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May 1996 Pullout

HOW TO BUY … Personal Tape Backup

Sustained Data Rate

Like a car's projected gas mileage, sustained data-rate numbers rarely provide a concrete idea of how quickly data will actually be transferred from your PC to a tape. These numbers, which range from about 9MB per minute to 30MB per minute, are affected by your CPU's horsepower and how much memory you have, as well as whether or not you're compressing your data. The higher the data rate, the faster backup can be accomplished.


Tape drives, depending on the type and speed, can cost anywhere from $100 to $550. Prices depend on whether the drive has an accelerator card and what capacity tape it can handle.

Accelerator Cards

Some drives ship with an accelerator card to maximize data-transfer rates to about 2Mb per second, compared to about 1Mbps for standard drives. Sometimes an accelerator is optional, costing an extra $50 or so.


Tape backup drives usually come with third-party software, such as Arcada Backup Exec, that enables you to do unattended backup and background processing. Look for software that combines simplicity (such as a one-button backup option) and sophistication (so you can access more advanced features as necessary). Many drive manufacturers are also working on Digital Tape File System (DTFS) software, which will list your tape drive as a regular system component in Windows 3.1x's File Manager or Windows 95's Explorer, allowing you to access it much as you would a floppy or hard disk drive.


Internal drives hook into your PC's floppy disk drive controller and save desktop space. External drives, which plug into the parallel interface, are ideal if you plan to use the drive with more than one computer. External units used to cost more because of the extra parts needed to produce them. But thanks to manufacturing efficiencies, external units now cost about the same as internal models in many cases.

If you back up your hard disk regularly, you are part of a select minority. In fact, only about 7.5 percent of personal workstations are currently being backed up using a tape drive, according to Dataquest Corp. Ideally, you should back up the information on your system about once a week-more often if critical data has been added.

Choose a drive that can handle media capable of storing at least your current hard disk's entire capacity, and preferably more. Consider your future demands, as well as any non-backup activities you may want to do. For example, many people now use tape to store information and images pulled off the Internet. Ask whether the unit you want comes with a tape, and get details on the warranty.

A Message on Media

Once you've purchased your tape drive, expect to shell out another $8 to $50 per cartridge for the tape media. Choosing the right tape for your drive is probably the most daunting aspect of tape backup. The bottom line-choose a tape that has the capacity you need.

Tape manufacturers are constantly trying to improve media technology to squeeze more information on a single cartridge. Currently, there are four basic cartridge types: quarter-inch cartridge (QIC), also called DC2000, has a capacity of 120MB native or 250MB compressed; QIC-Wide, a Sony standard, holds from 200MB to 2.3GB native, or 400MB to 4.6GB compressed; Travan can hold from 400MB to 4GB native, or 800MB to 8GB compressed; and QIC-EX, also called metal QIC-Wide, can hold 2.3GB native or 4.6GB compressed. Capacities are generally quoted for compressed data, which is double the amount of uncompressed data the tape can store.

The tape in a standard minicartridge is 0.25 inches wide; QIC-Wide tapes are 0.315 inches wide. Travan tapes, a recently developed standard, use tape that is both longer and wider. Travan drives can handle QIC and QIC-Wide media, as well as Travan tapes, but Travan tapes cannot run on every drive. QIC-EX, a type of QIC-Wide tape, uses a higher magnetic density to increase recording capacities. This doubles the amount of storage space without increasing the length of the tape. It's advisable to choose a brand name tape, such as Sony, Verbatim or 3M. It's likely that these tapes will have been tested with your drive.

The Tale of the Tape

Product: TAPESTOR 800
Company: Seagate Technology 800-626-6637, 408-438-6550
PRICE: $179 internal; $299 external
CAPACITY: Up to 800MB compressed
PERFORMANCE: Up to 9.5MB per minute
SOFTWARE: Seagate Backup Exec for DOS/Windows, Windows 95

Product: HP COLORADO T1000E
Company: Hewlett-Packard Co., Colorado Memory Systems Div. 800-810-0133, 970-635-1500
PRICE: $218 internal; $255 external
CAPACITY: Up to 800MB compressed
PERFORMANCE: Up to 9.5MB per minute
SOFTWARE: Colorado Backup

Product: DITTO EASY 800
Company: Iomega Corp. 800-MY-STUFF, 801-778-1000
PRICE: $149.95 (street), internal or external
CAPACITY: Up to 800MB compressed
PERFORMANCE: Up to 9.5MB per minute
SOFTWARE: Iomega 1-step

Purchase Plans

Make copies of this checklist and fill it out for each tape drive that you are considering.

Product Name ____________________
Manufacturer ____________________
Price ________

Sustained Data Rate ____ MB per minute

Accelerator Card ___ Yes ___ No___ Optional

Software ___ Backup ___ DTFS

Type ___ Internal ___ External

Supported Media ___ QIC ___ QIC-Wide ___ Travan ___ QIC-EX

Includes a Tape ___ Yes ___ No

Warranty ___ 1 year ___ 2 years ___ Lifetime

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