The Executive Computer

Pumping Up Macintosh's Memory

By Erik Sandberg-Diment
The New York Times

August 11, 1985

ONE of the amusing facets of writing a review column is that with a little skill and luck one can quite often achieve that happy state wherein almost all readers agree - that the columnist is wrong. Whenever I write about the Macintosh, I try to balance the machine's faults against its strengths, watching carefully for my own prejudices.

Invariably, on such occasions, I receive letters from Macintosh radicals accusing me of being a true-blue I.B.M.'er who simply does not understand the marvel that Apple has created. I receive an equal number of missives from I.B.M. fanatics, who are convinced that I am an Apple spokesman who has been taken in by the Macintosh's fancy graphics and now is simply incapable of understanding how far superior to the Mac I.B.M.'s computers are.

One of my biggest criticisms of the Macintosh in the past has been the absence of a hard disk. From this year forward any personal computer for business use must by definition be equipped with a hard disk or be considered inadequate.

In point of fact, hard disks, notably those supplied by General Computer in the form of HyperDrive, have been available for the Mac since early this year. However, considering that until very recently Apple automatically voided the Macintosh's warranty if a HyperDrive was installed in it, purchasing one fell more into the realm of daring than of sound business practice.

All that is changing now. Apple has finally realized that the Macintosh needs the kind of support from outside manufacturers that its Apple II series of computers once enjoyed. The open architecture of the Apple II provided a lift to the line's sales until the ill-conceived Apple IIC came along with its case shut tighter than a clamshell.

The curse seems to have been exorcised, and today it is perfectly legal - in Apple's eyes - to install a HyperDrive ($2,200 for the 10-megabyte version from the General Computer Company, Cambridge, Mass., 02142, (617) 492-5500) in Mac. All Macintosh owners can rejoice - assuming they can afford to buy their machines this somewhat expensive present.

The only noticeable difference between the two 512K Macs on my desk is that one has a HyperDrive logo affixed to its case. The real differences are all inside. This in itself represents a step up from Apple's other methods of adding disk storage, including Apple's own add-on floppy disk drive, which sits next to the Mac like an afterthought.

An advantage of the Macintosh, much touted by those pressing for its presence in the office, is its ''small footprint.'' That is, it is supposed to occupy less desk space than most personal computers do. But a Mac equipped with a second disk drive and sporting a modem as well as its mouse must not only admit to having a larger footprint than a standard I.B.M. PC with an internal modem, it must also confess to having at its rear an impressive spiderweb of cables. This space-consuming web is not usually seen in the slick Macintosh ads.

A HyperDrive, instead of being attached externally to the computer, is mounted inside the Mac's surprisingly commodious case. The add-on unit is composed of the disk itself (actually two five-megabyte hard disks harnessed in tandem) and a cooling fan. The thought of that fan originally bothered me a great deal.

Now, I do not look upon fan noise with the abhorrence of Steven P. Jobs, Apple Computer's co-founder, who reportedly insisted that all Apple computers be designed without a mechanical cooling system. But I do find that the steady hum of the PC's fan makes me drowsy during late-night sessions with the computer. As a result, I have always found the fanless aspect of Apple's computers highly appealing. When one powers up the Mac, HyperDrive itself is barely audible.

What one does notice when turning on the Mac is one of HyperDrive's nicest features, namely, that a floppy need no longer be inserted to fire up the computer. The Mac will now load the necessary system files automatically from the hard disk, and it will do so quickly. The normal elapsed time for my Fat Mac to ready itself for action, from the sound of the chime that greets the user when the power is turned on until the display of desktop icons amounts to 36 seconds. With HyperDrive, that time is cut to only 16 seconds. HYPERDRIVE'S start-up icon, or symbol, is a file drawer, a logical representation of the collection of files either stored or to be stored on the hard disk. The current version of HyperDrive's operating software divides the disk into 32 separate file drawers, which can be allocated as the user wishes. A writer, for instance, might set aside one drawer for magazine stories, one for newspaper pieces, one for a book in progress, one for correspondence, one for MacPaint scribbles and so on.

According to the manual, each file drawer can contain as many as 250 individual files. Although I have not personally tried to cram that many files into a drawer, I suspect that doing so would defeat the organization inherent in the file drawer system as well as slow down the Mac's file searches intolerably. It would also clutter up the screen with more icons than could be found in King Tut's tomb every time the drawer was opened. The manufacturer recommends a maximum of 30 to 40 files per drawer for best efficiency, and that seems a sensible total for most small business applications.

The start-up file provided with HyperDrive contains three programs: the system's software itself; a set of special HyperDrive utilities, the Manager and Backup, and, finally, Security, which has no on-screen icon. These utilities have a number of interesting applications. For example, using the security utility, one can lock up whole file drawers or individual files within those drawers, limiting access to them to only those people who know a password. It is also possible to close a file that is needed only infrequently. Such a deactivated file is automatically deleted from the Macintosh's search routine, which speeds up this task considerably. If and when the file is needed, it can readily be reactivated.

Any file opened using HyperDrive will automatically take up a minimum of 256K, even if it holds only 10 or 20K of information. This means that the full 10 megabytes of memory promised are never really made available to the user. First of all, on powering up, one sees on screen the message ''3 items 241K in disk 9084K av.'' Right off the bat, the space available has been reduced to 9 megabytes and change by the system and utility programs.

Then, if one has, say, six short files whose total storage requirement is 60K, because of the 256K minimum file space requirement, the disk space remaining after those files have been entered is reduced to 7.5 megabytes. Still, that's a vast improvement over the Mac's floppies. So is HyperDrive's performance, about which I'll have more to say next week.

GRAPHIC: Drawing

Copyright 1985 The New York Times Company