SyQuest Drives: Fast and Cheap Removable Storage

2002 – Many new (and some longtime) Mac users have never heard of SyQuest. If that’s you, you’re in for a shock. There is a very fast, cheap removable storage medium that can store tons of your data.

SyQuest was a company that pioneered speedy removable storage for the Mac. Their drives used a metal, rigid magnetic media, making the drive function like a hard drive – except that the cartridges were enclosed in a plastic shell, either the size of a thick floppy or a CD-ROM in a caddy. Most of the drives were SCSI, but there was one USB drive. Capacities range from 44 MB to a huge 1.5 GB.

external SyQuest drive

SCSI Drives

External SCSI SyQuest drives came from a variety of manufacturers, including Whirlwind, SyQuest, Club Mac, and LaCie. These simply put a SCSI SyQuest drive in an external SCSI enclosure. There were also SyQuest modules for LaCie’s Joule system (if you don’t know what Joule is/was, avoid these).

There are a few main families: the 3.5- and 5.25-inch drives, plus the EZ Flyer and the SyJet.

The 5.25″ Family

syquest-disk

The 5.25″ SyQuest disks hold 44, 88, or 200 MB. These are all 5.25″ drives, so the media is cumbersome, to say the least. The 200 MB drive can read 44 and 88 MB disks, but the media are not backwards compatible; the 200 MB drive cannot write to the older media. These drives are very cheap (I picked up a 200 MB with three cartridges for $25) and reliable. They are also about twice as fast as a Zip drive, and the 200 MB model has about twice the capacity, but I don’t really recommend these drives.

The 3.5″ Family

These are either 105 or 270 MB. They’re 3.5″, so the cartridges are almost a convenient size. They are faster than the 5.25″ drives and much smaller in size. Backwards compatibility is the same as with the 5.25″ drives. (A 270 drive can read a 105 disk, etc.) I recommend both of these, although the 270 MB has a larger capacity for only a small price increase.

EZ Flyer

These are 3.5″ drives, but they are not compatible with the other 3.5″ SyQuests. Ouch. The capacities are either 135 MB or 230 MB, with the usual backwards compatibility. Speed is about the same as the other 3.5″ SyQuests. One problem with these drives is that they require a special external power supply. The other drives have internal power supplies. The 135 MB drive should cost about $20, and that’s what I recommend. If you see a 230 MB drive for cheap, go for it, since it has a larger capacity and a more convenient case.

SyJet

A competitor to the Iomega Jaz drive, it’s faster than almost any removable media and has a 3.5″ disk that holds 1.5 GB. It uses an external power supply a la EZ Flyer. Costs about $70 with a cartridge, which is a great price for this capacity media. I recommend this highly, especially if you can really use the 1.5 GB of storage.

USB

SyQuest made one USB drive, the SparQ. It comes with an external power supply. It has a 3.5″ cartridge that holds 1 GB. I don’t really recommend it, since USB 1.1 is far too slow to take advantage of the drive’s potential.

There was an EIDE SparQ drive, which may be compatible with Macs. There never was a SCSI version.

Long Live SyQuest?

SyQuest is dead, so don’t expect a whole lot of support. Also, these drive will probably not work under OS X. The biggest problem for most people is that the cartridges have to be stored in special, SyQuest-supplied cases to prevent damage. Also, what you gain in speed, you pay for in noise. The 3.5″ and 5.25″ SyQuest drives have fans to keep them cool, and when you insert a cartridge it sounds like a turbofan engine spinning up.

SyQuest drives are great for backing up old Macs and for adding fast removable storage at a very cheap price. What you pay in terms of noise and relative media fragility is offset by the benefits. And you can stick it to Iomega with their slow, expensive Jaz drive; the wimpy, fragile Zip drive; and the “revolutionary” Peerless, which was a FireWire/USB 1.1 hard drive.

I’d say Long Live SyQuest! – but they’re already dead.

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