Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 125 / JANUARY 1991 / PAGE A13

Hard drivin' your Amiga. (Amiga Resource) (column)
by John Foust

This month's "Spotlight" is dedicated to floppy disk users. Floppy-based Amigaphiles have no less enthusiasm than hard disk users, but they might as well be using completely different computers.

Hopefully, if you've yet to purchase a hard disk, this column will convince you to make the leap. An Amiga with a hard disk becomes a radically different machine. With floppies, you tend to avoid tasks that take minutes of disk gronking and swapping. On a hard disk, all tasks take only seconds.

A hard disk is like a big, fast floppy disk. Like a floppy, it stores programs and data. Unlike a floppy, it gives fast access to that information. Ads for hard disks can be confusing. They quote milliseconds and megabytes, but I've never seen one that said "Buy one and save time." That's the most important reason to buy a hard disk.

Here's a simple comparison. Starting DeluxePaint from floppies takes almost two minutes. Loading it from a hard disk takes between five and ten seconds. Once inside DeluxePaint, bring up the font requester by clicking the right button with the pointer over the text tool icon. Searching a disk for available fonts takes only a few seconds on a hard disk but might take nearly a minute on a floppy, especially if you're using a full custom font disk.

Many floppy-based Amiga users resort to rebooting on a program's own Workbench disk, the disk that came straight out of the product's box. They've correctly discovered that some applications don't work unless you reboot using that program's disk. Rebooting on the program's own Workbench disk solves the problem with wasted time and effort.

With a hard disk, there's no need to reboot between applications. It's much easier to take advantage of the Amiga's multitasking when you don't need to reboot. The hard disk becomes a universal Workbench boot disk that's compatible with every one of your programs. It holds all the files that each program needs, and there's no need to swap floppies.

Running a software package that comes with three or four disks of programs, data, and tutorials can be a hassle. To store a file on one of your own disks, you need to remove one of the program's disks, and it always seems that it wants that disk back immediately. With a hard disk, all of the program's disks can be stored on the hard drive, freeing your floppies for loading and saving your own data. You won't see Please insert volume XYZ in any drive again.

Before shopping for a hard disk, you should know how to decipher hard disk advertisements. The smallest hard drives sold today hold 20 megabytes, or about 25 floppies of information. Buying a larger disk means a small incremental cost, so spending an extra $100 today might get an extra 10 or 20 megabytes. Most drives can be reinstalled in a new system if you trade up to an Amiga 2000 or 3000, so think of it as an investment. Unless you've got an especially demanding program in mind, a 30- or 40-megabyte drive will serve you well.

Hard drivers themselves are rated in milliseconds. A typical low-priced drive takes 65 milliseconds to seek out information on the disk. Some higher-priced drives perform the same seek in 18 milliseconds. If you can afford a faster drive, it's worth it, but a slow drive is still better than a floppy.

How do you copy programs to a hard drive? Most hard disks come with scripts that copy Workbench to the drive. Copying the Workbench and Extras disks to a hard disk consumes less than three megabytes, leaving plenty of room for other applications. Most newer applications come with scripts for hard disk installation. Remember, if you're consolidating programs from bootable Workbench disks, you might only need to copy 200K or 300K of files from the floppy to the hard drive because you only need one copy of Workbench on the hard drive.

If you bought an auto-booting hard disk, all you do is turn on your Amiga; seconds later, the Workbench screen appears. If the disk isn't auto-booting, you'll insert a minimal Workbench boot floppy, and then the Workbench will appear with a new icon for the hard disk. Within this disk drawer, you can place more drawers and the icons for each of the applications you use most often. Chances are that you'll have plenty of extra space to store more pictures, texts, and sounds than ever. Of course, you're free to start programs from a floppy as you did before.

There are other hidden costs to operating a hard disk drive. Unless your hard drive already includes one, you'll need to purchase a backup program, which preserves all the data on your hard disk by copying it to floppies. Think of it as an insurance policy. If something goes wrong with the drive, you won't lose any data or programs. If it has taken many hours to arrange the applications, drawers, and icons on your hard disk, you don't want to lose that work, either. After the drive has been repaired or reformatted, you can restore it to its original state. It's good to keep an extra set of backups in a safe place away from the computer. You'll need to reserve a stack of disks for these backups.

Thanks go out to Harold Maybeck, who helped to describe what it's like to live without a hard disk.