Tecmar Ditto Max(tm) 10GB tape drive

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Manufactured by: Tecmar Technologies, go to the web site
Requires: Windows 98/95, Windows 3.1 or higher, DOS 5.X and Windows NT 4.0 Workstation
MSRP: $249.99

Tecmar Technologies(R), Inc. is a leading developer and manufacturer of high performance tape storage solutions designed specifically for networking environments. The company is headquartered in the U.S. southwest, in Longmont, Colorado. During 1999, we've reviewed several of Tecmar's professional network backup products including the Travan NS20 tape drive, Novanet Backup 7, and Novanet Web Backup. The latest offering from Tecmar, the Ditto Max(R) 10GB tape drive, is interesting and curious at the same time.

First, you'll probably recognize the Ditto name. It was a prominent Iomega(R) trademark. But on March 17, 1999 Tecmar and Iomega announced that Tecmar was paying a total of US$3 million for the rights to Iomega's Ditto 2GB and Ditto Max family of products, which included the 10GB Ditto Max Pro and the 7GB Ditto Max drives. Tecmar acquired intellectual property and exclusive Ditto product rights including certain software, media intellectual property product rights, tooling, jigs, and dies owned by Iomega, a pile of other equipment, the Ditto brand name for tape and tape-related products, packaging rights, product images, logos, etc. Iomega received an exclusive license to the Ditto trademark outside of tape and tape-related products and retained its "one-step" icon.

Second, with the Ditto Max Tecmar appears to be expanding its market positioning beyond the strictly professional tape backup channel to cover the SOHO and small business market as well. It's something a wee bit different for the company. The Ditto Max home page on the Tecmar web site even states that "Whether you use your computer for work, personal business, or just for fun, Ditto Max Professional 10GB is the perfect backup solution."

The obvious conclusion one comes to is that Iomega, bleeding a bit of red ink, decided it really wanted to focus on the most familiar part of its consumer market, and decided to spin off what it thought of as a professional tape drive line. Tecmar is the beneficiary and now has an inexpensive, legitimate SOHO and small business tape backup contender to offer.

After receiving the drive from Tecmar, we installed it almost immediately. It did not undergo testing for almost a week however and as a result, we had a chance to examine the software (Flash!File and Fullback) supplied on the Ditto Tools CD, bundled with the Ditto Max. We couldn't help but notice that the tools appeared to be a full version of Seagate Backup Exec (but at v4.0), completely renamed and re-branded.

We contacted Darryl Lloyd, Inc., the active and responsive agency which represents Tecmar, and asked the obvious question. It turned out that we were correct about the Seagate software, but Tecmar had to go the long way 'round to actually get this software. Veritas bought Seagate Software. Tecmar licensed the software from Seagate/Veritas. Seagate had originally provided the software to Iomega and it was prearranged that Tecmar would be able to transfer the rights to use it under an umbrella license. Tecmar has now had the time to incorporate an updated and customized, full version into Ditto Tools.

We tested the Tecmar Ditto Max on a variety of handy computers including our PII/400 workhorse running Windows 98, a dual 133MHz Pentium former server (now a much happier workstation) with 128MB RAM running Windows NT4 (SP5), and a P166MMX machine with 64MB RAM running Windows 95. Ditto Tools installed without problems on each machine, and the Ditto Max drive was up and running in no time.

Testing these sorts of solutions is always fairly interesting, but one thing that should be noted is that parallel port devices will never win the speed sweepstakes. While we did hit the maximum throughput numbers once or twice (19MB per minute), average throughput was much slower (closer to 14MB per minute). A 5GB compressed backup took about 6 hours (averaging around 830MB per hour). But if you're sleeping, and the backup is being performed automatically by a solid and reliable combination of software and hardware, who cares about speed? Note that, according to Tecmar's specs, the internal version of this drive is almost twice as fast.

We also tested the Flash!File utility. Basically, Flash!File creates an uncompressed 125MB fast access location on a backup tape. This allows much faster access to anything you store under Flash!File (you can simply drag & drop files onto the Flash!File desktop icon which is installed). Flash!File is quite easy to set up and will be of serious interest to people who have a constant need to access backups which cycle quickly: accounting numbers from the previous week's business, inventory numbers from a recent backup, queued database information which is backed up but not yet entered, and so on. You can designate what files/paths use the Flash!File setup.

Cons: Backing up large partitions and drives is a lesson in patience when using the parallel port, so absolutely do NOT ever do a multi-gigabyte backup with this unit until after hours. The other large backup related problem is associated with big video files. The dual processor test machine is frequently used to create really large uncompressed video files, and the backup software choked on individual files larger than 4GB. This situation is unusual and we don't anticipate too many people running into the problem. In any case, a parallel port device is not the place to be backing up gigabyte after gigabyte of data (unless you're doing it overnight). WinFax 8 from Symantec would not detect incoming calls while the backup software was operating. After upgrading both test machines to WinFax Pro 9, the problem disappeared (and we recommend WinFax Pro 9 anyway).

Pros: The Ditto Max 10GB tape drive is absolutely reliable. The transport, tape technology, and general drive stability are undisputed. Set up your regular backup schedule using Tecmar Ditto Tools, make sure there's a tape in the drive, and walk away. Ditto Max Professional 10GB is compatible with 3GB, 5GB, 7GB, and 10GB cartridges from Tecmar, Iomega, Imation, Sony and Verbatim. The prices for these tape cartridges range from US$19.95 up to US$34.95 for singles, with discounts for 2-packs and 3-packs. If you're looking for a really inexpensive, reliable, large capacity tape backup unit, the Tecmar Ditto Max is worth a long look.

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