The Sider; 10Mb of mass storage for Apple II computers at a bargain price. (evaluation) Barry Bayer.
Five years ago I drooled over the new 5Mb Winchester hard disk drives being introduced to the Apple II market. Although I knew how useful a hard disk could be, I also knew that I would never be able to justify the purchase of a $3000 mass storage device for a $2000 computer. I also knew that I would never be able to fill 5Mb of disk space.
How times have changed. Today, a full fledged Apple IIc or IIe costs a little over $1000. And a 10Mb hard disk drive costs only $695. That's right. First Class Peripherals offers the Sider, a hard disk drive with 10Mb partitionable among four operating systems for $695.
Installation of the Sider alongside my IIe was uneventful, and I soon found myself faced with the challenge of allocating the 10Mb to the four operating systems currently in use by Apple and supported by the Sider--DOS 3.3, Pro-DOS, Pascal (1.1 and 1.2), and CP/M. The decision requires some thought, because once partitioned, the entire disk must be reformatted (and all existing files destroyed) if the allocation is changed. Once you have decided on the allocation, the formatting process takes 17 minutes--a long time by IBM PC standards--but remember that you shouldn't have to do it very often.
DOS 3.3 is operational right away, but you must supply and install the appropriate software (and in the case of CP/M, hardware) for the other operating systems. The DOS 3.3 utilities include a revised FID program to aid in hard disk file transfer and a facility that allows you to place altered versions of DOS 3.3, such as DavidDOS and DiversiDOS, on the boot track of the DOS 3.3 partition, so you can boot your favorite flavor of 3.3.
as part of the partitioning process, you decide how much space to allocate to standard 140K DOS volumes and how much to devote to 400K volumes. Your 3.3 space is then divided into as many volumes of the requested types as possible.
Installation of UCSD Apple Pascal, CP/M, and ProDOS is straightforward, although the instructions in the manual, which must be followed exactly, are not as clear and complete as they could be.
Copy Protection Problems
A factor that may detract significantly from the usefulness of the Sider to some users is the inability to boot from a copy protected disk. If you have managed to convert your VisiCalc to a binary file, for example, you will be able, however, to transfer the program to the Sider from either the original disk or a backup copy made with a copy program. Nor will you be able to store data created with such disks on the Sider.
This same problem, of course, exists with all hard disk drives available for the Apple II family and is not peculiar to the Sider. The solution will come, I think, if First Class Peripherals sells as many Siders as I think they will. I am sure that it will not be long before someone develops a pre-boot for the more popular protected programs--just as happened with many 80-column and memory expansion cards.
Programs written under Pascal, ProDOS, and CP/M tend not to be copy protected, and I had no trouble transferring Apple1, Apple2, and Apple3 to my Pascal partition; SuperCalc2, STAT.COM,and PIP.COM to the CP/M file, and appleworks to the ProDOS section.
Pros and Cons
The only complaint I have about the Sider in operation is the very slow (15 to 20 seconds) response it offers to the VOLUME command from the Pascal system Filer; loading, compiling, copying, saving, and just about everything else you might want to do with a hard disk are pleasant and quick.
What may be less pleasant and quick for less experienced users is dealing with a company that sells only by mail order. My dealings with First Class Peripherals were all positive, but I know that business users in particular often expect turnkey operation and fell more comfortable when there is a dealer nearby to provide backup assistance.
And speaking of backup, backup of the Sider is presumably to floppy disks--not a particularly appealing prospect as a regular routine. Although almost everyone, including IBM, seems to have accepted the backup to floppy procedure, I suggest that the cheapest reasonable form of backup for serious users is a second Sider daisychained to the first.
Probably the biggest caveat I would offer to prospective buyers of the Sider is to consider carefully what software you want to run and be aware of the aforementioned problem with copy protection. If you do plan to rely on copy protected software, perhaps it would be best to wait until someone develops a scheme to solve the problem.
Those minor reservations aside, I applaud the low price and great utility of the Sider and look forward to filling my 10Mb in the not-too-near future.
Products: The Sider (computer apparatus)