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Q: I have a PC with a built-in Zip drive. All's been swell until recently, when I realized a 100-megabyte Zip disk doesn't cut it anymoreyou try cramming a bunch of MP3s and Adobe Illustrator sketches on there! Can I upgrade to a bigger Zip without spending a fortune?
Sure can, but don't be too quick to assume Zip's necessarily the way to go. Those playing-card-sized disks were dandy in the mid to late '90s, especially compared to floppies and their pathetic 1.44 MB storage caps. But we're in the CD era nowadays, replete with cheap burners and sub-$1 media. Zip technology's keeping pace in terms of storage, but the disk prices are, and always will be, killers.
Mr. Roboto understands you're probably a Zip loyalist at this point, with a library's worth of disks, and thus rather curmudgeonly about making a switch. If so, best to snatch up a new, souped-up drive pronto. Zip maker Iomega (iomega.com) came out with a drive last autumn that spits out 750 MB disks; it'll still read your antiquated 100 MB disks, too, so no worries about an onerous transfer process. There are three different 750 MB drives, including one that's simpatico with USB ports. (It works a lot quicker, however, with the newfangled USB 2.0 or FireWire ports; invest in a $50 PCI adapter card if you're not big on time wasting.) Buy one before June 14 and you're eligible for a $50 rebate, which will bring your tab down to around $130, or $150 if you go for the FireWire-compatible model.
Not a bad deal, but you get walloped on the media costs. Iomega's Zip technology is proprietary, which means they've got the disk market corneredthere's no Brand X competitor to ratchet down the price. So best-case scenario, as part of an eight-pack ordered online, a 750 MB disk goes for $10. Yes, they're reusable, but so are 700 MB CD-RWs, which in a 10-pack can be had for as little as 90 cents perless, even, if you're willing to ask around Canal Street.
The economical storage route, then, is to abandon the Zip entirely and purchase a CD-RW burner. If your PC has an internal slot, look for one with an EIDE interface, like the entry-level Samsung SW-252 (currently $58 at pcconnection.com). A serviceable external unit will run you double that or more; none other than Iomega offers Mr. Roboto's favorite crop of USB burners. Regardless of the make, settle for nothing less than a listed rewrite speed of 24x, and a write speed of 48x or above.
Should you crave even more room to stow your sketches, Iomega's also got a special going on 20 gigabyte, USB 2.0 hard disks ($150 through mid June). Or you can go super-nuts and plunk down $235 on a 120 GB version, enough for 20,000-plus albums and some Illustrator sketches to boot.
Hard disks, alas, are too bulky for many road-warrior types. Far svelter is a USB memory stick, a wisp of a gizmo that can tote up to a gigabyte's worth of data, though 128 MB versions are more popular. This isn't a cheap way to go, as a 1 GB stick can set you back $500, not including the additional $25-$50 for the hardware reader. But it's a solution to consider if you foresee yourself getting deep into digital photography, as many cameras (especially Sonys and Konicas) now feature memory stick ports.
Let's not get any fancier than need be, though. Bottom line, switching to CD-RWs is the smart penny-pincher's move. You may miss the Zip's easy click-and-drag copying, and the disks' near-legendary hardinessit's a beautiful thing to live without fear of scratches and dings. But over the long run, you'll probably be happier with some extra quid in your pocket. Unless you're a fabulously wealthy wastrel, in which case you're probably reading the wrong column.
Mea culpa, dear readers, but Mr. Roboto's e-mail's been on the fritz for several days now. Your questions and comments, kind and otherwise, will be answered once the Voice's e-mail genies work their magic. Hasn't been all terrible, though, as the downtime's allowed Mr. Roboto to log hour upon hour playing New World Order (Strategy First), a simple yet addictive frag-fest, à la Counter Strike. Nice, easy workout for the spankin' new video card, and a better anti-frustration remedy than the old standby of chewing ice.
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