Continuing from last weeks article focusing on mobile essentials that I have discovered recently by gaining first hand experience. This is particularly understandable when you bear in mind that in future I’ll be writing my articles on my laptop in rainy Wales!

Last time I talked about the ability to connect your mobile phone to your laptop in order to access the Internet to send and receive e-mails or to surf the Web. Obviously this resulted in a somewhat slower connection than by using a normal landline and so if you were required to send a moderate amount of data then e-mailing from a laptop may not be a satisfactory option.

The two main alternatives that spring to mind would be using a floppy disk or re-writable CD-ROM however there are a couple of problems with these that you may not have considered; Firstly, a floppy disk is only capable of storing 1.44Mb of information which means that if you want to transfer anything but the smallest of files then you are going to need to use multiple disks. In contrast, the main drawback with a rewritable CD-ROM drive is the cost; you’re looking at around £150 at least for an external drive that can be connected to a laptop.

One avenue which you may not have considered would be to use a Zip Drive, this technology allows you to store up to 250Mb on a single disk which is physically around the same size as a standard 3½” floppy. This solution does have multiple drawbacks but for the time being I’ll look at what this has to offer:
- Extremely fast. Unlike a CD-RW disk, it is extremely quick to drag and drop any file onto the drive, delete, rename files etc. The access speed of a Zip disk is also much faster than a standard floppy drive.
- Cheap initial outlay – I recently purchased an external 100Mb Zip drive with 3 disks for my laptop for £69.99 all inclusive.
- Easy to set up – The Zip drive comes with a USB interface and most new versions of Windows don’t even require a separate driver in order for the device to work – You simply plug it in to any USB compatible computer and you’re ready to go.
- Reliable – All original Zip disks come with a 5 year warranty provided by the manufacturer which compares very favourably in comparison to floppy disks which are notoriously unreliable.
- Large storage space – As stated above, Zip disks come in 100Mb and 250Mb capacities. The cheaper 100Mb disks can store the equivalent of 70 normal floppies.
Obviously Zip disks aren’t just useful for laptop users as they can also be connected to a home computer for backing up and transporting data. The main reason for not buying a Zip disk if you have a home computer is that Internal CD-RW drives are much faster and more affordable than those designed for laptops which make Zips somewhat less appealing.
In terms of negative sides to using Zips to transport data, there are a few that I have noticed. Firstly, the Zip drive itself needs a separate mains power supply which means that you are stuck if you are trying to use your laptop and Zip drive in an area where there is no power. The price for additional disks is also fairly costly, with new 100Mb disks retailing for around £7 - £8 which makes the cost per megabyte look very poor when compared with CD-RW disks.
Finally there is the question of compatibility; If you write data to a CD-R disk then you can be assured that it is likely to work in pretty much any other computer with a CD drive whereas with Zip disks you have to ensure that your target computer has a Zip drive of it’s own otherwise you should be prepared to transport your drive to connect to the computer in question.
To summarise, Zip drives are very much a specialised device - There will be people out there who often need to move large amounts of data, perform regular backups or who are often on the move with a laptop who will clearly see the advantages of owning such a drive. In contrast, there will also be those who have little or no need for this type of equipment and so obviously it’s up to you to decide which of these two categories you fall into.

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