A Better Mousetrap

Years ago, "they" invented the 3.5-inch floppy disk drive, and there things sat for a while. Drive capacity doubled from 720k per disk to 1.44 MB, and the world was happy. Now, many documents are too large to fit on one disk. 

Finally, companies are starting to improve on the old standby. Newer models hold 70, 80, or even 1,500 times more data than a 1.44 MB floppy. 

The first improvement was Iomega's Zip drive. Destined to become a very popular alternative to floppies, Zip disks could hold 100 MB of data when first released. Iomega has recently released a 250 MB version. The down side of Zip drives-although minor-is that the technology is proprietary, developed only by Iomega. Zip drives also appear as a removable hard drive to Windows.

Around the time Iomega released the Zip drive, Imation (formerly the data division of 3M) spearheaded development of a new standard, called LS-120, or more popularly, SuperDisk. A SuperDisk floppy can hold 120 MB of data, slightly larger than a Zip drive. Any manufacturer can develop drives that adhere to the LS-120 standard. The main advantage of SuperDisk over Zip is that the former has the ability to read floppy disks. For this reason, LS-120 drives have become popular with notebook manufacturers and users, as well ask desktop PC owners, since the drive would actually replace a 3.5-inch floppy drive.

Newer standards are still arriving. A company called Castlewood Systems recently released their Orb drive, which can hold 2.2 GB on a single disk. While not compatible with regular floppies, the disks are effectively a great deal cheaper than competitors, at around $30 per disk. Combine that with speed approaching a hard drive, and they may have a winner.

November 1999

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