SyDOS 44i. (removable cartridge drive) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Ralph Roberts
There is one and only one immutable law of physics in the universe, one and only one constant true from the depths of the blackest black hole to the wispiest extremes of the most nebulous nebula--or from San Jose to Atlanta: Your hard disk is running out of space.
SyDOS offers several solutions, all removable cartridge drives that work like fixed hard disks yet offer unlimited capacity. Just as with a cassette tape recorder, you have one host unit, but as many cartridges as you want.
I tried the SyDOS 44i--a unit using 44MB cartridges (the i is for internal). An 88MB drive is also available. I used the 44i on a 40-MHz 386, using the removable drive both as a local drive and as a network directory over a Novell NetWare Lite network.
The unit works the same as fixed hard drives. No special techniques are required for access.
Access times are not blindingly fast, but they're quite acceptable. An average seek time of 20 ms is claimed, and I found the claim to be true. I ran a number of tests copying large, multimegabyte files from and to the 44i, both locally and over the network. A removable drive won't match a big SCSI or ESDI drive in speed, but it will effectively give you a lot of megabytes for less money.
The removable cartridges contain the hard disk platter, which is actually visible through the dark plastic case. The system is just like a regular hard drive in all aspects except that an unlimited number of cartridges can be employed.
SyDOS removable drives are SCSI devices, but an interface board is included that coexists with other types of disk controllers. I installed the SyDOS removable drive without conflict in a machine with an IDE controller. If a SCSI controller is already present, the SyDOS drive uses it instead of the supplied board. Installation is straightforward--merely a matter of plugging in the board, mounting the drive in an empty bay, and attaching two cables. Running the SyDOS installation software takes only a couple of additional minutes. For those who don't care for even this minimal amount of hardware installation, SyDOS also has units that are completely external and use your computer's parallel port rather than an internal card slot.
The SyDOS and other removable drives offer several advantages. They are better than fixed hard drives in that there is no limit to the amount of room for storing data--simply add additional cartridges as needed. One disadvantage, obviously, is that only 44MB (or whatever the size of the cartridge) is available at any one time. Still, removable drives eliminate or at least put off the need for costly fixed hard disk upgrades. If security considerations are important, sensitive data can be stored on a removable cartridge and the cartridge kept in a safe unless it's actually in use.
Removable cartridges are much better than tape for backup because you can randomly access them (just like a regular hard disk) instead of waiting perhaps hours to find and restore a particular file from tape. (I had to do that yesterday; it's a pain.)
Optical drives offer a lot more storage space (more than 600MB for some) but are three times slower and cost several times more than a SyDOS or other removable cartridge system.
I like the SyDOS 44i. It fills a need many computer owners have. In fact, I like it so well that I'm considering buying one for myself.