Sleep 9: The SyQuest 306

1 January, 2021

ON HIATUS

The SyQuest 306 removable disk drive article from the April 1983 edition of the Creative Computing Magazine.

Transcript available
[Music] Helping you fall asleep. I'm John Chidjie. You can follow me on the Fetiverse at chidjie@engineered.space, on Twitter at JohnChidjie, or the network at engineered_net. Sleep is supported by you, our listeners. If you'd like to support the show, you can do so via Patreon, with a thank you to all of our patrons, and a special thank you to our Patreon silver producers, Mitch Bilger, John Whitlow, Kevin Koch, Oliver Steele, Lesley Law Chan, Hafthor and Shane O'Neill. And an extra special thank you to our Gold Producer known only as R. Visit engineer.network/sleep to learn how you can help. Thank you. So now that that's out of the way, let me talk to you. Just for a few minutes. The PsyQuest 306. The pace of technological development in the computer industry is too rapid for the human eye to see, much less for the human mind to comprehend. Just as we think we have mastered something, its replacement is announced, or we discover that it has been made obsolete by an entirely new development. For the most part, however, these things are not particularly revolutionary. They have an effect, but most don't change the face of the industry. That is why I was so excited to find myself with a few extra hours before my plane left San Jose several months ago, and why I was overjoyed when Saeed Iftikhar, Chairman and President of Syquest Technology, agreed to meet with me. I made a mad dash for Fremont, and with little trouble found the brand new 65,000 square foot headquarters of this less than one year old company. What has me so excited is a new disk drive Mr Ifitkar and his company are manufacturing. It is a 5MB removable media Winchester disk drive with some characteristics that I think will cause quite a revolution in the small systems market, especially if Mr Ifitkar is able to achieve what I think are some pretty ambitious goals, but about which he is confident. Here are the first significant attributes of the drive. First of course, it uses removable media. A cartridge drive can be an excellent alternative for backup, especially because it can be used as direct storage. It can also stand alone as primary mass storage. Second, the Cyquest 306 is half the size of the industry standard 5.25" mini floppy. It is the height that has been halved so two SQ306s will fit in the same space occupied by a single mini floppy drive. Third, it consumes about the same amount of power as a mini floppy. This important factor means that it can directly replace a floppy in a system without requiring changes to the power supply. Even though it consumes less power, it has an average access time of 75 milliseconds and a data transfer rate of 5 megabits per second, giving it much better performance than floppies. Last and most important, the price is aggressive. At the moment, the factory price for a single unit is $800. SideQuest is a manufacturer however, and so does not sell directly to the consumer, they sell to integrators who package the drive with control electronics, software or whatever else is needed to produce a complete system. The integrator who buys in quantity will pay less than $500 today. Translated into retail terms, this implies an end-user price of under $2000. Prices of $1800 for systems using the SQ306 are already a fact. Considered in a broader context, the price becomes more interesting. Since the drive uses an industry standard ST506 interface, it can be integrated with existing subsystems so that it shares the power supply, enclosure and controller electronics. Since the integrator will have good margin built in to his subsystem price to begin with, it is possible that the PsyQuest drive can be added as a backup device – for just a little bit more than the integrator's cost. And that also implies that a subsystem consisting of two PsyQuests can be built rather inexpensively. That's where I really begin to get excited. Once you own a Disk Subsystem cartridge or not, convenient backup is essential. With one SQ306 and even a large main memory, a cartridge-to-cartridge copy is cumbersome. With two cartridges, it is a snap. Not only that, but you have 10 megabytes. Online. I think about this the same way I think about floppies, except suddenly the capacity is 10 times greater. When I think about reducing my library of floppies to just a few cartridges, my mouth begins to water. I start to get dizzy when I think about not having to change disks every five minutes. At least one company has announced a product with two SQ306 drives for the IPM personal computer, and several others are thinking about it. Mr Ifitkar, however, is not satisfied with the price. He has set a goal of $150 in large quantities and intends to achieve the goal with automated assembly and volume manufacturing. He says he will compete with the Japanese, and is quick to point out that he is far ahead of everybody, including Japan. Inc. Bold claims. And frankly, I was a little sceptical before I visited PsyQuest. As I listened to Saeed explain his machine and his plans, and as he took me on a tour of his facility, I became more and more impressed. He is a quiet, thoughtful man. His answers to my questions were direct and lucid, and there was no false modesty and no false pride. And as he describes how his company moved so rapidly, it becomes obvious that he personally designed the entire drive. He talks about how each engineer had specific, objective goals – make this part thus and so and make it cost no more than this. He points to his robotics lab, where engineers are building a robot to install the spindle motor of the drive, a robot that will reduce labour costs by 20%. We hover over a table, with two drives, in operation. The heads and media are completely exposed to the environment, and a sign states "You are encouraged to smoke". It is more than self-confidence. This is a man who knows what he is doing, and who knows that you know it. This is a man who plays for keeps. He personally financed Syquest and remains the sole investor. I walked away from the interview thinking if Saeed Iftikhar had said it, it would be. Syquest knows what they have. They believe that the SQ306 will sell in place of lower capacity hard disks because of the removable media. As the cost drops, the Syquest expects that to happen fast. a dual-drive cartridge subsystem will compete effectively with mini-floppies. Mr Ifitkar sees PsyQuest inserted between floppies and hard disks. He thinks he'll win head-to-head with floppies, and will force the Winchesters into higher capacities. He thinks he will undercut flexible, or hard disk, devices using vertical recording technologies. Others seem to know what PsyQuest has as well. A SyQuest press release at Comdex stated that more than 200 system builders were evaluating the drives. I took an informal poll of vendors of disk subsystems for the IBM PC and found that 90% were already SyQuest customers. At Comdex, about 30 firms exhibited the drive. Assuming that SyQuest can build all the drives they say they will – 200,000 – in 1983, a second source already licensed, and assuming they can produce the cartridges, a PsyQuest subsidiary, Microdisk, is in operation, second sources licensed again. In sufficient volume, it certainly sounds as though they have a winner. Look for the unit to pop up everywhere, no matter what kind of computer system you own. I predict availability of this drive for it soon. Technology 47923 Warm Springs Boulevard Fremont California 94538
Duration 8 minutes and 39 seconds Direct Download

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John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.