Tangerine Fusion

Low-Cost USB Removables Compared

- 1999.04.13

So you have an iMac or B&W G3, and you totally love it - but you need to buy a low-cost removable-media drive. What should you get? With this criteria, you have three options: a Zip drive, a SuperDisk (a.k.a. LS-120) drive, or a standard floppy drive.

Zip drives for USB Macs , such as the iMac and the B&W G3, are made by Iomega <www.iomega.com>, who invented the Zip ($129), and Microtech <www.microtech-pc.com> (their drive is called the Mii SlimZip) ($199). Zip technology is the fastest in the group, 3-15 times as fast as a SuperDisk or a floppy.

A Zip disk is similar in design to a floppy except the read/write heads slide in through the front of the disk and the disks are a lot thicker. It stores 92 MB when formatted.

Zip Drives are best for storing larger files, backing up, and sending large files to service bureaus. The Iomega drive is much cheaper, but the Microtech drive is a lot smaller and (in my humble opinion) looks cooler.

USB SuperDisk drives are made by Imation <www.imation.com> ($149) and Winstation <www.winstation.com> ($154). SuperDisks use "Floptical" technology, which is almost exactly identical to a floppy except that the disks have optical servo tracks. These allow the read/write heads to be placed much more precisely and boosts formatted capacity to 118 MB. Since the drive uses a standard floppy mechanism, it can also read and write PC and Mac floppy disks.*

SuperDisk drives are best for the same uses as floppy drives (below), as well as storing larger files and backing up. The Imation drive is five bucks cheaper, but the Winstation drive can be oriented in the space-saving vertical position.

Regular USB floppy disk drives are made by VST <www.vsttech.com>, Mactell <www.mactell.com>, Microtech <www.microtech-pc.com>, and Newer Technologies <www.newertech.com>. Each retails for $99. These have the same capabilities as the internal Apple SuperDrives (not to be confused with SuperDisk Drives).* As you probably already know, the formatted capacity of high-density floppy disks is 1.44 MB.

These drives are best for using your old floppy disks and for slowly transferring small files to and from other computers that also have floppy drives. They are less expensive than a SuperDisk drive. All of them perform equally.

Another option if you need more storage space or to back-up files is FreeDrive <www.freedrive.com>, which gives you 20 MB of Internet storage space for free. The speed of the "disk" depends on your Internet connection speed.

I hope I have helped you decide what removable-media drive is best for your needs (or that you don't need a removable-media drive).

Update: Since publishing this article we have received reports that the newer, USB-native SuperDisk does work with Mac 800KB floppies, making it the only OS X option.

* Note: none of these drives support the Macintosh 800KB floppy format. Also, compared with the Zip drive, they are considerably slower.

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