From the March 1999 issue of Startups

You're working at your computer when you hear thunder pounding above and see lightning flashing outside your window. Normally Mother Nature doesn't faze you all that much, but that's usually when you don't have a huge project due to your biggest client the next day. Suddenly your computer screen goes blank. As shock sets in, you panic, hoping and praying your whole system hasn't crashed. When the power finally comes back up, you find out your prayers have been ignored. Your worst nightmare has become reality--your whole project is lost.

How do you prevent something like this from happening? By backing up your information on a disk. But since your regular floppies don't hold that much information, a high-capacity floppy drive is what you need. Store up to 250MB of information on these disks, and you'll never lose your precious data again.

While this may be the most dramatic example of a high-capacity floppy disk drive's value, backing up data isn't its only use. Do you regularly work with very large files such as graphics or sound? Free up room on your hard drive by storing such space-hogs on high-capacity floppy drives. Does downloading Web pages clutter your hard drive? Put them on a high-capacity floppy instead to save space. Need to take a massive project home one night--but your office computer isn't networked with your home PC? Put all your work-in-progress on a high-capacity floppy drive and schlep it home. (Let's hope you don't have to do that very often.)

The best-known high-capacity floppy drive on the market is the Iomega Zip drive. Since its introduction, more than 100 million units of the Zip drive have been sold, and it's undergone some changes. The original Zip disk stored 100MB of information; the latest version stores up to 250MB.

Another high-capacity floppy disk drive is the SuperDisk. Developed by Imation, this disk storage technology supports very high-density disks that hold up to 120MB of information and is backward compatible with older 1.44MB diskettes (meaning you can read and write earlier disks, as well).

The latest technology to hit the market is the High Floppy Disk (HiFD), a high-density floppy disk developed by Sony that can hold 200MB of data. Similar to the SuperDisk drive from Imation, HiFD can read and write both old and new disks. HiFD drives support data transfer rates of up to 3.6 Mbps.

How do you decide which one is best for you? Masataka Ogawa, director of business planning and development at Sony, suggests paying attention to three things when shopping for a high-capacity storage drive: compatibility, capacity and speed.

Iomega ZipPlus

Warranty: one year

Street price: $149

Phone: (800) 697-8833

Web site: http://www.iomega.com

The ZipPlus drive's new AutoDetect technology allows you to connect to either SCSI or parallel ports and have your computer automatically recognize the device. It also includes a small universal power supply that weighs 4 ounces and is compatible with voltages worldwide. The new on/off switch, a feature not found on most high-capacity floppy disk drives, allows you to conserve power when the drive is not in use. Total storage capacity equals 100MB; new multimedia software such as Adobe PhotoDeluxe, Recordit, ImageAXS, Web Buddy and Netcard is also included with the ZipPlus drive.

Imation SuperDisk

Warranty: one year

Street price: $150

Phone: (888) 466-3456

Web site: http://www.superdisk.com

In a new notebook or desktop PC, the SuperDisk drive completely replaces the 1.44MB floppy drive as the bootable a: drive for your computer. SuperDisk drives can read and write 120MB SuperDisk diskettes as well as 1.44MB and 720KB diskettes. With SuperDisk technology, users can transport many large files on a single disk. Back up and transport complete folders such as the "My Documents" folder in Windows 95; store work-in-progress files including graphics, digital photos and presentations; save large color, sound and video files without compression; store and retrieve fax images, e-mail and voice-mail messages; or save hard-disk files and applications on a single disk.

Iomega Zip 250

Warranty: one-year limited

Street price: $200

Phone: (800) 697-8833

Web site: http://www.iomega.com

Both parallel port and SCSI versions of this drive are available. SCSI drive users will benefit from a performance boost that's up to 56 times faster than standard floppy drives and 1.4 times faster than external CD-ROM drives. Based on the Zip 100 platform, this drive offers the same portability and flexibility as the original Zip 100MB drive--plus the largest storage capacity around, 250MB. The Zip 250 includes IomegaWare, Norton Zip Rescue and Recordit software.

Sony HiFD

Warranty: one year

Street price: not available

Phone: (800) 352-SONY

Web site: http://www.sony-hifd.com

HiFD's increased storage capacity of 200MB, 140 times more than traditional floppy disks, allows it to hold up to 20 minutes of full motion MPEG1 video. Users can offload files from their hard drive for backup and archives, transfer large files between computers, and download large files from the Internet directly to a HiFD. The T-shutter design reduces the amount of dust and debris that enters the disk. HiFD media is designed so the drive can immediately recognize which type of disk has been inserted and switch to the corresponding operation mode. A V-lock mechanism ensures the disk cannot be mistakenly inserted into a conventional floppy drive.

Maxell PCMCIA LS-120 SuperDisk

Warranty: one year

Street price: $199

Phone: (201) 703-2168

Web site: http://www.maxell.com

At 12.7 mm in height and weighing only 10 ounces, this drive is a compact external drive based on Mitsubishi's slim SuperDisk design. SuperDisk drives read and write to 120MB disks as well as existing 1.44MB and 720KB diskettes. The drive supports notebooks and PCs with a Type II or Type III PC card slot and is compatible with Windows 95 and DOS operating systems.

TEAC HiFD

Warranty:one year

Street price: $200

Phone: (323) 726-0303

Web site: http://www.teac.com

Whether you're backing up your most important data, downloading Internet files or sharing your work with another computer, this drive has what you need. A hefty 200MB storage capacity and a rapid 3.6 Mbps transfer rate combine to give you speed and power. The TEAC HiFD is designed with a flying recording head for longer life expectancy. Because the head and the media don't come in contact, erosion and wear to either component are reduced. The disk cartridges also have an improved shutter system, making it difficult for dust to enter.