Castlewood Orb 2.2 GB Removable Media Drive

Page Last Revised: Friday, April 28, 2006 01:26 PM

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When announced last year, this product seemed the ideal solution to a number of our requirements. A quick and inexpensive backup (and restore) media, accessible from DOS, Windows 9x, and Windows NT/2000 platforms, without the need for special software or drivers. An ideal media for archiving, and a handy auxiliary hard disk drive. Unfortunately, representations and reality are not the same thing. Besides disappointing performance, poor documentation, buggy and poorly thought-out software, and media which soared in price from $20 to $30 to $40 within a single year's time, the drive and media have proven to be very unreliable, and therefore totally unsuitable as a backup or archival device.

Advertised drive features In reality
2.2GB capacity This actually depends on the formatting of the disk. If the disk is formatted as a FAT16 disk (so that it may be used from MS-DOS, Windows 9x, Windows NT, and Windows 2000), you are limited to 2,146,631,680 bytes (2.05GB). If you format the disk using the supplied "Orb Tools", you will mysteriously find that you only have 2,134,147,072 bytes (1.99GB) available on disk. Still impressive, and quite usable, but not exactly as advertised.
3.5" removable media Again, this is not quite accurate. In MS-DOS, the media is not removable, and must be inserted prior to boot-up to be recognised. Conversely, you MUST (remember to) remove the media before switching power to the computer off, or (according to Castlewood's technical support people) damage to the media and drive may result. If the drive and media are really that fragile, one might expect there to be some sort of warning label or light, or even automatic ejection on power-off.
12.2 MB/second sustained data transfer rate This is the "maximum data burst transfer rate". In practice, rates of 50-60 MB per minute are achievable during file copy operations, which is in line with most TR-4 tape backup devices. Of course, the Orb is much faster than the tape devices for random access, but it simply doesn't approach the "hard drive speeds" claimed.
Start/Stop Times: 6 second "spin-up", 10 second read, 15 second write, 6 second stop. The reality is closer to 60 seconds. And whenever the drive "spins-up" or "spins-down", all other computer activity freezes up for the interim. Supposedly, the "spin-down" time is adjustable from 0-60 minutes, but it seems to have a mind of its own, and plays its little game at random intervals ranging from seconds apart to about an hour. When the drive or media is just about to fail for good, these "spin-up-and-downs" will begin occuring every few minutes, and lasting for about 90 seconds. It was very nice of Castlewood to include this (undocumented) warning feature.
MTBF: 300,000 hours I owned an Orb drive for less than eight months, and (when it worked) used it for less than 30 minutes per day to perform system backups. In that short time, four drives and 15 separate media failed, requiring replacement, and resulting in a total loss of the data stored therein. The first three drives failed after about 8 hours, and the last drive failed after less than four hours of usage! The media failed (on average) after about two hours of usage. Obviously this is considerably less than the 300,000 hours claimed, and renders the drive totally unsuitable for archival or backup of valuable data.
ORB Tools features  
Write Protect Write protect is a software function, and can therefore be easily defeated, forgotten, or altered by a buggy program. As such, the feature is virtually useless to prevent valuable data from being overwritten.
Disk Partitioning and Formatting The partitioning performed by the Orb Tools Software is not properly recognized by Windows, which is not able to subsequently format or "quick format" the drive because it cannot decipher the existing partition data. Additionally, the Orb Tools program mysteriously loses more than 12MB of disk space. The only way to properly format the drive (and the method now recommended by Castlewood's Technical Support telephone personnel) is to FDISK and format the disk from MS-DOS! So much for this utility.
Defect Scan (Test for Bad Sectors) This utility runs far too quickly to be performing much of a test. And apparently, it does not flag and reassign the bad sectors, or attempt to relocate the data to another cluster, which makes it fairly useless. Additionally, the statistics which show the number of bad sectors detected (if any) are visible only until the scan finishes, at which time they are immediately obscured by another window. So, unless you have sat there monitoring the scan from beginning to end, and can read very quickly, the entire ten-minute-long test will have been for naught. Fortunately, Scan Disk can be used with these drives, at least until they fail completely.
Set ORB as Fixed or Removable Whoopie! I suppose someone can find a use for this valuable feature. Perhaps we should also list the colour and pretty logo decal as "features"
Tracker - "a file archive" This is a cutsey-pooh name for a disk catalog, so one can (theoretically) locate the proper disk that contains the data sought. In practice, it is an unweildly, buggy program, which is more trouble to use than it is worth. (Assuming it works at all - once I reviewed its "capabilities", I didn't bother to test it).
ORB Disk Duplicator Probably a valuable feature for some applications, as (given the unreliability of the drive and media) it would be prudent to make multiple copies of any disks containing important information, i.e. every disk you make. I haven't tested it, as it is much faster to simply make 2 backup copies than to switch disks back and forth for a duplication operation.
1-Click Backup Poorly thought out and functionally deficient backup program, with no thought given to restore operations. Fortunately, the drive can be addressed as a (fairly) normal disk drive, and used by any well-written backup program (if you can find one in today's market) that can backup to a disk drive. XCOPY32 and PKZIP also work very well, although the problem of restoring the long file names from MS-DOS (in case of the need for "disaster recovery" must be addressed (e.g. with one of the available shareware utilities.)
Volume Copy See above.
Image Copy and Professional Backup See above
Documentation The documentation is sketchy at best. The installation instructions contain a number of (dangerous) ambiguities and inaccuracies, yet take the time and pages to dwell on unneeded trivia. There is no documentation, or even functional description, of the backup software. The user is left to trial-and-error to ferret out the functional capabilities, limitations, and operational details. The only redeeming qualities are: 1) The software is free, and 2) You don't need to use it --- there are available alternatives.
Technical Support The website support is deplorable. There are only about five or six FAQ's addressed, and then only very sketchily.

The e-mail support is even worse. I've not yet received a response to 3 separate e-mails sent in January 2000.

The telephone support is reasonable. There is a toll-free number which is answered fairly quickly, and very politely. Except for the lengthy prologue which support personnel are required to rattle off, and the "questionnaire" information which they are required to obtain, they are quite helpful. Unfortunately, they have been provided with a great deal of misinformation, which they then innocently relay to customers such as "floppy disk drives are optical media", "XCOPY cannot be used to backup the registry", and "there can be more than 1024 cylinders defined for LBA mode". But, unlike Microsoft, Symantec and Seagate/Veritas staff, they don't become defensive and abusive when corrected.

Product Support Product support is also reasonable. An RMA number is issued without an argument, and the turnaround is about ten days. There is also a cross-shipment facility, which (for the price of a long-distance telephone call and a lengthy wait for a call back) reduces the turnaround to about five days. Having used the service 8 times already, I only wish that the product's performance was a good as that of the RMA department.

All in all, Castlewood has taken a wonderful concept, and rather than follow through with a quality product and the software to make it truly useful, appears to have allocated their entire budget to advertising hyperbole and staffing the RMA department. An "A" for the idea, and an "F" for its execution.

Sincerely,

Carl D. Goldin