close this bookTidBITS#51   
View the documentDrive 2.4 Details
View the documentFloppy Woes
View the documentInstallation
View the documentDesign
View the documentBasic Operation
View the documentFormatting Options
View the documentNegatives
View the documentConclusion
View the documentFoot Notes

Topics:

  • Drive 2.4 Details
  • Floppy Woes
  • Installation
  • Design
  • Basic Operation
  • Formatting Options
  • Negatives
  • Conclusion

Copyright 1991 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


Drive 2.4 Details

Rapport / Drive 2.4
Kennect Technology
120A Albright Way
Los Gatos, CA 95030
800/552-1232
408/370-2866
KENNECT on America Online

Rating:

9 Penguins out of a possible 10

Summary: -- The combination of Rapport and the Drive 2.4 provides read/write compatibility with most 3.5" disk formats as well as several special formats, such as 2.4 MB Mac HFS disks. Kennect's implementation is clean and unobtrusive and the combination worked flawlessly for me. As an extra bonus, the Drive 2.4 is bundled with FastBack II from Fifth Generation Systems.

User Evaluation: (on a scale of 0 to 10)

Number of responses: 1
Ease of installation: 8
Ease of learning: 8
Ease of use: 9
Power & usefulness: 8
Documentation: 8
Technical support: 8
Overall evaluation: 9

Price and Availability: -- Both Rapport and the Drive 2.4 are widely available from dealers and mail order firms. Rapport has a list price of $295 and a MacConnection price of $195, while the Drive 2.4 lists for $495 and is discounted to $325 (we quote the MacConnection price in recognition of the company's industry-leading efforts to use ecologically-conscious packaging and its overall excellent service).

Reviewer:

Adam C. Engst, TidBITS Editor

Floppy Woes

There may be a silver lining in every cloud (and there's certainly one in my hard disk, thanks to La Cie), but I still dislike one of the consequences of upgrading my venerable double-drive SE to an SE/30. The SE/30 has only one internal floppy connector and only one slot in the front of the case (it's really called a bezel, which I thought was what the nuts were called for a long time). Because of this design, I had to give up one of my two floppy drives for adoption. I decided not to upgrade to the SuperDrive at that point because of the cost and the reports of disk failures with it. So I was left with a single 800K floppy drive in a world of SuperDrives. Backups became more of a pain than ever, because I couldn't insert a new disk while removing the previous one. And making copies of my original program disks turned into an elaborate procedure, because I ran into a completely reproducible bug, in the Finder and with no INITs running, that caused the Mac to lock up if I inserted the destination disk first, ejected it, inserted the source disk, and then dragged the source icon to the destination icon. Without even letting go of the icon, the Mac asked for the disk and locked up. I suspect that this is a bug caused by putting an 800K drive in an SE/30 with the SWIM chip, but I can't tell for sure.

With all of this ringamarole, I decided that it was time to check out another drive. The most interesting floppy drive on the market is without a doubt the Drive 2.4 from Kennect Technologies. The Drive 2.4 requires an additional controller in the form of the Rapport, also from Kennect, although the company is working on a version of its software that allows the Drive 2.4 to work without the Rapport on SWIM chip-equipped Macs. Be warned though, that Kennect said the task is extremely complex and will take quite some time yet.

"So what makes the Drive 2.4 interesting," you ask, after I've rambled on about floppy drives for two paragraphs? As its name suggests the Drive 2.4 can format Macintosh HFS disks to a whopping 2.4 megabytes. None of this nonsense with 800K or even 1.4 MB, these disks come out of the format process with 2383K available for use. Of course the Drive 2.4 can also read and write the normal 800K and 1.4 MB disks. For those of you who are so inclined, the Drive 2.4 can even read and write MS-DOS and ProDOS disks in a variety of sizes. I'll list the possibilities later on, in case you're curious.


Installation

The Drive 2.4 and Rapport both came in large boxes with plenty of foam padding and electrostatic protection bags. I was a bit surprised to receive such a large box containing the two of them, but the volleyball games at the shipping warehouse would be hard put to damage either piece. A 1.4 MB blank disk (nice touch!) and an 800K floppy disk containing the software ships in the Rapport box, and both boxes contain the same manual. The Drive 2.4 box also includes a shrink-wrapped copy of Fifth Generation's FastBack II backup program, which I'm not going to get to reviewing. Rapport can work alone to provide some extra features to the internal drive or to an external Apple drive (more on this later), which is why Kennect packages and ships the two items separately.

The floppy disk contains a System Folder, the Rapport INIT, Apple File Exchange, and a Read Me file that gives a version history for the INIT. Installation was simple and needed no instructions. I connected the Drive 2.4's cable to the Rapport, attached the Rapport to my Mac's floppy port, dropped the Rapport INIT in the System Folder, and rebooted. Actually, that's not entirely true, because I wanted to see if anything would happen with the Rapport and Drive 2.4 connected without the INIT installed. Nothing did.

The installation procedure couldn't have been much easier, although the manual says that some Macs are lower to the ground than others. For those Macs, Kennect includes a new set of rubber feet to raise the Mac slightly so that the Rapport unit isn't running into the desk surface. This wasn't a problem for me, since the Mac sits on my hard drive. Still, it's something to keep in mind when installing Rapport.


Design

Kennect put a good deal of thought into the design of Rapport and the Drive 2.4, with only two small problems that I'll get to soon. Rapport is a small unit that looks like a slightly oversized cable plug. Directly under the main body of the Rapport is the plug for the Drive 2.4 or another external disk drive. This plug is recessed so the Drive 2.4's plug doesn't stick out any further than the end of the Rapport - an example of thoughtful design.

The Drive 2.4 has a slim, futuristic case with an access light on the left of the disk slot and an unexplained push switch on the right of the slot where you'd expect a hole to insert the infamous disk-ejecting paperclip. The switch isn't completely unexplained since the manual does say in the Troubleshooting section that the switch doesn't do anything when the Drive 2.4 is connected to a Mac. That wasn't really my question, but it's not that big a deal. Kennect said they initially intended to use the switch for ejecting disks when used with the Apple IIe line, but Kennect put those plans on the back burner. The Drive 2.4 doesn't have a paperclip hole, but Kennect did provide on the bottom of the drive a tab, which, when pushed toward the back of the drive, ejects the disk. It's harder to do than the old paperclip trick (though I once knew an engineer who got a disk stuck in his roommate's Mac, and not knowing about the paperclip trick, successfully took the entire Mac and disk drive apart to get the disk out), but equally as effective. The back of the drive houses not only the cable (which can't be disconnected) but also another floppy drive port. Kennect says that you can daisy chain up to three external drives, only one of which can be an Apple drive. I don't know that I need four drives total, but it was nice of them to make it possible nonetheless. Like the Apple drives, the Drive 2.4 grabs disks from you and spits them back out, although it's not quite as energetic as the Apple drives I've used. I don't mind because the disk slot has a recessed part for your fingers when you're inserting and removing disks.

If you own a Mac II or IIx, you may be irritated at the lack of an external drive port. Kennect has come up with a solution in the form of an adapter and a 16" extender cable, both of which should be available wherever you can get the Drive 2.4. They list for $69 and should run about $45 discounted.

The design is not perfect, though, and there are two small problems which don't affect the operation of the drive. Because of the slim case, the Drive 2.4 cannot easily stand on its side, as can the Apple external drives. The manual says nothing on the subject, but I expect a small stand could be easily be built for it. Kennect says there shouldn't be any problem, but disks might not eject as well that way. You also don't want to put much weight on the drive, or the eject mechanism might not work as well. The second problem is that the access light flashes quickly every three seconds whether or not a disk is inserted. This drives me nuts. I'll probably put some tape over it soon, because the constant flashing distracts my attention from the screen.


Basic Operation

Despite the fact that the Drive 2.4 is interesting as disk drives go, the most important feature of a disk drive is that it should be unobtrusive. When you pop a disk into the drive, you shouldn't have to think about what you're doing. The Drive 2.4 must perforce stick out more than an internal Apple SuperDrive, if only by virtue of its design. It is only an external drive, and like all external drives, should sit on the right hand side of compact Macs to avoid the monitor radiation. The manual makes a point of this for users who haven't heard the corrupted disk horror stories.

The main problem with the Drive 2.4's quest for unobtrusiveness is that it does too much. The first thing you can do (though the default settings are fine) after installing is check the settings in the Rapport Control Panel, accessible like any other cdev interface. Rapport has three settings, the first of which controls whether or not the Rapport icon displays in the icon march at startup. The second option determines whether or not Rapport will by default allow you to create non-standard disks, such as 2.4 MB MS-DOS disks. This default setting can be overridden in the format dialog box. The third and final setting tells Rapport if it should control the internal disk drive as well, or if the internal drive should merely perform standard Macintosh functions. You need to switch back to standard Mac functions if you wish to reinitialize an MS-DOS or ProDOS disk to the standard Mac format. The defaults are to show the icon at startup, restrict the formatting options to standard interchange formats, and allow Rapport to control the internal drive.

Once you get down to using the disk, it's completely transparent, so long as you use Macintosh formatted disks. If you insert a MS-DOS or ProDOS (I assume, since I don't have any 3.5" ProDOS disks around), you get a dialog box telling you about the disk's size and format. A dialog box then tells you to eject the disk and run Apple File Exchange to view the disk, or you can reinitialize it directly in a format that makes sense for the disk. If the disk really is unformatted, the dialog box says that the disk is unreadable and provides formatting choices along with the option to eject it.

In the time I worked with the Drive 2.4, I found it eminently usable, other than that stupid little flashing light. I used the Drive 2.4 for my standard Macintosh tasks, like copying master disks and making floppy backups. The only thing that you cannot do with the Drive 2.4 that you can do with the Apple external drive is boot from it. This inability makes sense, in light of the Rapport INIT needing to load, and is not a major deficiency since the Drive 2.4 will almost always be the second drive.

I'll admit that one of my main hopes for the Drive 2.4 is as a backup device. Since Retrospect and other backup programs can compress files up to 50% of their original sizes, I was hoping to put 4.8 MB on a single high density disk. When I tried this, Retrospect never managed to put more than about 3.2 MB on a single disk and MacTools Backup did even worse. This of course is not the fault of the Drive 2.4 in any way, and it's likely that the files I was backing up were not the sort that can be easily compressed. Without having used it, I assume that FastBack II can achieve the same sort of results, if not better, when used with the Drive 2.4. If nothing else, FastBack II is free with the Drive 2.4, an especially helpful bundle from Kennect if you buy the Drive 2.4 primarily for backups. Depending on your backup program, you might even be able to get away with using the 2.4 MB disks for unattended backups at night by leaving a single disk in the Drive 2.4, since 2.4 MB with compression can hold a lot of data from an incremental backup. It would all depend on whether or not your backup program (a) does unattended backups, and (b) if it's picky about getting confirmation. There would be times when the disk would fill up and you would personally have to insert a new one, but that would happen infrequently enough that it shouldn't be a problem for most people.


Formatting Options

The most work you will do with the Drive 2.4 is to figure out what size to format your disks to. Kennect does a good job at separating the many possibilities, thus helping you to avoid trouble later on. As I said earlier, Rapport can work by itself, either just with the internal drive or with an Apple external drive as well. With Rapport connected to the floppy port, the internal drive can read, but not write, 720K MS-DOS disks. Rapport can also create a special 1200K format on standard disks, but it can only do so in either an external Apple drive or the Drive 2.4. However, the internal drive can then read, but again, not write, those 1200K disks. All Apple drives can read and write (through Apple File Exchange) 3.5" ProDOS disks, and Rapport doesn't affect that.

More interesting, though, are the possibilities when Rapport is connected to a Drive 2.4. If the disk is a Double Density disk (DD), you can format it at the following sizes, 400K, 800K, 720K, and 1200K, in any of three file systems, Mac HFS, ProDOS, or MS-DOS. If you use a High Density disk (HD), you can choose two sizes, 1.4 MB and 2.4 MB, for the same three file systems. Of course, since compatibility is one of the strong points of the Rapport/Drive 2.4 combination, you probably won't want to go around creating 1200K MS-DOS disks or 2400K ProDOS disks, but if you have the desire to do so, go right ahead and enjoy yourself. Luckily, Rapport and can determine which sort of disk you put into a SuperDrive or Drive 2.4, so it won't let you format a DD disk as a 1.4 MB disk, no matter how hard you try. Nothing can prevent you from formatting an HD disk to 800K, though, but the disk daemons will be unhappy with you if you do so.

To prevent compatibility problems, Kennect put a check box labeled "Standard Interchange Formats" in the Format dialog box. When that check box is checked, only formats that make sense for other machines are allowed; the others are disabled. This feature prevents you from making 2.4 MB MS-DOS disks that no PC-clone could ever read and prevents you from making 2.4 MB Macintosh disks (which only Drive 2.4-equipped Macs can read) for backup purposes. If you pay a small amount of attention, you should never run into a situation where you created the wrong sort of disk.


Negatives

The Rapport/Drive 2.4 combination isn't perfect. For one thing, many people have a SWIM chip-equipped Mac these days and it would be nice if Kennect could finish the driver so that the Drive 2.4 can do its stuff without requiring the $200 Rapport.

Something about the combination tends to upset the Mac's sound driver, so when you insert a disk, SoundMaster's Insert Disk sound usually gets garbled. Similarly, if you launch a file from a disk in the Drive 2.4, Finder Sounds can't maintain a smooth swoosh sound for opening. I'd far rather that Kennect spent their time getting the Drive 2.4 working with the SWIM chip, but if someone's sitting around bored, it would be nice if the Drive 2.4 didn't interfere with sounds.

One thing to watch out for is that some programs can auto-format a floppy disk and HD disks inserted into HD drives like the SuperDrive and the Drive 2.4 are always formatted to 1.4 MB, which isn't necessarily desirable in the Drive 2.4. Kennect could solve this problem and make the package a little more desirable if they included a small utility program that could bulk format disks at whatever size you wished, including all of the strange sizes made possible by Rapport and the Drive 2.4. That way, when I ordered 100 HD disks, I could sit and feed them in, one after another, making sure that they were all formatted at 2.4 MB. Just a suggestion, but one which would add a nice touch. Heck, as long as we're talking about nice touches, I'd like it if they included a bunch of little stickers in the package so you could label which disks were MS-DOS disks and which ones were formatted 1200K and which ones were ProDOS 1.4M disks, etc.

It's certainly not impossible for INIT conflicts to appear with the Rapport INIT, and although I didn't find any, you should be aware that you should test any unexplained problems on a clean system before calling Kennect. The current version of the software supposedly works on all flavors of System 6.0.x, but System 7.0 will require a new version of the INIT, so if you want to use System 7.0 with your Drive 2.4, hang on for while.

Brion Feinberg, who responded to our request for comments, did point out a problem that might affect some people, although it doesn't seem to be Kennect's fault. "Apparently, on early Mac II models, the SCSI port receives power from an external hard drive and that power doesn't go away, even if the Mac II is shut down. I always left my external drive turned on, even when I shut down the Mac. The Drive 2.4 detects the loss of power on a Mac as a signal to reinitialize itself upon start-up. However, with the SCSI drive connected and left on, the Drive 2.4 never realizes that the Mac has been turned off. Consequently, it does not reinitialize when the machine is turned back on and for some reason, the Mac fails to recognize the drive (note that if the Mac is restarted instead of being shut down, the drive doesn't need to be reinitialized.) The work around is to always turn off your external hard drive whenever you shut down. Or never shut down :-). Kennect claims that this is Apple's problem with the design of their SCSI circuitry and that Apple has fixed it in later models."

Finally, depending on your sensibilities, you may not like the sounds that the Drive 2.4 makes. It is louder than the internal drive certainly, and I think a tad louder than the external Apple drives as well. I personally like disk drive sounds because almost every computer I've worked on has different disk drive sounds. They give each computer a personality, and the Drive 2.4 has done that a bit more so for my Mac these last few weeks. The flashing light (gee, do you notice that it bothers me?) has to go, though. Now where's the masking tape?


Conclusion

If you have a Mac that doesn't have a SuperDrive, then the Rapport/Drive 2.4 combination is absolutely wonderful. It's small and works flawlessly as a standard Macintosh drive, and provides disk compatibility with more formats at more sizes than you will ever need. At least until Uncle Bill who has an old Apple IIe comes to visit and wants to look at something on a ProDOS disk.

I think the price of the Rapport/Drive 2.4 combination is a bit high at $195 for the Rapport and $325 for the Drive 2.4, given the dropping prices for other forms of mass storage. As I said before, I am waiting for the SWIM chip version of the software, though I realize that it may be a long time before they get it working. Doing everything on 2.4 MB disks is cheaper than using the smaller disks as well, since HD disks formatted to 2.4 MB disks cost about 47[cts] per MB, while 800K disks run about 65[cts] per MB and HD disks at 1.4 MB are way up there at 82[cts] per meg. (These disk prices are based on Maya Computer's bulk disk prices of 52[cts] for a DD disk and $1.15 for an HD disk.) Of course a SyQuest cartridge runs about $2.02 per meg, so floppies remain as one of the cheapest ways to back up.

So until the 20 MB floppy drives that also read and write older formats (working on one of those, Kennect?) come out, the Drive 2.4 is the best floppy drive on the market. If you want another floppy drive, I recommend it highly. Oh, and if you were wondering, the Finder bug I spoke of does not affect the Drive 2.4. Guess Kennect must have fixed the bug by themselves.


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