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Updated Info on Using the ORB

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Updated Info on Using the ORB: Latest Problems and Solutions


Over the past year, I've had many ORB drives suddenly fail to work properly. While Castlewood Systems has been good about swapping the bad units with new drives, they haven't been successful in determining the cause of these failures.

My tests indicated to me that the problem was related to a chip Castlewood uses to monitor the SCSI interface (it may also be due to Castlewood's implementation of the SCSI standard).

The exact details of the symptoms can vary, but the result is that a perfectly good ORB cartridge will not mount on the Desktop. Frequently, the ORB drive will eject a good cartridge a couple of seconds after it has been inserted into the drive.

According to Castlewood, they have now determined the cause of the problem (at least in some cases) to be an over sensitivity of the drive's SCSI chip to electromagnetic fields. In other words, if you experience this problem, try moving the ORB drive away from any nearby monitor (Castlewood says a nearby speaker can also cause the problem). 


Castlewood Systems' groundbreaking SCSI ORB drive (see my review) has been plagued with many software problems; most of these revolve around the Prosoft driver that Castlewood supplies with the ORB.

For a while, the 1.2.6 version of the Prosoft driver appeared to remedy many of these long-standing problems. However, as Castlewood has continued to update the firmware on the ORB drive, problems with the Prosoft driver have continued to materialize. I have also tested the released beta version of the Prosoft 1.3.1 driver and found it to be just as troublesome as the 1.2.6 driver.

The symptoms of these problems include a freeze at startup as the Prosoft driver loads and failure to be able to mount an ORB cartridge. While not all Mac users experience these problems, far too many do.

Fortunately, there is a workaround for this, though it does require purchasing some software. I've been using LaCie's Silverlining Pro (SLP) 6.1 for the past several weeks and have been very pleased with the results.

So far, SLP has been able to successfully do a friendly takeover of my ORB disks -- this means I can use SLP to install its driver on my ORB disks without having to erase all the data that has already been placed on those disks. I have also used SLP to quickly initialize IBM formatted ORB disks and to reinitialize Mac formatted disks.

Since using the SLP driver, I've not had any problems whatsoever when using my ORB drives, though Castlewood recommends not using ORB Tools with the SLP formatted disks. Actually, for many people ORB Tools has been problematic even when used with the Castlewood-supplied Prosoft driver. In any case, SLP includes its own set of tools which can be used with your SLP-formatted ORB disks.

As mentioned in my previous update on the ORB, using ORB Tools to lock an ORB disk can result in the ORB drive becoming unusable. Even if you don't have this problem, ORB Tools effectively locks only the drive and not the disk. While I haven't tested this yet, LaCie says SLP allows you to actually lock an ORB cartridge that has the SLP driver on it -- a nice improvement over Prosoft's driver/tools!

If you are one of the many SCSI ORB users that is experiencing problems with the Prosoft software, it's unfortunate that you need to spend additional money to get your ORB to work as it should. However, the ORB drive and its disks are such a bargain when compared to Iomega's Jazz drive and other alternatives, the bottom line is you still end up way ahead on the financial curve!

Updated Info - 1/11/2000

New SCSI Drive

Castlewood Systems has recently released an updated version of the external SCSI ORB drive. The new ORB drive includes both updated firmware and a modification to the drive's head mechanism that helps to keep the head clean (this should improve the drive's reliability).

ORB Tools 1.2.6 Issue

If you are using a Mac formatted ORB cartridge that has the original Prosoft 1.0.1 driver on it and you have an external ORB SCSI Drive, please note the following potentially serious issue:

Attempting to use your ORB Tools to write protect your cartridge can render your ORB drive unusable. (This has happened to me, though Castlewood says this is not a common occurrence.)

The reason for this is that with the ORB, the drive and not the individual cartridge is where the write-protect instructions get stored. What can happen when a drive has an old version of Castlewood's firmware and the cartridge has the old 1.0.1 driver on it is that ORB Tools' write-protect command permanently sets the drive to a read-only state. In other words, the drive can no longer write data to any cartridge.

According to Castlewood, usually when this happens the only solution is to replace the drive. Apparently, there is software available for PC users which can update an ORB's firmware (updated firmware may reduce the chance of this problem occurring), but this utility is not yet available for Mac users. Also, Prosoft is supposed to be looking into whether a fix to ORB Tools might resolve this issue.

If you have any ORB cartridges with the old Prosoft 1.0.1 driver on them, it would probably be a good idea to update their drivers using ORB Tools 1.2.6. According to castlwood, this should prevent the possibility of your having this problem. If you have any critical data on your ORB cartridges, I recommend placing a copy of that data on another volume before updating the cartridge.

By the way, since the drive and not the cartridge is write protected, this means that you need to be careful when moving a cartridge from one ORB drive to another ORB drive because the write protection doesn't move with the cartridge. This also means that when placing a cartridge in a different ORB drive it will not be protected from any viruses that may be present on that system.

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