Test lab. (tape drives)(includes related articles and glossary) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Tom Benford, Mike Hudnall, Art Stapp
Remember when people thought 1.44MB floppy disks would be great for backing up data?
Those days, alas, are gone.
And even if you don't remember, you're sure to recognize that backing up the latest generation of hard drives with floppies, even with high-capacity disks, is a major chore. In addition to changing disks for an inordinate length of time, you're faced with labeling and storing all of those disks. And you have to repeat this chore on a regular basis.
The smallest standard hard drive in our January lineup of 486SX PCs was 80MB, and the rest of the PCs had 120MB or larger drives. The drives in our July lineup of 486DX2/66 PCs will be at least 200MB. Consider backing them up with floppies. Then consider the speed and convenience of backing up your drive with a tape drive-and the good sense it makes. With a tape drive, you can protect your reports, appointment lists, spreadsheets, databases--all of your valuable data--and make the best use of your time.
This month Test Lab focuses on ten tape drives, each capable of backing up 250MB of data on a single cartridge. While 4-mm DAT drives store as much as two gigabytes on a cartridge, they're also much more expensive than the drives tested here (most of them QIC), which are much better suited to backing up a single computer. Eight of these drives are external, and five of them attach to a parallel port. Some of the drives use a proprietary interface, one of the drives is SCSI compliant, and one can attach to a serial port. Most of the drives use compression to fill the cartridge with 250MB of data, one does it without compression, and one stores over 600MB without compression. They range in weight from 1.25 pounds to 9.50 pounds. In short, you have a variety of drives and features from which to choose.
To help you choose the right drive for your particular needs, Test Lab provides in-depth reviews that comment on such matters as the ease of installation and use, the quality of the software and documentation, the level of noise produced, and the kinds of work environments for which a particular drive might prove well suited. In the product boxes accompanying the reviews, you'll find prices not only for the reviewed drives but for options and similarly configured drives from the manufacturers. Keep in mind, however, that the market is changing rapidly, with increasing competition among manufacturers; you should contact the manufacturer or your retailer for the best current street prices before making your purchase.
You'll also find helpful information in the grid of tape drive features--everything from recording formats to capacities, tape speeds, data transfer rates, software information, warranty information, and more. If you aren't up on the latest tape drive terminology, there's a sidebar explaining the various features in the grid.
For the best indication of performance, turn to the benchmark graphs with performance data for a full backup and a full restore. And be sure to read the methodology sidebar, which explains how the testing was set up and carried out.
If you feel you can no longer tie up your computer and spend valuable time backing up your data with floppy disks, and if you're ready for the sense of security and freedom that tape drives offer, read on. This Test Lab has information you can use to understand the technology and make a more informed buying decision.
COLORADO JUMBO 250
The Colorado Jumbo 250 offers easy installation, clear documentation, and an optional compression card that substantially reduces the time required for backups and restores of data.
The Jumbo 250 comes with a 40-page installation manual that's easy to follow and comprehend. A terrific example of lucid documentation, the manual leaves no question unanswered in the user's mind; it goes to great lengths to provide crystal-clear explanations and illustrations that drive the point home. Each step has at least a half-page of instruction or description and a diagram or an illustration, so virtually anyone should be able to perform the installation in half an hour or less.
The Jumbo 250 mounts in a standard 5 1/4-inch half-height drive bay and uses the PC's floppy controller for interfacing. A special "piggybacker" ribbon cable supplied with the drive simply plugs into the existing floppy drive's ribbon cable-a great idea which simplifies the installation considerably and reduces the possibility of connecting the cables incorrectly.
Colorado Memory Systems also offers an optional compression card for the Jumbo 250, a card that doubles the storage capacity of the tape and reduces the time required for backing up and restoring by 40-50 percent. When you use the compression card, the Jumbo 250 connects directly to the compression card for interfacing rather than to the floppy controller. I found the manual for the compression card just as thorough and explicit as the manual for the tape drive itself, making installation of this optional card a simple and straightforward process, too.
Without the card, a backup of just over 241MB takes approximately two hours; with the card, this same backup takes about an hour and ten minutes. Though reasonably fast, the Jumbo 250 is one of the noisier tape backup units reviewed, emitting a loud, high-pitched sound with each motion of the tape; this sound grows quite wearisome after an hour or two. And the Jumbo 250 is noisy whether you use the optional compression card or run it straight from the floppy controller.
The utility software for the drive came supplied only on 5 1/4-inch media, necessitating a copy-over using another PC to put it on a 31/2-inch floppy so it could be installed on the Tandy 433DX used for the reviews and performance tests. Dual-sized media should certainly be included as a standard feature, since so many of today's machines sport only a single 3 1/2-inch drive.
Though DOS based, the software for the Jumbo 250 lets you run from within Windows. A Jumbo 250 icon on your Windows desktop allows quick and convenient launching (you perform the backup from within a DOS window on the desktop).
If you're looking for an internal tape backup that's easy to install and does a good job even if it does generate a few extra decibels in the process, the Colorado Jumbo 250 is worth considering. And if you want to get the job done in express fashion, you might want to purchase the optional compression board as well.
Circle Reader Service Number 371
For coverage of the Trakker 250 drive from Colorado Memory Systems, see the Reviews section.
Looking for a compact backup system that attaches to the parallel port and offers easy installation? Then take a look at the RETRIEVER/250 tape backup system from INTERPRETER.
Installing the drive hardware requires only connecting the drive's cable to the PC's parallel port and connecting the AC power adapter to the drive. I found the software installation equally simple. The install utility even provides a few hardware tests to make sure that the system recognizes the drive and that everything is connected and online. In addition to performing read and write tests, the software automatically analyzes the hardware, suggesting an appropriate driver for the particular tape drive model being used. Once you've completed these tests and everything checks out to the program's satisfaction, the file copying from the installation disk commences.
To avoid some of the problems encountered with other parallel-port tape backups on our Tandy 433DX test system, I attached the RETRIEVER/250'S parallel connector to an auxiliary parallel port installed in the Tandy.
I wish this drive had a power switch, a feature conspicuous by its absence. Since the drive draws its operational power from an AC adapter, you must unplug it from the adapter (or the adapter from the AC outlet) to shut the drive off. While not a major flaw, this omission puzzles me. Why did the manufacturer not include so mundane and utilitarian a feature in an otherwise well-engineered device? If you use a surge-protecting outlet strip to power on your PC and all of its peripherals, then you probably won't notice the lack of a power switch. If you plug the adapter directly into an AC wall outlet, however, you'll soon miss the convenience a power switch would provide for turning the RETRIEVER/250 drive off.
The RETRIEVER/250 package includes a DOS version of Back-It 4 software, provided on both 31/2-inch and 5 1/4-inch media. To order the Windows version of this software, you can call an 800 number listed on an included flyer. While it would be nice if the Windows software were included, the flyer puts the RETRIEVER/250 a step ahead of some competitors who make no provisions whatsoever for using their products from within Windows.
The manual for the software consists of a small booklet, just slightly larger than a pamphlet, which contains only two diagrams (actually screen dumps of the main menu and a parameter configuration screen). Although Spartan, the manual is adequate for its intended purposes of getting you through the installation process and helping you use the RETRIEVER/250.
You can choose among three types of software compression, which naturally speeds up backup time as the level of compression is raised. Many users will find the INTERPRETER RETRIEVER/250 to be a good choice for their file-archiving tasks.
Circle Reader Service Number 372
IOMEGA TAPE250 PC POWERED
A sleek external tape backup, the Iomega Tape250 PC Powered installs quickly and is easy to use.
The tape backup unit came supplied with a 37-pin proprietary interface and floppy drive pass-through cable. The cable mates with the ribbon cable connected to the floppy drive and "splices" the tape drive's cable into the circuit path, which then connects to the proprietary card. The interface card, an 8-bit board, fits into any available half-length expansion slot.
I found the supplied software, Central Point Backup for Windows and DOS, extremely easy to use from either platform. Unlike some of the other tape drive packages reviewed here, which supply DOS-only software to be run from within a DOS window in Windows, this drive package includes a true Windows program.
The DOS version of the software bears a marked resemblance to the basic Windows interface, including a Save settings on exit?requester which presents itself when you're exiting the program. The DOS version of this program also makes use of windowed panels to provide prompts, choices, and the status of the operation in progress. The first window which presents itself when you run the program gives you three choices-backup, Restore, and Compare.
To select files to work on, you must first tag them from the Choose Directories section; if you'd like to back up these same files later (especially if you wish to do so regularly), you'll appreciate the option to save the list of these tagged files to another file. In succeeding backups you'll avoid having to select the files all over again.
To simplify file selection, the software uses a directory tree interface, which I like because it provides a useful visual representation of the file and its location on the drive.
Another nice feature I like in this program is its backup-time estimation. After you've selected your files and configured the tape drive, the software estimates how much time the backup will take even before the process has begun. There is some tarnish on this sterling feature, however, since the accuracy of the estimate leaves something to be desired. When I tried it out, the onscreen status clock that shows the time remaining for the operation changed from 1:10.00 to 2:57.00 after the backup had been in progress for approximately 40 minutes; so while this feature is nice to have, its true value depends on your expectations of accuracy.
The drive operates very quietly, only a whisper louder than the PC's cooling fan.
Need more speed? An optional one-megabit-per-second connector card from Iomega delivers speedier backups and restores.
A quick-reference card and the drive's owner's manual explain the hardware installation. I found the supplied software manual complete, well written, and well organized. The scope and content of the DOS and Windows sections are excellent; even if you're a novice, you should have no problem installing or using this drive and the Central Point software packed along with it.
Combining performance and ease of use for both DOS and Windows users, the Iomega Tape250 PC Powered is a good choice.
Circle Reader Service Number 373
IRWIN ACCUTRAK PLUS A250E
Looking for a compact external tape backup unit that performs well and offers software for DOS, Windows, and OS/2? The Irwin Accutrak Plus A250E fills the bill.
Three separate manuals (for MS-DOS, Windows, and OS/2 software) make this one of the better documented and more versatile tape drive packages. For each of these software versions, the manufacturer provides both 5 1/4- and 31/2-inch media. Covering all the bases this way goes far toward creating a good impression and bolstering confidence in the product.
This drive uses a proprietary interface card which will fit into any 8-bit half-length expansion slot. A ten-position DIP switch on the card allows you to resolve any address conflicts with other devices which may be in the system, but the default settings worked just fine in the Tandy 433DX test system. Once you insert the board, all that remains is to connect the cable to both the D connector on the card's mounting bracket and the port on the back of the tape drive. Unlike most other external tape drives, this one derives its power from the PC itself via the interface card and cable. If your power supply already has all the peripherals it can handle, you'll want to use the optional external power adapter for this tape drive.
The AccuTrak Plus A250E's driver software installs quickly and easily with minimal user interactivity. I particularly liked the DOS version of the software, since it provides an excellent range of options that I can invoke from the DOS command line-a highly useful feature for automating backups via batch files. The manual supplies an ample description (in tables) of all commands and parameters that can be implemented. A quick-reference card also helps you navigate different sections of the program, especially those sections you encounter as you become acquainted with the software.
While the drive performed without a hitch, I was somewhat surprised at how much tape it required to back up 241MB of data without compression; I needed three tape cassettes (120MB uncompressed capacity) to back up the hard drive, whereas only two cassettes were required with other drives covered here. If you have lots of data to back up with this drive, it's a good idea to have several preformatted tapes on hand and ready for use. Of course, to save tape and speed up the process, you can also perform selective backups, in which only specific files are archived.
This drive is quite compact, only 4.9 inches high x 2.6 inches wide x 7.5 inches deep, making it easily portable. But since the drive requires an internal interface card, it won't be well suited for use with most laptop or notebook computers.
Overall, the Irwin Accutrak Plus A250E is a solid unit that looks good and performs well while giving you the choice of using it under DOS, Windows, or OS/2.
Circle Reader Service Number 374
Because it connects to the parallel port rather than a special interface card, the Irwin Ezport external tape drive merits the consideration of people looking for a nonfloppy backup solution for their notebook computers.
Installing this drive should be a very simple and straightforward affair, requiring only the connection of the drive's cable to the PC's parallel port and loading the Eztape Software. For the vast majority of installations, that's all you'll need to do. However, if you're the owner of a Tandy 433DX (or presumably any of the Tandy Omni Profile 486 computers, which all use this same motherboard), you're going to have some problems.
The parallel printer port on these Tandy machines deviates from true 100-percent Ibm-standard compatibility in some respects. In many instances this deviation from 100-percent compatibility won't be noticed, since normal printer functions seem to be without any problems. However, some other devices that use the parallel port for communication, as does the Ezport, don't find the required signals they're looking for on the Tandy parallel port, thus making a successful installation impossible.
The problem with the Tandy machines is that they do not allow user enabling of an interrupt for LPT1, which the tape drive requires for communication with the PC. Not finding an interrupt, the Eztape 3.1 program assumed no drive was connected, prevented any further operations, and displayed an Error: Tape Drive Not Found message.
To work around this problem, I installed in the Tandy 433DX an expansion board containing an additional serial port and a second parallel port. I disabled the serial port and set the parallel port to function as LPT2 on this board prior to inserting it in the expansion slot. Once the 1/0 board was installed, the software immediately acknowledged the presence of the drive and all functions became operative.
Part of the Ezport hardware installation requires snapping a back piece onto the tape drive's 25-pin connector, but this takes a bit of doing. Getting the pieces to fit snugly together (I had to force them to mate so that the unit resembled the picture on the box) required a considerable amount of pressure, something users may not be comfortable with. Once they were together, I connected the power supply and interface cables to the unit, and the software immediately recognized that the drive was connected. A backup was underway shortly thereafter.
The software's onscreen timer isn't as accurate as it could be, since it updates itself with each new File Now Being Copied screen message update. While this takes only a couple of seconds for each incident, it turns into a considerable amount of time for backups of any appreciable size. For instance, the Eztape timer indicated that only 12 minutes had elapsed after 15 minutes of actual time had passed.
This drive's package includes Eztape 3.1 software for both DOS and Windows on 5 1/4-inch and 3 1/2-inch media. I found the software very easy to use, providing a friendly directory tree representation of the file structure; the directory tree makes selecting files for backup or restore a simple procedure. This drive required three tape cassettes to back up 241 MB of data, so it's a good idea to have several preformatted cassettes ready for use if you'll be doing high-volume backups with this unit.
Circle Reader Service Number 375
MAYNARD ARCHIVEXL 9250E
I found the Maynard Archivexl 9250E one of the easier of this month's external tape drives to install and use.
The 9250E uses a 37-pin proprietary card in concert with the PC's own controller. The proprietary card installs easily into any available 8-bit half-length expansion slot, and a ribbon connector from the PC's floppy controller connects to the proprietary card. Another cable attaches a D connector on the card's mounting bracket to the tape drive.
You'll find the installation procedure explained in a few pages near the back of the user manual--a rather odd location for it, since you would expect it to appear in the very beginning. The installation instructions, albeit a bit brief, cover the necessary territory well enough; diagrams and illustrations serve to simplify the installation so that even if you're a novice, you should have no problem performing it.
The software provided by Maynard, QICstream for DOS, runs under Windows as a full-screen DOS application provided that you run Windows in standard mode. This is bound to be a limiting feature for most Windows users, who run Windows in enhanced mode.
Many users will undoubtedly want to use the QICstream software directly from DOS, since it lends itself well to use in batch files to automate the backup process. While not as feature packed as some of the other backup software packages I've seen, the QICstream software is very easy to use. Performing a full backup requires a few keystrokes and answering four questions (for example, whether you want to use compression, back up all files and subdirectories, and so forth).
The Archivexl 9250E is certainly one of the quieter tape backup units I've come into contact with thus far; I could barely hear the drive in operation over the system's cooling fan. No loud, high-pitched whines here-just a barely audible hum as the mechanism shuttles the tape back and forth.
This drive uses QIC industry-standard data compression when backing up data, thereby increasing an archived tape's compatibility with other drives. This compatibility is a handy feature if you want to restore one drive's contents on another PC with a different brand or model of tape unit installed.
The QICstream software does not use a tree format of displaying a tape's contents, and this is unfortunate, since directory tree listings are the easiest to view and use. Users with files buried six or seven directories deep will find that the entire pathname of a file runs off the side of the backup/restore status screen, a definite shortcoming if you regularly nest subdirectories to any extent.
The floppy-based installation software supplied with the drive consisted of one 5 1/4-inch disk, and I found no mention of how to obtain a 3 1/2-inch copy of the software anywhere in the package. This necessitated copying the software onto a 3 1/2-inch disk on another PC before it could be installed on the Tandy-433dx test system.
If you're interested in a tape backup that does what it's supposed to without a lot of bells and whistles and you can live with the minor shortcomings cited here, then you should check out the ArchiveXL 9250E from Maynard.
Circle Reader Service Number 376
MICRO SOLUTIONS BACKPACK
Good things often come in small packages, and the Micro Solutions Backpack tape drive is an excellent case in point. Weighing in at just 2.50 pounds and measuring only 1.50 inches (height) x 4.00 inches (width) x 7.75 inches (length), the Backpack is light and small enough to tote along in most notebook or laptop carrying cases. And since it's an external unit which connects directly to the computer's parallel port, it doesn't require any internal expansion slots for installation, making it ideal for transportable use.
I found installing the Micro Solutions Backpackverystraightforward and uncomplicated; that should be the case as long as your PC has a parallel port that conforms 1 00 percent to the IBM standard. The Tandy 433DX test system, however, does not totally conform; this made the installation interesting, to say the least.
An Unable to generate printer interrupt error message appeared very early in the installation, and I immediately suspected that a conflict with some other installed device was to blame. I removed from the computer the audio card (which also contained a SCSI CD-ROM drive interface), yet the error message still presented itself.
A call to tech support at Micro Solutions elicited a courteous response from the technician, who said the only reason for this message would be a device conflict (which I had already eliminated from suspicion by removing the audio card) or a parallel port that was not 100-percent IBM compatible. He suggested I install a second parallel port in the PC, and he felt confident that this would alleviate the problem. Fortunately, there was a multifunction 1/0 card not being used in the lab, so I immediately installed it in the Tandy with the jumpers set to activate LPT2. Like magic, the error condition disappeared.
It's very important to note here that this problem was not the fault of the Backpack tape drive (or the other unit reviewed here which encountered the same problem). Instead, the problem involves the way Tandy configures its parallel port on the Tandy Omni Profile 486 motherboards. if you own one of these machines and you're thinking of purchasing a Backpack, then add an expansion card with a second parallel port to your shopping list as well.
The Backpack provides a printer pass-through port on the unit so you can keep both the Backpack and your printer connected to the PC simultaneously. The device is transparent when not in use, so normal printer function won't be disturbed in the least.
The Backpack stores up to 250MB using data compression with a standard DC2120 quarter-inch minicartridge. The Backpack can read and write standard QIC-80 tapes and will also read (but not write to) QIC-40 tape cassettes. Featuring a 1 MB-per-second data transfer rate, the Backpack is one of the faster tape backup units covered here.
The software provided with the Backpack is almost identical to that which comes with the Maynard Archivexl 9250E, and it will run in a DOS window from within Windows, even though it doesn't generate an icon. Using the Backpack software from DOS provides the most flexibility and greatest range of options.
If you're looking for a pintsized tape backup that's easy to tote and big on performance, the Backpack merits a closer look. Circle Reader Service Number 377
MOUNTAIN FILESAFE TD-250
Another internal-mount tape drive, the Mountain FileSafe TD-250 installs easily in any 5 1/4-inch half-height bay accessible from the front of the machine and uses the PC's floppy controller for interfacing.
While the installation procedure is uncomplicated and straightforward, the documentation assumes at least some prior PC knowledge on the part of the user. Unlike some of the other tape drives reviewed here, which go to great lengths for clarity and detail in their documentation, the Filesafe TD-250 comes with an installation guide pamphlet rather than a full-blown installation manual.
If you've ever installed a peripheral device in your computer system, you shouldn't have any problems with this installation. If you're a first-time installer, however, you may indeed have some trepidation that a bit more detail and explanation in the documentation would alleviate. You're instructed to "refer to [the] computer's manual or consult your dealer on installing an internal device" right from the first paragraph of the installation pamphlet. Since the guide provides only three diagrams to illustrate the installation process, it is entirely conceivable (and very likely) that someone who has never before installed a tape or disk drive might not feel comfortable with this sketchy documentation.
What the hardware installation documentation lacks is more than compensated for in the rather large manual provided for installing and using the backup software. You'll find clear and explicit text, augmented by numerous diagrams to reduce the learning curve and increase understanding of the material. A handy quick-reference card contains all of the DOS commands and prefixes. No Windows software or launching option comes with the drive package.
The software displays an onscreen clock which provides elapsed-time information to let you know how long the backup/ restore session will take and has taken thus far. While this is a good idea, the onscreen clock updates itself infrequently rather than running in realtime, and this makes it difficult to estimate how much longer the backup or restore operation will take.
The software gives you excellent file management utilities, allowing files to be tagged for selective restores and backups. You also get a software compression option, which decreases backup and restore times while doubling the tape's storage capacity you must use the compression option to get the full 250MB capacity on a single tape cassette). A particularly nice feature of the software is that you don't have to run the tape backup program to perform a function; all of the program's functions can be accessed from the DOS command line. This simplifies creating batch files for common backup routines, performing selective backups, and other such applications.
The Mountain Filesafe TD-250 is a relatively quiet tape backup unit. In operation, it produces a low and unobtrusive machinelike sound while the transport mechanism is in motion. Circle Reader Service Number 378
RELAX 600 MEG. TAPE VISTA
The Relax 600 Meg. Tape Vista external drive employs a SCSI interface to communicate with the host PC. This drive uses a Teac CT-600F tape cassette capable of holding 600MB of data (the total formatted capacity is actually 606.9MB).
Unlike other drives, this one doesn't require you to format cassettes prior to use, and the drive will use tapes from Teac drives such as the MT-2ST/45 (60MB) and the MT-2ST/N (160MB) series. The highly durable CT-600F tapes can exceed 3000 passes (one pass is an entire back-and-forth circuit from supply to take-up reel and back).
Installing the Trantor T-338 parallel-to-SCSI adapter supplied with the drive is a snap, since it plugs right into the PC's parallel port. You can connect a printer simultaneously by joining the printer cable to the T-338's pass-through jack; the SCSI cable that mates with the tape drive connects via another jack at the opposite end of the adapter. Once you plug the T-338 in, all that's required is to run the Trantor installation software, which copies the required device driver and modifies the CON-FIG.SYS file automatically. You can complete the entire highly automated software installation process in just a few minutes.
The tape drive did not come with any diagrams or instructions pertaining to the physical hardware installation, but since all of the cables and jacks will mate only one way, I had no difficulty figuring out the installation procedure. Since the Tape Vista is an external unit, as is the Trantor T-338, there's no need to open the computer's case, and this expedites installation as well. You don't need any technical prowess or special skills, and even if you're a total novice, you should be able to install the hardware and software completely in under 20 minutes.
The supplied Tape Mate backup/restore/utility software runs in DOS, and I could not find in the documentation any mention of using the software or hardware with Windows. The Tape Mate software creates a text file log for recording error messages as well as additional files for backup, restore, and verify history.
The software's online help text isn't aligned properly in the help window (it scrolls off the right side of the display), which makes it difficult to view the help text. However, since the manual is very well written and organized, this doesn't present a major obstacle, and the online help would probably be seldom used in real-world circumstances.
I particularly like the directory track, which the software uses when backing up files. This track, along with Tape Mate's file manager (which displays the contents of the tape in tree format), makes file management easy from the tape itself. To restore files from a tape, for example, simply tag them; once you've tagged them, hitting the F10 key begins the restoration process.
The Tape Vista's published specifications boast a restoration time of 42 minutes for a full 600MB of data; in actuality, however, it took nearly two hours to restore only 241MB of data during the review and benchmarking. The slower speeds we experienced were probably owing to the external SCSI interface, since all parallel-to-SCSI adapters have significantly slower data transfer rates than dedicated, internal SCSI adapters.
Overall, the Relax 600 Meg. Tape Vista installs easily, performs without a hitch, and provides a very user-friendly means of backing up and restoring massive amounts of data. It's also ideal for laptop or multi-PC use.
Circle Reader Service Number 379
As soon as you open the box and see the carrying handle mounted atop the Valitek PST-250F, you realize that this isn't going to be a run-of-the-mill device. And this first impression is borne out as you remove the monstrously large (compared to other units covered here) PST-250F from the shipping carton. Tipping the scales at 9.5 pounds, it's certainly the heftiest drive reviewed as well.
The large physical size of the PST-250F is understandable, since it uses a DC6250 tape cassette capable of holding up to 250MB of data without compression. DC6250 tape cassettes, measuring approximately 4.25 inches x 6.50 inches, are also considerably larger than the DC2120 cassettes used with most other tape backup units. Remember: This drive can back up as much as a quarter of a gigabyte without compression on a single tape.
Another noteworthy feature is the drive's ability to connect externally to either the PC's serial or parallel port. This flexibility of I/O connection, coupled with the handy carry handle and large tape capacity, makes this drive ideal for backing up multiple PCs, as in a network or work group scenario. You can attach the drive to a PC and have a backup underway within five minutes, making this one of the faster and easier to install and use of the tape back-up units reviewed here.
You don't have to install the backup software on the PC's hard drive in order to use it; however, if you prefer to install it on your hard disk, it will be a manual installation, requiring you to use DOS commands to make a directory and copy the files. While this isn't a difficult or time-consuming task, an automated installation batch file would have been a nice touch to include.
I found the software manual well written and appreciated the screen shots used to illustrate points in the text. The very easy software provides a directory tree interface for file selection. A handy Select All command simplifies complete system backups'
I found the constant feedback of the software to be a particularly nice feature. Whenever the tape drive is active, the software provides you with lots of information about the current activity. The software's status window includes a list of terms (rewind, searching, write tape, read tape, write disk, read disk, send data, recv data); the program highlights the appropriate words to describe the current activity and status of the operation. The elapsed-time indicator is also particularly noteworthy for its accuracy. Trailing a mere five seconds behind the actual elapsed time, it is the most accurate of any of the timers covered in this month's Test Lab.
The PST-250F's tape head is a three-gap head as opposed to the usual single-gap head found in other drives. There's one gap for reading, another for writing, and a third for erasing. While other tape drives require three passes to erase, read, and/or write, the PST-250F needs only one, performing all three operations in a single pass. This results in very speedy backup and restore times.
For the discriminating user with high-volume archiving demands, the Valitek PST-250F makes an excellent choice.
Circle Reader Service Number 380