Panasonic – SD120S 2X SuperDisk drive review

double-speed internal LS-120 reader
Photo of Panasonic – SD120S 2X SuperDisk drive
£59 + VAT

The 120MB SuperDisk high-capacity floppy disk standard looks like it might become the de facto successor to the ubiquitous 3.5-inch 1.44MB floppy drive, with which it retains backwards compatibility. We’ve had a play with one of the new double-speed drives from Panasonic, available as the SD120S retail internal drive upgrade kit.

SuperDisk, or LS120 drives as they are also known, have been commonly available for around two years now. Although praised for compatibility with older 3.5-inch floppy disk media, SuperDisk has been criticised for poor speed performance, especially compared with the already established 100MB Iomega Zip standard, which isn’t compatible with ordinary floppies. The SD120S answers these performance criticisms by spinning the media twice as fast as earlier SuperDisk drives, delivering almost 1MB/sec maximum transfer rate – enough for smooth streaming of digital video clips.

For reading and writing long files, the performance improvement is as claimed – doubling the speed over older drives. However, read/write head to track access times are not much improved over original SuperDisk drives, and so the improvement in performance is much less noticeable when dealing with many smaller files. Nevertheless, it’s often overlooked that SuperDisk drives of all types will read and write standard floppy disks appreciably faster than standard floppy drives, and the SD120S is no exception.

Installation of the SD120S is not necessarily a straightforward process. The drive is an IDE interface device, but it’s potentially more complicated to install than either an IDE hard disk or an IDE CDROM drive. The supplied instructions for physically fitting the drive and connecting it up are fine, but help in configuring your system is minimal. The simplest solution is to install the SD120S as a second floppy alongside your original standard floppy drive and this is quite simple to do. But this may not be ideal, especially if space is tight or you want to be able to boot from the new drive.

To replace the original floppy drive entirely is more of a challenge, requiring some BIOS setting changes and the removal of the old floppy disk configuration from Windows, and there is little advice concerning this. If you don’t reconfigure the system properly, you could end up with a non-functioning A: drive icon and a system hang. As the SD120S kit is aimed at DIY upgraders, that extra help should really be in the box, though Panasonic does provide a free technical support hotline.

Company: Panasonic

Contact: 0845 600 3535

Panasonic is one of the first to ship a 2X SuperDisk drive, though by the end of the year, most new shipments from all manufacturers in the trade will be 2X mechanisms. If you are buying a SuperDisk drive now, make sure it's a 2X and not one of the old units. Should you buy one in preference to a Zip drive? This is debatable, but the consensus is moving towards SuperDisk's favour now. The performance is there at last, SuperDisk is arguably a more robust platform and it's backwards compatible with ordinary floppies.