Media Magnet #2: So Much Data, Such Fast Drives

Anyone who waded through the record crowds at this month's Macworld Expo couldn't help but notice that size and speed were two unavoidable issues: there were simply too many people not paying attention to where and how quickly their feet were carrying their bodies. Though these two concepts aren't necessarily ideal in terms of group dynamics -- unless you're clobbered by a 300-pound guy running in one direction while looking in another -- they're invaluable when it comes to storage.

Good Burning

Although FireWire-based CD-RW drives are in the wings (companies are just waiting for a much-delayed update to Adaptec's Toast CD burning software), those who still appreciate good old-fashioned SCSI can already take advantage of blazing new 12x CD recorders. That means you can fill up an entire CD with 650MB data or 74 minutes of audio in just six minutes -- great for those of us with short attention...

Oh, sorry. Drifted off there for a moment.

APS Technologies is now shipping a 12x4x32 (those are write-rewrite-read speeds, for the uninitiated) CD-RW drive, and LaCie has a similar drive on the way that offers an Ultra SCSI connection... and another feature that's almost too good to be true.

It's a technology from Sanyo that the marketers are calling BURN (Buffer Under-Run) Proof . The concept is, if you've got a BURN-Proof CD-RW drive, you've got a nearly sentient device that will constantly change its data transfer rate to adjust to your system. The end result? A sudden belch in data no longer means your disc is relegated to Frisbee status. In the beginning, this technology will add about $50 to the price of the drive, but look for it to become standard fare for CD-RWs in the next year.

SCSI Forever!

Speaking of SCSI, Adaptec and ATTO Technology are the first to bring the new Ultra3 SCSI technology to the Mac. (Both were showing their cards at the show, but Adaptec seems to have won the first-to-ship race.) Sounds fast, you might say. Nah. Only a transfer rate of 160MB/second per channel -- which explains why this technology is also being called Ultra160 SCSI.

These new cards don't cost much more than Ultra2 SCSI, and fast drives that support Ultra3 speeds are already available. For more about this stuff, check out the appropriately named ultra160-scsi.com.

Uh... FireWire Forever!

But what if you have a small office that needs lots of quick storage -- three or four graphic designers, for example -- that isn't on the level of an amazingly expensive Fibre Channel system?

MicroNet Technology impressed passers-by at Expo with their SANcube, the first ever FireWire SAN (that's Storage Area Network to the rest of us). This strobing box can share up to 220GB of storage among up to 4 users -- that's right, all the computer share the FireWire bus -- at speeds of 30MB/second. Although this can't compare to Fibre Channel, it's much cheaper ($3,899 for the most expensive model), and blows away any fast Ethernet network in terms of speed.

If you want big, fast, inexpensive and compatible, the PocketDrive line from LaCie might make you dance a jig of delight. Offered in 6GB and 18GB sizes, these drives are about the size of a Pop Tart, but feature both USB and FireWire connections. For as little as $400, you too can carry around thousands of megabytes that almost any iMac-era Macintosh can read. And you still think getting rid of the floppy drive was a bad idea?

Where's that Walkman?

The only area where it seems like storage isn't getting big enough fast enough is in the portable MP3 player market. Creative Labs showed off their upcoming Nomad II MP3/FM radio player and voice recorder, but it will only ship with 64MB of SmartMedia, the current limit for the device. For those of us who like to go on long bike rides -- or even longer lunch breaks -- an hour of music just doesn't cut it.

Macworld Assistant Editor JONATHAN SEFF specializes in multimedia and storage, and is always looking for more of the latter. An archive of his previous columns is also available.
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