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SyQuest EZFlyer 230- by Christopher B. Wright


If you're like me, you've got a good bit of hard drive space tied up because of the Internet. You've been on-line for a few years, and the entire time you've been downloading patches, fixes, updates, add-ons, FixPaks, etc., and now that companies are starting to provide electronic purchases, you've even got full-fledged applications (such as the Stardock PlusPak!) just sitting there eating up space. What's a user to do? All of these are valuable, and if you spent two days trying to download Netscape Navigator/2 on a phone line that kept disconnecting three-fourths of the way through the process, you don't want to just delete it when you're done installing. You want to save it in case you need to install it again.

I actually have a hierarchy for my downloaded files. I have a directory called "archives" that contains all the software I know I'll want to keep, and a directory called "downloads" that I haven't made up my mind about yet. Both of these just sit on my drive, gathering dust, until I need to reinstall something, then I find the specific application and install it.

I'm not happy with this arrangement. It seems to me I should be able to simply archive all these files and retrieve them only when I need them -- but using my tape backup system as a selective file archiver seems stupid, since it would take forever to find the file I want, and saving them all to floppy would take -- well, a lot of floppies.

Also, I'm starting to get very interested in multimedia, multimedia authoring and digital recording. These kinds of projects eat up space on your hard drive like nobody's business! How do you find the space for work like this -- and how do you protect what you're working on, while at the same time being able to access it quickly?

The answer is, of course, removable media. Removable media is, in a nutshell, a very large, fast hard disk that you insert and use as a floppy, remove when it's full, and replace it with another one. Using removable media, I would be able to save my 'archives' directory to a large disk, store it on a shelf somewhere, and use it when I needed it -- saving space for other things. Likewise, I'd be able to store graphics and multimedia projects on something other than my fixed hard drives -- which is a good idea since I like to tweak my system for performance, and I'm not very good at it... One time last I fall I was doing this and I accidentally deleted every Help Desk comic strip I'd ever drawn for OS/2 e-Zine!. I was not pleased.

When I decided to add a removable media component to my computer system, I had two major vendors with varying solutions, coming in many permutations and combinations: SyQuest (EZ135, EZFlyer 230, and the new 1.5 gig model) or Iomega (Zip or Jazz); SCSI or IDE; Internal or External. I immediately dismissed the extra-large capacity models (1 gig or up) because they seemed too bulky for what I wanted to do. Someday, if I start creating CD-ROMs, this may change but at the moment I simply want to be able to store lots of small to somewhat large files efficiently.

My next decision was to buy an internal model, since I didn't see myself wanting to use it on more than one computer (I would have decided otherwise if I used both a desktop and a laptop computer, but I don't at this time). And finally, I decided on a SCSI drive because I was planning to start going to a SCSI setup anyway -- to make it easier to add and expand hardware.

So now I had to decide on which vendor: Iomega or SyQuest. Actually, there are many other vendors making removable media out there, but I remembered Chris Wenham had reviewed the Iomega Zip drive in a previous issue, and I'd heard the SyQuest drives supported OS/2 very, very well (even including a section for OS/2 in their documentation!).

I ultimately decided on a SyQuest drive for the following reasons:

  1. SyQuest drives reportedly run as fast as normal hard drives.

  2. SyQuest drives offer more storage capacity than Zip drives for a similar price.

  3. I have heard (and experienced second hand) horrible stories about Iomega's technical support.
[image of SyQuest EZFlyer 230]I wound up with an external SCSI SyQuest EZFlyer 230. External, because apparently it's difficult to find an internal version of the drive in stores, and EZFlyer 230 because apparently SyQuest no longer makes the EZ135's. This didn't bother me much, however, because the EZFlyer will read and write the EZ135 135mb cartridges as well as its own 230mb cartridges with no problem.

Installing the EZFlyer 230

Installation is very straightforward: once you have your SCSI card working (which isn't difficult under OS/2, since Warp is very SCSI friendly), you simply hook up your device correctly and install the drivers. The OS/2 drivers are included with the drive, and the documentation does have a brief section on installing it under OS/2. And a brief section is all you need -- it's a painless process and shouldn't give you any headaches.

The only problems you'll have will be if you happen to hook up the device the wrong way. SCSI devices are very picky about how they're hooked up, and for about a week I couldn't get my drive to do anything because I'd plugged the SCSI cable into the wrong port.

For IDE users of this device, you may have more difficulty running it from a parallel port. I have heard some reports of incompatibilities with the IDE SyQuest drives. None of these reports came from OS/2 users, but 'caveat emptor' regardless.

[fixed disk icon] Once you have the SyQuest drivers installed, the drive will be treated as a fixed hard disk by your computer. If you take a look at your drives folder, you'll see it represented as a standard drive object. Because it is represented as a fixed disk, you can only switch cartridges when OS/2 has been shut down (i.e., between reboots).

This is annoying, but necessary. Unlike other operating systems, OS/2 doesn't really handle removable media very well by default. It seems to have three basic types of media that it can identify: floppy disks, fixed disks, and CD-ROM drives. Anything other than these can cause problems -- especially if you want to format them as HPFS drives. HPFS was designed to be used on a fixed disk, and if an HPFS drive were to suddenly be removed, it could damage your data.

If you don't like having to shut down OS/2 simply to remove a disk, you do have other options. Your first stop should be the Removable Media FAQ. This FAQ is very helpful -- it covers all the problems you're likely to run into trying to set up your removable media hardware on your computer and the various alternatives you have to get around them. The FAQ mentions that IBM has released beta replacement drivers for some .add files that will allow OS/2 to correctly support removable drives, so I decided to try them out. IBM does not officially support these yet: apparently they will be included in a future release of Warp (either 4.1 or 5.0) but at the moment, you are on your own trying to get them to work.

[removable media icon] The instructions included with installing these drivers are clear, but incomplete. After a week of trying to get them to work (with no success) I discovered that before I could get the drivers to recognize my SyQuest as a removable drive, I first had to remove the BASEDEV=SYQLOCK.FLT driver from my config.sys file -- since this is apparently the driver that tells OS/2 the EZFlyer is a fixed disk, and it supersedes anything the beta drivers try to do. Once I did that, it worked like a charm. My SyQuest EZFlyer is now a fully removable drive, HPFS and all, and its drive object has been changed accordingly.

With these new drivers, you can't just press the eject button to remove the drive though. OS/2 needs to clean up the disk before it gets ejected (to avoid loss of data), so instead, when you right-click over the drive object you will see a new option ("eject") that will flush all buffers on the drive and eject it for you. There is also a command line utility (eject.exe) that will do the same thing.

The EZFlyer 230: evaluation

"But," you ask, "does it work?" The answer is: surprisingly well. I'd heard reports in the past that SyQuest drives were touchy and easily damaged, but so far that hasn't proven true (I've been using it for a month and half now). I even accidentally dropped it once, and the drive and the cartridge managed to survive. It's very, very fast -- about as fast as a hard drive, which is certainly much faster than the Iomega Zip drive I've used at work. And it makes a handy file archiver. I now have a dedicated "download" cartridge, a dedicated "graphics" cartridge, and a dedicated "multimedia" cartridge. The 135mb cartridges are the perfect size for about 5-10 minutes of CD-quality audio, depending on its complexity.

The EZFlyer is a bit more expensive than a Zip drive, (certainly the SCSI version is) but it also gives you more bang for your buck. The 135 MB cartridges are competitively priced with Zip disks (~$20 US), and the 230 MB cartridges are ~$40 US the last time I saw them quoted.

Conclusions

If your primary interest is being able to share information with other platforms, the Zip drive may actually be a better choice because it has become a sort of informal "standard", but SyQuest is still a big name in this industry and probably isn't going anywhere any time soon. And the speed of its drives make it more convenient for working with large files straight from the disk, which is something many people may find desirable.

The SCSI version of the EZFlyer comes with everything you need to set it up except a SCSI card. It supports OS/2 right out of the box -- you don't need to purchase the drivers separately, which is a big plus over Iomega's OS/2 support policies. If you want a drive that is well-supported when you run into problems, the EZFlyer is definitely something to consider over the Zip, since Iomega has a spotty track record on that account.

One final thing to consider is that there may be difference in performance between the SCSI and IDE versions. I've heard a few less-than-glowing comments about the reliability of the IDE version of this drive, but I haven't been able to verify them myself (since I don't have one). My experience has been fairly painless so far. I am very happy with this drive, and strongly recommend it.


Computer used in this review:

P166 w/64mb RAM
Adaptec UltraSCSI PCI card
Matrox Millennium, 4mbWRAM
SyQuest EZFlyer 230


 * SyQuest EZFlyer 230
by SyQuest Technology, Inc.
MSRP: US$299.00
Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.

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