December, 2000 | When you stub your toe at your
house, do you do it on a 380MB, full-height ESDI hard drive
from 1989? When you trip and fall, is it because your foot
got caught up in a computer cable that you can no longer
identify? When you cut your finger, is it by any chance
related to an ill-fated relocation of an old AT horizontal
computer case? These things happen when your work/living
space is as cluttered with BIOS-hazards as mine, and, in
fact, all three misfortunes befell me this week. So I decided
to clean up, move on, and make what I hope will be a substantial
charitable contribution to whomever can use a bunch of old
The thorough cleaning and sorting yielded several treasures
that I finally brought myself to throw away, and several
that I relegated to the CD museum. Here's a 1X Texel SCSI
CD-ROM drive. It's still got everything you need to get
up and running and pumping out data at a blinding 150KB/sec,
and I've even still got the manual.
Here's another gem: an Adaptec 1542B SCSI card. This was
a real card's carda do-it-yourself ISA, unburdened
by today's sissy Plug-and-Play niceties. Replete with no
less than 48 jumpers to keep you bouncing off walls for
hours trying to configure this baby. IRQ, DMA, BIOS Base
Address, SCSI ID, Time Zone. Get out your needlenose pliers
and pull those three terminating resistors off if you are
going to use external devices. None of this automatic termination
or SCAM (SCSI Configured Auto-Magically).
Nostalgia sure isn't what it used to be.
the right IDEa
I'm always shooting my mouth off about how CD-R is the success
it is today because of low drive and media prices and the
booming consumer audio recording market. But when you really
think about it, maybe the biggest factor, behind the scenes,
that made this popularity possible was the modification of
the IDE specification to support CD-ROM drives and recorders.
IDE, or Integrated Drive Electronics, sometimes called
Integrated Device Electronics, was designed as a hard disk
interface. The idea was to get most of the controller electronics
off the interface card and into the drive itself. IDE cards
were less costly to produce, and had fewer chips that the
MFM and RLL cards that preceded them.
It was several years after the initial specification for
IDE was written that Western Digital initially proposed
changes to the specification that would allow a CD-ROM drive
or recorder to be attached successfully to an IDE controller.
Once this was implemented, CD-ROM drives and recorders became
simpler to install. The three jumpers on the back were easy
to understand, or at least two of them were. The concept
of master/slave is easy to grasp, and if you just forget
about cable select (C/S) altogether, there is not much to
setting up an IDE CD-ROM drive or recorder. Contemporary
SCSI recorders and cards, on the other hand, were likely
to scare off any novice user; SCSI ID, termination, parity,
reset, test, block size, time zone, and many other mysterious
switches or jumpers made for myriad headaches the casual
user had neither the time nor the inclination to contend
IDE has become so popular as a CD-ROM interface that it
sometimes takes a little time even to locate a SCSI drive
at local stores. In fact, some manufacturers, like Ricoh,
have quit producing SCSI recorders altogether. Of course,
ease-of-use innovations have also been made on the SCSI
side. We've seen Plug and Play cards that could self-configure,
automatic SCSI card termination, increased data transfer
speeds for unbelievable ripping rates, and all of these
made things easier and faster, too.
burn on a wire?
Of course, the other key to SCSI's success was that external
SCSI was a Mac user's only choicethat is, until the
advent of the SCSI-proof iMac in 1998, which left users of
the new Mac systems with no recording choice at all. What
they did have was USB, which promised hot-plug perfectiontoo
good to be true, at least CD recording. Convenient, yes. Tolerable,
at 2X on a good day? Maybe in 1995.
Finally, with the introduction of FireWire, there are
fast devices that will give iMac users the ability to record
at something other than 2X. FireWire has speed, blazing
speed: at 400Mbps it has 30 times the bandwidth of USB.
And it is flexible, too, with cable lengths up to 14 feet
which will ease the troubles if those who would otherwise
need to use Ultra 160 or Fast and Wide SCSI, whose severe
limitations on cable length make them less attractive as
a CD-R interface.
Will we see 68-pin connectors on the backs of SCSI recorders
soon? I don't think so. Until recording speeds really go
through the roof, a fast machine will be able to record
over IDE at 16X, and FireWire can start handling the real
screamers soon to follow. Like USB, FireWire is hot-pluggable.
You can add and remove devices without having to shut down
your machine. Imagine moving a CD recorder from one machine
to another and just plugging it in and recording right there
on the spot. And as with USB, there are no jumpers at all.
So, while the modified IDE specification made CD recorders
an everyman's peripheral, FireWire will keep it that way
no matter where recording speeds go and iMac users can get
back into the fast recording game.