Rana Elite Disk Drives. (evaluation) Stephen Arrants.
Rana Elite Disk Drives
Once you have moved up from cassette storage, you wonder how you ever coped without a disk drive. The only thing that cassetes have going for them is price.
Cassette recorders are serial access devices. The search is through the entire tape for the data. Disk drives are random access. The disk drive looks at the table of contents, finds where the requested file is stored, and loads it. Disks are much more reliable, hold more information, and are much quicker than cassetes.
You problably started out with a single drive, which is adequate for most applications. Sooner or later one drive feels too confining, however. Most word processors and database software packages require two drives. With so many drive manufacturers producing for the Apple, choosing an additional drive can be confusing. Three new Apple drives from Rana Systems make this task easier.
The Elite series from Rana offers a good choice of storage capacity and extra features. The Elite One single-sided drive provides 40 tracks. The Elite Two is a double-sided drive with 80 tracks. The Elite Three is double-sided, double-density with 160-track capacity.
All drives are housed in a rugged, attractive case measuring 6.8 X 9.25 X 4.5 . The units are about one inch higher than the standard Apple drives. Thus, they may not fit in some enclosures and cabinets designed for the Apple Disk II.
Each drive has a special touch-sensitive write-protect switch mounted on the front of the unit. If a disk is not write-protected, simply pressing the switch will prevent the drive from writing on it. This feature might seem unnecessary to some users. I, however, have lost too many programs by desinating the wrong drive or forgetting to attach a write-protect tab, and this feature gives me great peace of mind. Of course, a disk with a write-protect tab is always write-protected.
Rana offers the Elite controller card as an option. This permits the attachment of up to four drives per controller as opposed to the normal two. In addition, the controller card lets you boot old 13-sector DOS disks without control card jumpers or pre-boot disks. When a DOS 3.2 disk is booted, the Elite controller recognizes the older DOS automatically.
The Elite controller is necessary for another reason, too. Some protected software may not recognize the extra storage capacity of the Rana drives, and the Rana software enhancements cannot be transferred to those disks. The Elite controller card contains a special EPROM that will allow protected software to boot and to read/write to the extra tracks.
Drive installation is very easy. You simply attach the cable to a Disk II or Rana controller and install the controler in slot 5 or 6.
To use the extra capacity of these drives, Rana supplies special software. The enhancements to Apple DOS 3.3 consist of five utilities: FORMAT, CLONE, PROFILE, ENHANCE, and FID ENHANCE.
FORMAT is used for initializing new disks for use under DOS. The enhanced version supplies you with the ability to format disks ranging from 143K for a Disk II all the way up to a 652K Elite Three disk.
CLONE makes exact one-for-one copies of disks. In addition to full disk copying, CLONE will copy just DOS from one disk to another so that an old disk can be updated with the enhanced operating system.
PROFILE gives you the flexibility to redefine the arrangement of the drives in your system to suit your needs. Since the enhanced DOS must know what types of drives are connected to which controller, PROFILE is used to tell DOS of any rearranging you wish to do.
Both ENHANCE and FID ENHANCE are one-time utilities. They containt the various modifications that must be made to standard Apple DOS 3.3 and the FID utility for the system and utility to use the extra features of the Elite drives.
If you operate CP/M 2.2, you will use the CP/M utilities: FORMAT, COPY, PROFILE, SGLDRIVE, and ENHANCE.
FORMAT, PROFILE, and ENHANCE are similar to those provided for DOS 3.3 COPY ia a CP/M version of CLONE.
SGLDRIVE is a special utility for users who have only one drive. Several CP/M utilities, such as PIP, were not written for single-drive systems. SGLDRIVE fools these utilities and CP/M into thinking that a single drive is actually two drives.
Each drive comes with a manual explaining installation of drives and controller. Some sections are very technical, but that information is not needed to use the drives; it is provided for advanced programmers and not for the average user. The User Manual includes complete instructions for using the DOS and CP/M enhancement utilities without becoming too involved in the technicalities of these operating systems.
Taking A Test Drive
You might think that testing a disk drive is simple. After all, it either works or it doesn't. But since speed and reliability are the factors that have inspired you to buy a disk drive, these are the things you should examine carefully.
To test speed, I loaded an 80-sector file from both a Disk II and an Elite drive. The rotational speed of an Apple Disk II drive is about 200 rpm; for the Elite drive it is about 295 rpm. The Disk II loaded the file in approximately two and a half minutes. The Elite drive was a bit faster, completing the job in just under two minutes. A thirty-second decrease in load time may not appear to be a significant factor, but remember that if a drive is faster, it is in use less often and the drive mechanism is under less stress. On the other hand, faster speed could cause more read/write errors. Is a faster drive less reliable?
Reliability is a bit more difficult to test. Drives usually do not fail in the first week of use. If you regularly clean the read/write head and have it aligned periodically, a disk drive should last a long time.
The "stress test' I use is an Applesoft program that loads eight successive graphics images in a continuous loop. The read/write head moves from the catalog track to the file to be BLOADed and then cycles back to the catalog track for the next BLOAD. If a disk error occurs, an error message prints out telling me where the error occurred and at what time. For example, DISK I/O ERROR BLOADING GRAPHIC 4 AT LOOP 16 would tell me that the drive failed to read the GRAPHIC 4 file the sixteenth time it was called. I could then determine how long it took for the drive to fail. Neither my aging Disk II nor the Elite drive failed after three hours of testing.
To Buy Or Not To Buy
Both the Elite One and Two will boot regular Apple disks. Single-sided disks can be used with the Elite Two, but remember that only one side is certified by the manufacturer. Some educational and games software packages write scores and other information to the disk. They should perform without any errors, since the DOS they use recognizes only one side of the disk. The Elite Three needs special disks with a higher track per inch density.
Rana's Elite series are well made and rugged disk drives suitable for any application. They offer features lacking on other drives, and the DOS and CP/M enhancements make disk use much easier. If you need additional data storage yet don't want to move up to a hard disk, an Elite drive is an excellent choice. Rana offers a standard 90-day warranty. Service and support are excellent. If you need additional data storage that is quick, quiet, and reliable, look fo the Rana Elite series.
Table: Elite Drive Specifications
Products: Rana Elite (computer apparatus)