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WinLab Reviews
Head To Head: Magneto-Optical Drives
These MOs Put More MBs in Your Pocket

-- by Marc Spiwak

Floppy disks have always been an efficient, though slow, way to transport relatively small files. They were also useful for backing up software-until programs grew too large to fit on a floppy or two. But there's more than one way to back up your files. Magneto-optical (MO) drives are one option.

I tested a pair of 230MB MO drives: an Olympus external SCSI model and a Fujitsu internal IDE. Magneto-optical drives create rugged, inexpensive disks that hold plenty of data. A laser heats special magnetic media, permitting a relatively weak magnetic field to rearrange or rewrite data. When you remove the laser, the material cools, and the data is fixed and less susceptible to damage from stray magnetic fields. The laser is not used for reading data.

Olympus offers the SYS.230 in three formats: an external SCSI drive ($359), an internal drive ($299) and a universal model ($389, including a parallel port adapter cable) that you can use with almost any system. The drive has 256KB cache and spins at 4200rpm.

The SCSI controller you're using could affect the ease of installation. For example, one system with a BusLogic FlashPoint PCI SCSI controller wouldn't even boot with the SYS.230 connected. There were no problems with other controllers on different systems. A small rotary switch on the back of the drive sets the SCSI ID, and another switch provides built-in SCSI termination. You can add more devices to the chain with the two rear-mounted SCSI connectors on the drive.

Windows 95 instantly recognized the drive when I booted the system. After a 30-second formatting procedure accessed by a right mouse click, the drive was ready to copy and delete files. I copied a 31MB file to the MO drive in 1 minute, 40 seconds-a transfer rate of 310KB per second.

I soon realized that the drive wrote data more slowly than it read data. Copying the same 31MB file from the MO drive back to the hard drive took only 35 seconds, resulting in an 886KB-per-second transfer rate. Overall, my tests showed the SYS.230 writes about as fast as a 2X CD-ROM drive and reads as fast as a 6X. According to the manufacturer's specifications, my 8-by-6-by-2- inch test unit (which weighed about 2 pounds) provides a seek time of under 27 milliseconds with a 2.4MB-per-second transfer rate. Even though my numbers differed from Olympus' claims, the drive was fast enough for practical use.

The Fujitsu DynaMO 230, an internal IDE MO drive, uses the same cartridges as the Olympus drive. Both companies make their own brand-name disks, but 230MB MO cartridges are interchangeable. In addition, the older 128MB MO cartridges work in either drive. Blank disks cost about $10 each, and the Fujitsu preformatted premium-quality disks are about $20 each.

The DynaMO 230 installs in a standard 3.5-inch external drive bay. It also adapts to a 5.25-inch bay with included cables and mounting hardware. Once installed, the Fujitsu drive is easy to set up. Like an IDE CD-ROM drive, you set a jumper to make the drive a master or slave, then connect it to the motherboard's IDE controller. I configured the test unit as a slave on the primary controller along with the hard drive. After turning on the system, I ran a setup program from a single installation diskette, and the drive was ready to roll.

The DynaMO 230 has a rotational speed of 2700rpm and a 128KB buffer. Fujitsu claims a maximum data-transfer rate of 6MBps and an average seek time of less than 65ms. In my tests, the Fujitsu wasn't nearly as fast as the Olympus, especially when writing. I copied the 31MB file to the DynaMO drive in 2 minutes, 59 seconds, and then copied it back to the hard drive in 45 seconds. This resulted in a write transfer rate of 173KBps and a read rate of 689KBps.

Under test conditions, the Olympus drive performed nearly twice as fast as the Fujitsu when writing data and about 25 percent faster when reading it. It's also portable and less costly than the Fujitsu. You'll need a SCSI controller for the Olympus unless you select the universal model, which works with both SCSI controllers and parallel ports. Even then, the Olympus is less expensive than the Fujitsu, which earns it a place on our Recommended List.

On the other hand, if you're looking for an internal drive, or if your system does not have a SCSI controller and you have no intention of installing one, the Fujitsu IDE drive might be your best bet. It will work with any system that has an IDE controller.

W Info File

Olympus SYS.230
Price: SCSI model, $359
Pros: Inexpensive; removable storage system
Cons: Not nearly as fast as a hard drive
Platforms: 3x, 95, NT
Olympus Image Systems
800-347-4027, 516-844-5000
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

W Info File

Fujitsu DynaMO 230
Price: $375
Pros: Less likely to get damaged than a portable drive
Cons: Not as versatile as an external drive
Platforms: 3x, 95
Fujitsu Computer
Products of America
800-626-4686, 408-432-6333
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

Copyright 1997 CMP Media

(From Windows Magazine, January 1997, page 134.)