);

* SSWAP: Allows the swapping of the drive letters by specifying drive name designations.

STACKER claims to be 100% compatible with all your software, and so far as I can tell this is correct. I have not encountered any significant problems on my machine in the six months or so that I have had this software. Others that I have talked to agree on this point. STACKER can certainly be recommended as a viable alternative to purchasing a new and larger hard drive. Stac Electronics has recently released version 2.0, which claims to improve on its predecessor by adding some of the following features: smaller RAM memory requirement (26 k) for resident device driver; improved installation and support for novice users through Command Assistant and Optimizer programs; support for removable media such as Bernoulli disks or removable Syquest cartridges and even floppy disks; a full screen text editor (SEDIT) and other utilities.

Stacker: Stac Electronics, 5993 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad, CA 92008; Tel: 619-431-7474; Fax: 619-431-0880. System requirements are: an IBM compatible system with MS-DOS version 3.0 or DR DOS 5.0 and hard drive with at least 1 megabyte of free storage space and 512 k RAM minimum available during installation.

Software or hardware names mentioned in this review are trademarks of their respective developers/manufacturers.

Philip Taylor is currently an undergraduate co-op student in chemical engineering, University of Waterloo. He is now doing a work term at Gore & Storrie with Henry Miyamoto, MCIC, manager of hazardous waste management. Chemputing is edited by Marvin Silbert, FCIC.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Chemical Institute of Canada
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:hard drive data compression program
Author:Taylor, Philip
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:1001
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