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Aiwa BOLT
External tape drive TD-P10
by Stephen R.Jones (March 1999)

Introduction
Flossing, rotating your tires, calling your Aunt Matilda. These are all things you should be doing on a regular basis along with the PC equivalent, backing up your valuable data.

Lately, though, typical multi-gigabyte hard disk sizes have grown to the point that affordable tape drives neither offer the capacity or speed to make regular backups a part of our routine.

However, your level of hard disk hygiene may be about to improve dramatically, as the next generation of tape drives arrives on your desktop.

We'll examine the Aiwa Bolt TD-P10, an affordable, high speed tape backup solution that just might make this necessary chore easy enough to become a habit. Darn, there go all your good excuses.

Installation
The software provided on CD was easy to install and required only about 5 MB of disk space. You should allow for at least twice that much space since on-disk catalog files can take 3 megabytes or more per backup job. These optional files can be compacted or deleted altogether, however, at the cost of extra backup or restore time.

Hardware
The attractive, gun-metal gray package felt quite durable. The rubber feet are ample sized and much more firmly attached than other external drives (such as a Zip). The drive can be placed flat or upright but the uniform shape of the rubber feet does not offer any clues to which vertical position is the only correct one. The unit includes lights for Power, Access, and Status.

The Aiwa Bolt includes a printer-pass-through port. The unit's power comes from its 6' foot AC power cord which is thankfully free of cumbersome "brick" transformers of any kind.

The unit's fan is quite a bit louder than a typical PC fan. So, I wouldn't necessarily recommend the device for use in a bedroom office at night.

Software
The supplied CD-ROM contains Seagate Backup Exec v 2.0j, a single application for preparing media, backing up, and restoring files. File selection is easy with an Explorer-like two-paned interface. Imagine Explorer with checkboxes next to each file and folder name.

The software was full featured and flexible. Using the software, you can do complete backups or incremental backups including or excluding files by location or file type. You can also create and schedule any number of different backup "jobs". This allows you to easily configure your system, for instance, to do incremental backups of program files every couple of days while doing
full backups of data files once a week.

One significant hurdle: Tape maintenance tasks might prove confusing to users without knowledge of some technical jargon. For instance, what's the difference between initializing, erasing, or formatting a tape? And, which should you perform first on a new tape, if any? The manual and online help clarifies these terms somewhat, but a "tape preparation" wizard of some kind (minus the jargon) would be a vast improvement.

Otherwise, most lengthy operations are friendly in that you get an up front estimate, continually updated status displays, and a chance to cancel the operation at any time. However, a few operations that take more than a minute don't offer these same customary reassurances. This lack of feedback and control in a few spots probably wouldn't be noticed once you start using the drive for routine (and unattended) backups. After all, tape backup is mostly a click-and-walk-away procedure.

Operation
In operation, the Aiwa Bolt is quick and adept at its job. For the most part, it succeeds at making easy backup tasks simple and more complex tasks routine while reassuring you about their progress.

Performance
If you are new to tape backups, you will have to quickly adjust to the frequent "spin-cycles" shared by all tape systems.

For example, retensioning a brand new tape (recommended) can take more than 4 minutes. Just identifying a pre-written tape takes on the order of a minute or more.

But, once the Aiwa Bolt gets rolling, it lays down your precious bits at a good clip.

A complete 408 file, 23 megabyte backup (with verify) took 6 minutes and 28 seconds. Strangely, it took a full 1 minute and 12 seconds from the moment [Start] was pressed until the drive access light came on. After that, writing 23 megabytes to tape only took 2 minutes and 6 seconds, a speedy sustained rate of over 10 megabytes per minute. Verifying took only another 56 seconds but is entirely optional.

Restoring a single 1 megabyte file from this backup took 5 minutes, with seek time taking all but 3 seconds of that time.

Surprisingly, comparing this 23 megabyte backup with the existing files on the hard disk took 8 minutes and 20 seconds, 50% longer than the original backup itself (including verification).

How does the Bolt fare at a larger backup?

Backing up 14,000 files totaling 760 megabytes took 1 hour and 25 minutes, only 1 minute more than the time predicted in advance by Backup Exec. The throughput for this test (even including seek times) works out to over 8 megabytes per minute. That's excellent, real world click-to-done performance.

The Bolt's tape capacity is a real plus, too. With compression, the 760 megabytes of files used only 483 megabytes of the 3.3 gigabytes available on the "small" Aiwa Bolt tape. So, you could easily put five more full backups of this size on a single tape. The larger 5 gigabyte tapes would hold even more.

Conclusions
A few quirks aside, the solid Aiwa Bolt TD-P10 hardware, capable software, and uncompressed 5 gigabyte capacity offers a fast, reliable and spacious vault for your precious data. Anyone comfortable with plugging in a printer and navigating File Explorer should, in a few minutes, be listening to the reassuring whir of their data being protected from impending disaster. Your Aunt Matilda would be proud.

Pros
Excellent throughput (8 megabytes/minute or more)
Solid mechanical design
Spacious, flexible tape options (up to 5 gigabytes)

Cons
Minor user-interface inconsistencies
Tape preparation harder than it should be
Long, sometimes unpredictable seek times
Noticeable fan noise

Tape Specifications
Writes:

  • 6.6 GB AIWA BOLT (3.3 GB uncompressed)
  • 10 GB AIWA BOLT (5 GB uncompressed)
    Reads:
  • 3.2 GB TRAVAN (Imation TR-3)
  • 4.4 GB QIC-Extra (Verbatim TR-3EXtra)
  • 1.7 GB QIC-Wide (SONY QW3020XLF)
  • 1.3 GB QIC-XL (Imation MC3000XL-TAUMAT)

    System Requirements

  • IBM PC 486DX
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Parallel Port (EPP recommended)
  • 8/16/12 MB RAM for Windows 95/98/NT

    Copyright 1999 Stephen R. Jones All rights reserved.

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