We recently reviewed Panasonic’s new double-speed SuperDisk internal-fit drive. SuperDisk is the high-capacity floppy disk standard which is rapidly gaining popularity in both PC and Apple Mac markets. Imation, the data storage products company spun out of 3M, is one of the driving forces behind the SuperDisk standard and the largest single producer of SuperDisk media. Imation also produces disk drives like the USB SuperDisk external drive reviewed here.
Imation’s first attempt at an external SuperDisk drive was a solid but rather uninspiring device which attached to the parallel port of the host computer. It was slow and heavy, so there was little incentive to use it as a portable drive. Nothing could be more different with the new USB drive – inside is much the same Panasonic 2X mechanism as we reviewed earlier, but the 12 megabits-per-second USB interface is a great deal faster than the old parallel port and the new drive is compact and lightweight, making it ideal for travelling professionals. There are also nice touches like a Kensington security lock hole on the front panel.
The drive mechanism itself is an IDE interface device and Imation’s design solution for incorporating an IDE to USB converter is to house it in an oversize connector plug built onto one end of the USB cable. It’s quite usual for some devices, like modems, to be powered directly by a USB port but the Imation USB SuperDisk drive is more demanding and requires its own separate power supply. It’s a relatively light and compact unit and while it incorporates a standard three-pin UK plug, it’s actually a world-standard adapter capable of handling both 50 and 60 Hertz AC and mains voltages between 100 and 240 volts.
In use, the drive performed in much the same way as its Panasonic cousin. As you would expect, writing to a disk is slower than reading from it – we measured a writing speed of about 300KB per second and a reading speed of 450KB per second. In fact the driver software makes generous use of memory buffering and very often the drive remains silent when you would expect it to be copying data.
The main threat to the SuperDisk standard comes from the older Zip family of products from Iomega. The 100MB Zip disk has been a popular accessory in the PC market and first came out a whole two years before SuperDisk. The standard was recently enhanced with a 250MB version. But the 120MB SuperDisk is gaining ground rapidly on the Zip standard as it is fully backwards-compatible with existing 1.44MB floppy disks. Imation has also innovated by producing special media which incorporates encryption technology. One thing, however, you can’t do with this USB SuperDisk is use it as a boot drive – the USB specification does not cater for bootable devices. If that is what you need, SCSI is probably the best option, but Imation does not produce a SCSI version of this drive.
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