Over the last couple of years, we have seen a proliferation of low-cost, medium-to-high capacity removable drives such as the Iomega Zip and Jaz drives (reviewed in SOS December '95 and on page 38 of this issue respectively), the SyQuest EZ135 (see SOS July '96), and now its successor, the EZFlyer reviewed here. The SyQuest EZ135 proved to be fast enough for direct-to-disk audio recording, and I use one in my own setup for storing samples or short Logic Audio sound files. However, the EZ135 has been overtaken by its newer sibling, which offers almost double the storage capacity for very little more cost. Fortunately, as a concession to those who've been trampled beneath the stampeding feet of advancing technology, the EZFlyer can both read from and write to EZ135 cartridges.
With a total capacity of 230Mb (closer to 217Mb when formatted), the EZFlyer drive relies on a 3.5-inch cartridge containing a rigid platter, based on Winchester technology; in most respects, it's indistinguishable from the EZ135 disk. With an average access time of 13.5ms, the SCSI version of the drive (reviewed here) has a transfer rate of 2.4Mb/second (4Mb per second burst), while the parallel port version manages only 1.25 Mb per second, though this is still very respectable, and is comparable to many fixed hard drives. This degree of speed makes the drive suitable for real-time audio applications, some video applications, and for any general-purpose backup purpose where medium-length files need to be stored -- for example, samples, MIDI sequence data, or audio files from MIDI + Audio sequencers.
Packaged with the drive is a set of floppy disks containing both PC and Mac installation software, a 25-pin SCSI cable, one cartridge, and a terminator. The mounting software is from Silver Lining, and new cartridges are supplied ready-formatted for either Mac or PC, depending what you ask for. The supplied cartridge also comes with a few bits of free Mac software including some games demos, though due to problems installing my drivers, these were wiped in a reformatting operation before I could check them out. Power, incidentally, comes from an external adaptor that automatically adapts to any local mains voltage between 90 and 270V.
Unlike the early SyQuest drives, which were both noisy and cumbersome, the EZFlyer is small, neat, and very importantly, quiet. There's a brief high-pitched whine as the disk runs up to speed, but after that, the noise disappears. If the disk isn't addressed for several minutes, it winds down again and dozes until you need it. For those already familiar with the EZ135, the EZFlyer looks quite different, and also features a simpler loading mechanism. Rather than use the locking lever system, the disk simply slides in and a door closes after it. However, you do have to make sure that the disk is pushed all the way in, otherwise it may not locate properly. Ejection is mechanical, so other than having to wait a few seconds for the disk to run up to speed and mount itself on your desktop, using it isn't unlike using a floppy drive. Even so, because of the mounting and demounting times, using this drive could be frustrating in situations where you have to do a lot of disk swapping. In fact, Iomega's Zip drive is far quicker in this respect, though the actual data transfer rate of the drive is significantly slower.
As with the EZ135, once the cartridge is inserted and mounted, the EZFlyer operates much like any other hard drive, and works OK with Digidesign's Sound Accelerator and ProTools II hardware. It also interfaces with SCSI-equipped samplers, though you'll almost certainly have to reformat the disk using the drive management menu in the sampler itself. The disk cartridge packaging is reassuringly protective, and has a transparent outer sleeve beneath which you can fix your own label.
The SyQuest EZFlyer is a very nice drive; it's quiet and cost-effective, but for serious audio work, the higher-capacity Iomega 1Gb Jaz drive is a more practical option, and is not hugely more expensive. For my money, the EZFlyer is most useful for archiving samples or for general file backup. For those who already have an EZ135, the ability to read and write EZ135 disks is most welcome. I feel the load/unload operation of the drive has improved over the 135, though the disk eject is a touch on the violent side.
Weaknesses are few, and my only real concern is the time it takes for the drive to mount and demount -- around half a minute on my old Mac IIcx. I also had trouble installing the Mac drivers -- the self-extracting archive containing them refused to self-extract until some fairly heavy-duty data descrambling utilities had been used on it. Then again, the fact that the unit had already been used before I got it means that something untoward may have happened to the disks in the hands of the previous user, so SyQuest can have the benefit of the doubt here.
What else can I say? This is a neat, cost-effective solution to medium-size file storage and it's fast enough for real-time audio into the bargain, but don't expect it to stay state-of-the-art for long -- real life isn't like that anymore where computer peripherals are concerned.
Quiet, with fast data transfer.
Inexpensive; both drive and media.
Works with Macs, samplers and IBM SCSI systems.
A serial version is also available, but isn't as fast.
Mounting and de-mounting of disks takes a long time.
A useful drive for real-time audio, sample storage
and general data backup applications.
£ SyQuest EZFlyer 230Mb (parallel port and SCSI versions) £240.88; 230Mb cartridges £23.50 each (£61.10 for three, £94 for five, £182.13 for 10). All prices include VAT.
A SyQuest Technology Ltd, Spitfire House, Edinburgh Airport Cargo Village, Turnhouse Road, Edinburgh EH12 0AL, UK.
T +44 (0)131 339 2022.
Technical Support Line +44 (0)131 338 0102.
F 0131 339 6765.