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-- by James E. Powell
Improving on its previous Nest version, Exabyte has released the Eagle Nest family-interchangeable hardware components that make it easy to share among systems a tape backup, Exabyte's own ZIP drive and LS-120 drive. The Never Ending Storage Technology (Nest) components slide into an internal Nest (which mounts into a 5.25-inch drive bay) or an external Nest that connects to your parallel port with printer pass-through.
Exabyte's previous Nest, the TR-3, was an internal-only unit. It showed great promise, but the only component to ship was a Travan 3 tape drive with an awkward and confusing installation process. In contrast, installation of the new Eagle Nest is a breeze.
To install the external unit, which we beta tested, just connect it to your PC, insert the installation disk, run the setup program and reboot your system. The installation of the production internal unit we tested requires an IDE ISA card (supplied). Despite packaging that boasts an IDE interface, the Nest cannot connect to an existing free connector on an existing IDE cable. The setup software identifies free IRQ and address settings; however, it supports only four IRQs (10, 11, 12 and 15), and you must set jumpers on the card. Our board wasn't seated properly during installation, so we received an odd error message saying the Nest software wasn't loaded. The excellent troubleshooting application (on floppy disk) properly identified the problem and offered a well-worded solution.
Inserting a component is a no-brainer: Grasp the component by its handle, slide it into the Nest until its rear connector is properly seated (it's easy to tell by feel), then twist the key on the Nest to lock it in. A light indicates that the component has power. Likewise, to remove the component, unlock the Nest and pull the component's handle.
The internal unit is hot swappable-just insert any of the components, and the familiar New Hardware Found message from Windows 95 appears with no reboot requirement. It takes about 40 seconds for Windows to recognize that a component has been removed; it takes about 20 seconds to recognize that one has been inserted.
You can switch components in the external Nest by clicking on the Eagle icon in the System Tray (which also serves to indicate the component's status). You then need to click on the Disconnect button before you remove a component and on the Connect button after you insert another component. It's a small annoyance, given the Nest system's flexibility and convenience.
The Nest internal unit we tested (the Eagle Nest TR-4i) includes a tape drive that uses Travan 4 tapes (to back up as much as 8GB assuming a 2:1 compression ratio) and Seagate Backup software. The TR-4i backed up and verified 8,000 files occupying 563MB in just 29 minutes-a speed comparable to the fast SCSI-2-based Seagate Scorpion 8 DAT drive we recently tested. The ZIP drive component worked with no noticeable performance loss due to Nest drivers.
We did not test the LS-120 drive or the hard drive. The latter is relatively small (1.44GB) and expensive ($470) because, Exabyte says, it required a laptop-rugged hard disk to withstand the abuse of system-to-system travel.
Components are available separately or with the internal Nest. You can buy internal Nests without components for about $113; external Nests sell for approximately $169.
The Nest family is an ideal solution when you use the individual components (such as a tape backup unit) only occassionally. The internal unit installs easily, but the external Nest is an even better choice when you don't have to deal with installing a peripheral into a drive bay. The external Nest's use of the parallel port also means it's ideal for laptop users, although it's too heavy to be considered as portable as, say, a standalone Iomega Zip drive. There's even an optional connector that lets you attach the Nest unit to your laptop's PC Card slot.
With new components that meet the developing Device Bay standard probably still a year off (and which will require FireWire), the Nest offers a reliable solution today. That's why we're adding it to our WinList.