19
Oct
07

Hard Drive as floppy disk. Now for just $47.

8inflop.jpgI’ve ranted on about how inane it is to use flash media to record video because, in the end, all the video has to live on a hard drive. I’ve specifically asked, “Wouldn’t it be smarter to record video onto a hard drive in the first place?”

Well, the key element missing was the device that made using internal hard drives as easy as inserting a floppy disk. For those that don’t know, there were lots of disks used before CDs- 8″ floppies (on the right), 5″ floppies, (those two were actually floppy) 3.5″ floppies (that were not floppy, but stiff, shown on right next to 8″ floppy drive) then Syquest, Bernoulli, then Zip, Jazz, and then a bumpy transition into using CD and DVD optical disks as ways to give media to someone else. Now, perhaps supplanted by USB memory sticks. (They’re not “drives.” Drives spin.)

Now there’s a little USB dock where you can drop in any 2.5″ or 3.5″ SATA hard drive as if it were a floppy…

crsu2_02sm.jpgThis little device, sadly only USB, gives us the ability to stop using other small devices to transfer gobs of data back and forth. Sure, there are numerous drive manufacturers that make external enclosures with removable caddies. But none of these caddies work when you try to use manufacturer A’s caddy on manufacturer B’s drive enclosure. So we have a world of incompatible drive caddies and enclosures all to try and make use of SATA drives that are, by their standard, already completely interface identical.

I have been following and working on this type of issue for many years. iebaenclosuresm.jpgI had originally engineered a similar solution to work around this issue back in 2000. The solution I made is at the bottom of the IEBA.com/engineering page. You see, back then, Firewire enclosures were limited to 13 MBps. This was much slower than the PATA drive’s potential of 30-40 MBps. Even though there was no way to use a drive caddy system inside an iMac (the early “gumdrop” models) I developed a way so that the G4 tower could access the faster speeds with an external hard drive case connected via PCI card. The drives themselves would use caddies that I could also retrofit into existing external Firewire enclosures. This way, a freelance editor could take a drive, use it at home to edit (slowly) and then, for online conform, bring the drive back, use the tower I built, and get full-speed access ot the same media, on the same drive, without having to copy the media from one drive to another.

fireraid.jpgThe reason this worked is because we had a closed system and we bought enough caddies and enclosure systems for everyone to use. Back then, those were expensive, and they still required every setup to use the caddies and enclosures from one company.

VST, one of the original external firewire hard drive companies, had not only designed the unique, yellow little enclosures that became synonymous with firewire back then, they extended their engineering expertise to design a system where the external drive enclosure itself was the caddy. They made a 4-bay firewire tower, the FireRAID, that not only handled software RAID striping (first, with their own software, then with others) to overcome each individual drive’s limited (13 MBps) throughput, but the tower they designed was so innovative, it used a PowerBook battery to power all the drives when there was no AC power available.

Alas, it suffered the same problem as any caddy system- you had to buy drives in their enclosures to get the system’s advantages.

This new little drop-in device removes the whole caddy issue completely.

crsu2_07sm.jpgI’ll record video on my computer, Take the drive with me, pop it into your computer. USB works with most anything these days. You just need the same $47 device. Especially novel is the fact that it works with both 2.5″ (laptop) drives, as well as the larger desktop drives. This is quite handy in that you don’t need to have two separate readers for the two sizes of drives.

Looking at the web site for these, they do note that the drive reader is weighted to keep it stable on the table as you add and remove drives. It requires a power adapter, which limits its usefulness when used mobile, with a laptop. I’ve seen other adapters that just plug into the drive as it lays on the table that can run off bus power, so it would seem possible that this could have been designed the same way.

I’d love to see a SATA version to give the end user the full speed of the drive. I’d also like to see some sort of plastic cover to attach to the bottom of the drive to cover the sensitive, exposed electronics. All you need to do is scuff your feet across the floor before you go to pick up the drive, gather a static charge, then touch the motherboard and send a few microvolts in to blow out the controller or something. An ounce of prevention goes a long, long way.

Akihabara News has a slew of pictures and even video of the caddy in use. Now we just need camcorders that record to SATA drives instead of some other proprietary, expensive, media that forces us to take that extra step before we put the footage on a hard drive to live.

I haven’t used it yet, so I welcome reader feedback if you try it.

WiebeTech has a single slot, 3.5″ only, trayless external enclosure that does do SATA, but for $230.
Considerably pricier, but there’s a company you can actually contact standing firmly behind the Wiebe Tech products.

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