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THE CUTTING EDGE / PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | PC FOCUS /
LAWRENCE J MAGID

The Nesting Habits of Personal Computer Drives

September 22, 1997|LAWRENCE J MAGID

There are plenty of options these days for the tedious but essential chore of backing up your PC data. There are tape systems, Zip drives and those new LS-120 drives that work with standard floppies or 120-megabyte removable disks.

All of them work fine, but they're not very convenient if you want to use one backup system for several different computers. Though several companies make backup devices that plug into a PC's parallel port, they can be a pain: You usually have to first unplug the printer, and sometimes you have to go through contortions just to reach the machine's parallel port on the back of the system unit.

Exabyte has a better idea. Its line of Eagle Nest drives can easily be moved between machines. And because they make a whole line of products, you're not limited to one type of backup system.

Here's how it works: For each machine in your department or company, you buy and install a $60 "nest" that goes into a drive bay. If you have a laptop or just don't feel like taking apart the computers, you can spend about $99 for an external Eagle Nest that plugs into the machine's parallel port.

Then, if you want to connect a tape drive, a Zip drive, an LS-120 or an extra hard drive, you simply slip it into the nest. It takes only a few seconds, and you can even do it while the machine is running. When you first install the Eagle Nest, you also have to install a special software driver so your system can recognize any Eagle drive you plug in.

In addition to the nest, you'll need to buy at least one Eagle drive. The Zip drive and LS-120 cost about $99. A 1.5-gigabyte hard drive sells for $389, and the 4- to 8-gigabyte Eagle Nest TR-4I tape backup drive costs about $375. The Zip drive is fully compatible with the popular Zip drives from Iomega.

Zip drives typically cost about $150. So for $10 more you can buy a nest and an Eagle Zip that gives you the same functionality, plus the ability to move the Zip drive to another machine or swap it out with a different Eagle storage device.

There are several advantages to this strategy. First, you can support multiple machines with a single drive. Why spend $200 or more for a tape backup drive for each machine in your company when a single drive can be moved from machine to machine? Second, it gives you access to multiple devices. The same nest that's used for a tape drive can also be used for a Zip drive or any other media supported by the Eagle system.

The device also helps eliminate PC obsolescence, assuming, of course, that Exabyte and its partners continue to manufacturer new devices. For example, Exabyte plans to introduce 2.1- and 4.1-gigabyte hard drives that easily slip into the current nest. I suspect these drives will be a bit more expensive than similar off-the-shelf hard drives, but they'll be a lot easier to install.

The company's retail products cannot be used as boot devices. (You'll still need a regular hard disk.) The company is, however, working with PC makers on a line of drives that will be bootable.

Most Eagle devices work only with Windows 95, although there are some that work with Windows 3.1. Users of the latter can get a different Eagle Nest that connects to the machine's floppy disk controller. There isn't an Eagle device for the Macintosh, but Mac users really don't need one. All Macs come with SCSI devices that make it easy to plug in external hard drives, tape drives and Zip drives.

The Eagle system makes it easy to move data between home and an office or between remote offices. The same hard disk that stores your calendar, personal contacts, data files and programs at the office can easily slip into your home computer or a computer in another office, allowing you to pick up right where you left off.

Another advantage is that you can quickly remove a drive for security reasons or in some emergencies. A hard drive with sensitive data, for example, can be stored in a vault overnight. If you have to abandon the office in an emergency, you can grab the drive on the way out if time allows.

It took me only about five minutes to install the external nest on my laptop PC. Depending on your level of skill, it should take anywhere from half an hour to an hour to install an internal nest on a desktop machine. Either way, once the nest is installed, it takes only a few seconds to add any of the Eagle drives. The external nest requires a couple of mouse clicks to get the software to recognize a new device. The internal nest recognizes the device automatically.

Exabyte is the only company I know of that makes a nesting system for multiple devices, but there is a very low-cost way to mount a removable hard drive in just about any desktop PC. A Taiwanese company, Lian Li Industrial Co. (http://www.lian-li.com/) makes a Mobile Rack that turns any IDE or SCSI hard drive into a removable drive.

I found one at an electronics store for $30. The rack comes in two parts. One is installed in one of your PC's drive bays, where a hard disk, floppy drive or CD-ROM drive would normally go. The other is a case in which you enclose any off-the-shelf 3.5-inch hard drive.

The device that houses the drive has connectors that make contact with the internal rack when you insert it into the computer. There is no need for any special software. Like the Eagle Nest, it takes only seconds to plug in or unplug.

It's also a good way to move large amounts of data between machines at an office or between remote offices when it's not possible to connect machines via a local area network.

Lawrence J. Magid can be reached via e-mail at magid@latimes.com. His Web page is at http://www.larrysworld.com

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