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Two New Laptop Backup Solutions: IBM Shockproofs Portable HDDs * Smart & Friendly Shrinks CD-RW.

The guy from IBM extended his arm to pass me one of the new Travelstar E drives. But he misjudged the distance and, when he let go of it, it tumbled to the floor! He smiled as he picked it up, though. He'd flubbed deliberately to show me how well this new line of 2.5-inch external HDDs survives real-world shocks.

It will have to do that, too, to survive in the marketplace for laptop/notebook computer backup solutions. IBM's Travelstar E line stakes out the high end with a rugged HDD, while the first small-box CD-RW drives are coming to market from the ever-innovative Smart & Friendly.

Targeted at the notebook/laptop computer market, the multiplatter Travelstar E's enclosure keeps it safe from harm. IBM is specifying survivability from a 6,000 G-force shock for 0.3ms when it's not running. When it is running, IBM asserts, it will resist a 300G bump for 2ms. To do that requires not only an ordinary shock-resistant mount, but also padded "wings" of inch-thick foam all around the drive inside the enclosure.

So the retail product isn't tiny. At about 4 x 6 inches, standing an inch tall, and weighing a little over ten ounces, it's roughly the same the size and heft as a portable CD-ROM drive; and it too connects to laptops through a Type II PC Card dongle.

But the Travelstar E drives are multi-gigabyte HDDs. The 8GB Travelstar 8E is expected to retail for $449; its 10MB cousin, Travelstar 10E, will probably start at $549, but director of marketing David Urlu told me he hopes it will get down under $500 by year's end. The retail bundles include automated backup software called Kharma from CDS and Audio Manager Lite from Rio Port--sound recording software, which Urlu characterized as "a 50-song MP3 ripper, with 65 free songs." (Well, that's certainly a new market for Big Blue!)

"We picked the PCMCIA [PC Card] interface because it's the fastest external connection in the laptop arena," he said, citing industry specs. Sustained parallel-port throughput is in the 0.5-1MB/sec range; for USB, it's 1-1.5MB/sec, but PCMCIA connections can sustain 1.5-2MB/sec.

Speed wasn't the only goal: "It's very difficult to upgrade the internal HDD in a notebook or laptop," said Urlu. "Analysts at IDC estimate that 7.6 million new notebook computers will be sold in 1999, which is certainly an attractive target for us. But they also said that 11-18 percent of all notebooks sustains damage and that 55 percent of all the damaged notebooks involve damage to the hard-drive inside. So we looked at the Travelstar E as a backup solution. With an external HDD that has 8-10GB on board, you can at least count on saving all your files."

Laptop backup is a crowded market, of course. Besides low-end tape systems such as Travan and the new portable CD-RW units, there are removable magnetic cartridge systems, like Iomega's 100- and 250MB Zip drives, and its 1- and 2GB Jaz. But the Travelstar E drives offer vastly larger capacities than any disk-based alternative, and (again) an extraordinary degree of ruggedness. The portable Jaz and tape drives also require external power supplies, whereas the Travelstar Es are powered by the laptop itself through the dongle.

If there's a caveat for prospective users, though, it's that most desktop computers don't have PC Card slots, which will complicate efforts to share or transfer files between portable and office computers. Of course, the Travelstar E line can't solve every potential problem; and Urlu conceded that easy file-exchange wasn't at the top of the developers' list of goals. "Mainly, we wanted something that would add high-capacity but fully mobile storage to notebook computers, in a package that would survive repeated drops off a table and onto the ground," he explained. "As for file-transfers, the Travelstar E drives will be available with third-party parallel-port cabling," said Urlu, "but we won't be branding or selling them that way ourselves; we'll let our distributors configure them."

With the Travelstar Es, IBM further leverages the success of its 2.5-inch HDD lines, which have won the company 40 percent of the mobile-computer drive market, according to Urlu. "What makes this new line different, besides being external," he said, "is that it's truly plug-and-play. There's no manual. Everything you need to run the drive is printed right on the label."


Arguably, the best medium for file-transfers between small and large computers today is the CD. At 650MB, the disks are big enough for most ordinary files and cheap enough to give away. So Smart & Friendly, long an innovator in optical storage, has begun shipping a portable CD-RW drive.

It's called CD Pocket RW; it measures 5 x 6.5 x 1 inches and weighs approximately one pound-including its rechargeable internal batteries. The drive is specified to have a 4x (600KB/sec) write and rewrite speed, a 20x (3MB/sec) read speed, and a maximum l20msec access time.

The company focuses on retail-channels, so it tends to announce a street price rather a list price when it launches products. President and CEO Perry. Solomon estimates that, by year's end, the CD Pocket RW will be selling for $599. Like other high-end laptop storage peripherals, the CD Pocket RW has a Type II PC Card interface.

The CD Pocket RW (officially model SAF768) comes with Adaptec UDF packet-writing software-a standard edition of its Easy CD Creator-along with PowerQuest's backup and drive-image applications, and Sonic Foundry's software for making audio CDs. Solomon noted that it's capable of writing as many as six CDs on a single battery charge.

"The CD Pocket RW expands the capabilities of today's 'road warriors'--mobile users and business travelers--by providing them with a high-performance, removable [media] storage solution that's also compact and easy-to-use," said Solomon. "They can have virtually unlimited storage capacity, a low-cost means of immediately exchanging information, and a fast, reliable way of protecting their data."
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Title Annotation:Hardware Review
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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