The hard disk drive HD + ASTRA SYSTEMS
by David Plotkin
The HD + from Astra Systems is a combination 20-megabyte hard-disk drive and double-sided floppy, all packaged in a box no larger than other hard drives. It's ideal for 1040 owners, or those looking to upgrade one-drive systems.
The HD + comes preformatted into two 10-megabyte partitions, and can be used within minutes of unpacking. The ST's operating system cannot recognize disk drives larger than 16 megabytes, therefore you're unable to use the whole 20-megabyte drive as a single logical drive. What you do, instead, is split the single physical drive into two logical drives (such as "C" and "D").
The hard drive includes an extra-long cable for connecting the built-in floppy drive, allowing you to place the HD + farther away from your ST than would normally be possible. There's a "floppy in" connection, but no "floppy out" connection, so the floppy drive in the HD + must be the last one in the chain (drive B in a two-drive system).
Software includes a formatting program (to reformat the disk and/or change the partition size), a backup program, a head parking program, and the hard drive install program. The backup program uses a special fast format and puts close to a megabyte of data on a double-sided disk. It can copy files which are larger than a floppy and do partial backups. The head park program allows you to lock the head in place before moving the drive. Always do this! The hard drive install program is placed in an AUTO folder on the boot-up disk and enables the ST to recognize the hard drive. Currently, all programs you want executed on boot-up (hard drive install, clock, GDOS, etc.) must be in the AUTO folder on the boot-up floppy.
Desk accessories may be either on the floppy or on the hard drive itself. Astra doesn't supply a hard drive auto-boot program, although I don't see why the Supra version wouldn't work. I haven't tested this, however.
The HD + is solid and built like a tank. The hard drive mechanism is a top-of-the-line Rodime, and the floppy is of high quality as well—Panasonic or Chinon, depending on the vintage. The front panel features an on/off switch, hard drive light and floppy light. The hard drive unit must be turned on to use the floppy, even if you boot up without the hard drive install program (the hard drive won't be available if you do this, however). The unit is relatively quiet for a hard drive, the low hum of the fan being the most notable sound.
Once you're tried a hard drive, you'll never go back. The increase in speed is astounding. For example, Word-Writer ST takes close to 30 seconds to load from floppy, but only six seconds from the hard drive. The speed depends on how full the disk is and how much your files are fragmented, but is always significant, nonetheless. You'll have to be careful about buying copy-protected software however, since most of it cannot be installed on a hard drive. I solved this problem by refusing to buy such software. Fortunately, the best packages are not protected.
The HD + is relatively expensive, selling for between $850 and $950. This is more expensive than the Atari hard drive and a double-sided floppy (SF-314), but there are compensating factors. The first is that the unit is much more compact than two separate pieces of equipment. The second is that SF-314s are scarce, so you may not be able to find one. Finally, the Astra units are top quality.
I'm not saying Atari's equipment is second rate, but my own experience has been disappointing, especially with the disk drives, and I don't like to take chances with my valuable programs and data.
With high speed mechanical equipment (hard drives spin at 3600 rpm), the two old adages, "You get what you pay for" and "Let the buyer beware," are especially true. The Astra HD + is fast, well built and extremely reliable. In my book, that makes it a bargain.