CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Bigger hard disks demand heftier backup solutions

by Cathi Schuler

Big is beautiful...especially when it comes to disk capacities. Today's hard disk drives have shrunk to a fraction of their predecessor's physical size but the amount of data they can hold has increased in quantum proportions. Your hard disk drive is the internal storage facility that houses all your programs and data.

In the olden days, a 40 megabyte hard disk with text files might last forever without running out of room. One character or letter comprises just one byte, but a small Windows icon might require 1,000 bytes. Today, a 540MB hard drive is considered standard, but even this is puny for a full installation of Windows 95 and Microsoft Office, for example.

All this bigness is wonderful until that fateful day when your monitor blinks: "Unable to locate drive C", or "C:\ Invalid Drive Specification". Weak knees and sweaty palms prevail as you realize there is no backup for this monster hard drive that's forever swallowed all your hard work and painstaking efforts.

Never forget the First Commandment of Computing: Thou shalt always backup! But with these massive hard disks, who has the time or inclination to feed 300 or more 1.4MB diskettes into the floppy disk drive? Enter the tape backup!

This technology has been around for long time, but has primarily been used by the business community for large systems with critical needs for data preservation, such a banks and other financial institutions. Now that personal computers for home and small business are sporting such large hard disks, tape backup is a sensible choice for backing up your precious data.

A tape drive is a device that holds a continuous tape cartridge and is used for hard disk backups. Tape backups function very much like audiotapes. The contents of your hard disk are recorded onto a magnetic tape, enclosed in a cassette container, referred to as QIC (Quarter-Inch Cassette). The obvious advantage of a tape backup over floppy diskettes is capacity. Today, a single tape cassette can hold from 250MB to 1.4GB of information depending on the particular tape drive.

Tape drives start around $100 and can be installed internally or attached externally to your system. The internal variety is generally faster, but requires that you have an open "bay" to accommodate the new drive. The internal drive attaches to the floppy disk controller.

External tape drives, though slower, are easy to install as they simply plug into your printer port, usually LPT1. Don't worry about your printer...there is connection to re-attach your printer cable once the tape drive is installed. Cassette tapes are often included with the tape drive and cost between $15-$30 depending on the capacities.

Your tape drive will come with backup software that, once installed, will support a variety of backup options. Make sure the tape software includes a scheduler. This way, you can set your backups to occur at specified times and intervals. (Note: Win95 includes a quick and easy backup routine that automatically recognizes your tape drive...took 6 minutes to backup 150MB of teaching files.) Reliable brand names include Colorado, Conner, and Iomega.

But before you rush out to buy a tape drive system, be aware that there's a new kid on the block that's threatening to take a bite out of the tape drive market share: the zip drive. Nicknamed the "next generation floppy", zip drives are about the size of a paperback book and use 100+MB removable disks, only slightly larger than the present 3.25" diskettes.

Zip drives, developed by Iomega, are fast, portable and most importantly allow random access...meaning that you can actually run programs and load files directly from the zip drive. With a tape system, files must be restored to your hard disk before they can be accessed. Zip drives are easily attached to your system via the parallel port or a SCSI connection. Zip drives are priced at $195 and up, and the cartridges start at $20. Zip is a brand name belonging to Iomega. Syquest also manufacturers a similar type drive.

Whether your choice is tape drive, zip drive, or traditional floppy backups depends on your needs and pocketbook. Just don't forget the First Commandment of Computing.

Feedback? E-Mail cschuler@ceeprompt.com

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