MobileInfocenter
Developer: The Price:
  • $30
The Pros:
  • Uses files directly off card, without a full copy being written to RAM
  • Little or no lag time, regardless of file size
  • Can use files larger than available RAM
  • Supports multiple card slots, if available
  • Reacts gracefully when a mounted card is removed

The Cons:
  • Takes up valuable heap space when running
  • Makes the Palm OS memory manager display a false number for the amount of memory available
  • Makes itself a selection in the dropdown box in Prefs
  • 50 file per directory practical limit for stability

PalmInfoCenter.com Ratings*:
Design:
 
Cost/benefit:
 
Coolness:
 
Overall:

*Maximum Rating is FIVE (5) InfoPalms



PiDirect II Review
By Scott Windom
4/5/2002


Overview
PiDirect II is a solution that I would recommend to anyone trying to use large amounts of read-only data with a handheld. It is especially useful for data which come in large chunks, such as eBooks, dictionaries, graphics, and large applications. It has its strong and weak points, but all in all, it is very well worth the $30 registration fee.

When I first used PiDirect II, I was relatively early in the process of looking for a VFS solution to work with the cards in my HandEra 330. I found a very valuable one in PiDirect II. I was able to install the software and rather intuitively go right to using it. When I first installed the program, I found it easy enough to set up that reading the manual was an afterthought.

File Manager
The program comes with a file manager which allows the movement of files between RAM and the card, but it isn't yet mature enough that it seems worth using for most. It displays the program's currently selected subdirectory, without any option to switch. The RAM app and database list is rather elegant, but the remainder of the operation is cryptic enough that I would recommend a third-party file manager. That would make it a lot easier to set up the subdirectory structure in the first place.

I installed the software and immediately put a few files into the default directory, /Palm/PiDirect. I then ran the program and discovered the first of very few things that I don't like about it: It makes itself a selection in the dropdown box in Prefs. I think I would prefer a simple stand-alone application. However, they did provide an icon that goes directly to PiDirect II in the Prefs app. This wouldn't bother registered users too much, but when I was using the trial version, it was a bit unnerving to go to Prefs and be hit with a registration nag for an app that I didn't even think I had run. I had to dismiss the nag and then go to the Prefs selection I was looking for.

Once I got the program enabled, I was quite impressed with the speed of access to applications and databases mounted from the card. In most cases, it was difficult to tell that the apps weren't actually in RAM. The only place where I found a significant lag was in the refresh of the icons list when I went back to the apps screen for the first time after enabling. The developer recommends that, in order to keep the app stable, users not mount more than 50 files per directory. Below this limit, the lag is quite manageable.

When I started using the program for the first time, I went right for the most extreme large data use I know: Mounting the 1920-to-Present detailed view of the Internet Movie Database in TomeRaider format. The app worked like a charm and TomeRaider ran perfectly.

I didn't find the VFS access inconvenient at all. Over time, I discovered a few of the finer points, one of which I feel merits mention in the review to make trying the application easier for others. Some applications don't like PiDirect mounted databases when the program is set to its defaults. It does wonders for compatibility to go into PiDirect II preferences and uncheck the option to set card databases as read-only. It was quite interesting to me how much this helped. Since only the header information is copied to RAM, the databases mounted from the card can still not be altered, but some programs just don't like for their databases to be set as read-only.

One rather surreal moment was when I first looked at Menu->Info with PiDirect II enabled. I was quite alarmed to see that my machine told me that I had 0K of memory free. I found out soon that this is simply because PiDirect II confuses the memory manager in the Palm OS. If one looks at free RAM with another utility, such as McFile, then the correct number will be displayed.

For the HandEra 330 users among us, multiple card support is available through a dropdown box in the application.

The app will also allow for switching directories while enabled. If a given directory is enabled and then another one is selected, then PiDirect II will automatically disable the first directory and enable the second. It should also be noted that it reacts well to the removal of a mounted card. I tested this without even knowing it, because I found myself occasionally removing a card while the application was enabled, forgetting to disable it first. The worst problem I had with this was a soft reset, and often not even that.

Conclusion
If a user plans on having far greater than a few MB of data on a handheld, then this is an optimum solution. It is probably not a comprehensive VFS solution for most, because it does not allow writing to mounted databases, However, for what it does, I know of no better solution. I highly recommend it for the many people out there who find 8 or 16 MB to be simply insufficient for all the goodies the Palm OS development community has to offer.

Article Comments

 (32 comments)

The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. PalmInfocenter is not responsible for them in any way.
Please Login or register here to add your comments.

Comments Closed Comments Closed
This article is no longer accepting new comments.

Down

PiDirect II vs. PowerRun

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 11:13:10 AM #
Can someone do a quick comparision of PiDirect II vs. PowerRun? I'm currently using PowerRun and would consider switching. One big question, which is faster.

Thanks!

PiDirect II vs. PowerRun vs. Autocard vs. MSMount
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 11:23:50 AM #
Good review. And I agree -- a quick comparison will make it even better.

~eelk

RE: PiDirect II vs. PiDirect I
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 11:27:29 AM #
Also,

Does anyone know what has changed since PiDirect I ? I'm running the first version, but I've seen no comparison between the two versions or the safest way to upgrade. The Pi site just seems to hype up the latest release.

Aric


RE: PiDirect II vs. PiDirect I
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 11:49:41 AM #
From ReleaseNote.txt in PiDirect II package:

"Summary of Changes
------------------
<2.0> - 1 Feb 2002
- (New) File Manager added which allows user to manage files between the device and the mounted folder on external card
- (Update) Panel UI updated
- (Update) "PiDirect Manual" and "Quick Start Guide" updated
- (Update) The file limit for unregistered users reduces from 20 files to 10 files

<1.03> - 26 Oct 2001
- (Fix) general conflict with Clie OS 4.0 device (N6x0C, N710C with OS4.1 and N760C)
- (Fix) conflict with SwitchDash, McPhling (on N610C)
- (Fix) icon corruption issue (on N700C)"

And they probably just forgot to mention 2.5 times size growth :-)

So, if you don't need that slooow file manager (I think that ever built-in HandEra's CardPro is much better), there is no reason to switch.

~eelk

RE: PiDirect II vs. PowerRun
rldunn @ 4/5/2002 11:52:59 AM #
PowerRun copies the full app to RAM, runs it, and then copies it back to external memory when you exit it. PiDirect copies only the portion of the file that it actually needs to RAM. Because of this, PiDirect is much faster for moderate to large apps than PowerRun. Of course, PowerRun allows you to also store modifiable databases in external memory as well, while you can't do this with PiDirect.

The main update since version 1 is the addition of the file manager. There were other small updates as well, so the speed of enabling is a little faster now, but the file manager was the biggest change.

BOTH PiDirect II AND PowerRun
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 12:08:41 PM #
I don't believe that the question is which one. I think that, until there is some native improvement within the OS for expansion card support, you really should use BOTH apps.

For instance. I have ThinkDB installed on the PDA, with my read only databases on the expansion card. I use PiDirect II for this.

I use PowerRun for some programs along with its databases that I keep on the Card such as TinySheet. However, to use TinyChart (also on the card), I can't run them both at the same time from PowerRun, so I load TinyChart into memory using PiDirect and then launch TinySheet (which is actually running via PowerRun). TinySheet sees TinyChart and thinks it is running in RAM (thanks to PiDirect).

So, I don't think that you necessarily make a choice between these two apps. I think in order to really use the card aggressively, you should have BOTH apps.

Thank's my $.02

Scott R. Almas
salmas@nycap.rr.com

RE: PiDirect II vs. PiDirect I ?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 11:35:34 AM #
From ReleaseNote.txt in PiDirect II package:

"Summary of Changes
------------------
<2.0> - 1 Feb 2002
- (New) File Manager added which allows user to manage files between the device and the mounted folder on external card
- (Update) Panel UI updated
- (Update) "PiDirect Manual" and "Quick Start Guide" updated
- (Update) The file limit for unregistered users reduces from 20 files to 10 files

<1.03> - 26 Oct 2001
- (Fix) general conflict with Clie OS 4.0 device (N6x0C, N710C with OS4.1 and N760C)
- (Fix) conflict with SwitchDash, McPhling (on N610C)
- (Fix) icon corruption issue (on N700C)"

And they probably just forgot to mention 2.5 times size growth :-)

So, if you don't need that slooow file manager (I think that ever built-in HandEra's CardPro is much better), there is no reason to switch.

~eelk

Cost

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 11:46:16 AM #
Unless I am simply missing something, the cost of PiDirectII is $29.95, not $20.00. That is according to the Buy Now link on Portable Innovations website.

RE: Cost
Ed @ 4/5/2002 12:23:09 PM #
You are correct and I've edited the review. Sorry about that.

---
News Editor

Is there anything better?

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 11:59:25 AM #
Like the author, I too was fairly early in my search for software to utilize my external card (memory stick in my case) when I found PiDirect and it's been just super. It's very fast and I can keep everything form AvantGo, to multiple medical applications like MedRules and PregTrak, as well as ebooks and two full translations of the bible. I've even moved datebk4 over to the card. Everything's just perfect. Speed may not be exactly equivalent to native memory, but it's far from a problem.

If there's something better, please clue me in.

RE: Is there anything better?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 1:26:56 PM #
do you use epocrates on the memory stick as well?

RE: Is there anything better?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 2:12:45 PM #
Which Avantgo files are you moving to the card? I would like to free up some space used by Avantgo in RAM.

RE: Is there anything better?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 9:18:27 PM #
Neither Epocrates nor the Tarascon Pharmacopia work on PiDirect. You can place the prc files in Pidirect, but that's it. All except about 300K of Epocrates can be put into flash--but I don't recall which files. You'll have to work that out. Skyscape's Dr Drugs runs completely and smoothly from PiDirect.

Tuckermaclain@yahoo.com

ePocrates
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/6/2002 11:11:47 PM #
I have all my ePocrates files in the memory card except the prc file (in RAM). It works great with Pi Direct.

Noah Pro 2.0 with PiDirect II? PowerRun??

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 1:17:06 PM #
Okay, I know Noah Pro has VFS support. BUT, it puts a 1Mb vfs cache file in RAM. This is not a great thing. So what I want to do is run the 5Mb database (Ed, is this bigger than your IMDB database?) off the card with PiDirect II. Works great up until you try to search for words past 'F' or so. Then I get an error saying "Pls free up more memory to run this programOut of memory (Dm 0201)". I have 2.5Mb free RAM.

Anyone have success with Noah Pro and PiDirect II? Or maybe with PowerRun?

Thanks,
-Scoob E.

RE: Noah Pro 2.0 with PiDirect II? PowerRun??
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 1:52:34 PM #
I use MS Mount. I moved 1 meg file that Noah creates to the MS Mount directory, leave the 5mb file on the card (launcher). It works just fine, it's a little slow when first starting, but then again for the ocassional use, it's just fine.

RE: Noah Pro 2.0 with PiDirect II? PowerRun??
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 2:00:42 PM #
I had the same problem with Noah Lite with the big database. However I was unable to fix it.

RE: Noah Pro 2.0 with PiDirect II? PowerRun??
volcanopele @ 4/5/2002 10:58:37 PM #
I have never been able to get Noah Pro to work with PiDirect. I ended up just looking for dictionary alternatives and eventually settled with Mi:D and Tomeraider.
As far as how big the Movie database is, I also use it and it is MASSIVE. Right now it is 14.4 MB.

Jason

RE: Noah Pro 2.0 with PiDirect II?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/6/2002 11:04:28 AM #
I have it working running the program once and then putting the prc and pdb on the card with PiDirecty and putting the 1k settings file on ram.


Is being put in the Prefs really a con?

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 1:48:31 PM #
In general, I wish MORE apps were Prefs panels instead. There are a lot of applications that don't get run often and don't deserve their own icon on the Launcher and just consume valuable screen real estate (e.g. Lefty, ThinFontFix, etc.).

For some other applications, it they'd be more appropriate going into the Prefs (e.g. Hack managers).

RE: Is being put in the Prefs really a con?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 2:36:49 PM #
I installed PiDirect yesterday, and I encountered lots of conflicts (double files on card and in RAM, files disappearing after sync). I presume it conflicts with Silverscreen.
I decided to uninstall the unregistered version and try Powerrun instead...

RE: Is being put in the Prefs really a con?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 2:59:34 PM #
There is an application on Palmgear called "Invisible", which hides all of the icons that you do not want to show in your application launcher.

The url is:

http://www.palmgear.com/software/showsoftware.cfm?sid=23983920020331131728&prodID=14088

RE: Is being put in the Prefs really a con?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 4:17:31 PM #
no... it only happens with SilverScreen... Or you can say that SilverScreen is a worst piece of software you ever want to write to...

RE: Is being put in the Prefs really a con?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/5/2002 9:58:47 PM #
silverscreen has a built-in hide option. you can decide for each application (for each icon) to be "hidden", and it won't show up then.
you can, of course, select a "show all hidden files" and they appear again.
all this does not help me with the conflict between pidirect and silverscreen... powerrun works perfectly, though.

Here we go again.

big_raji @ 4/6/2002 6:30:21 PM #
Hopefully the site is back up again for good.

---
If you sing in french while hopping on one foot, the evil birds won't come out of your bathroom mirror.
RE: Here we go again.
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/6/2002 6:46:19 PM #
first server problems now hackers...

RE: Here we go again.
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/6/2002 11:18:12 PM #
Why hack this place? What is the purpose? To show the admin there are security flaws? Well why don't you just email them instead of showing them the illegal way. Sigh some people.

Categories NOT remembered

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/6/2002 6:58:12 PM #
The biggest CON I have noticed and it may cause me to stop using the app is its failure to remember categories.
The Developers at PiTech suggest using the third party launchers MegaLauncher, but I personally like the palm launcher the best.
Having my programs change to unassigned categories on there own is a real annoyance. I want to control my PDA, not have my PDA control me!
Maybe someday PiTech will fix this, but until then I think I'll dismiss this...

RE: Categories NOT remembered
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/22/2002 4:38:57 PM #
I have to agree. I have changed the directories a number of times only to have them all go back under PiDirect on thier own. Very annoying! Almost a reason not to purchase the software...

Info

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/6/2002 7:04:27 PM #
>One rather surreal moment was when I first looked at
>Menu->Info with PiDirect II enabled. I was quite alarmed to
>see that my machine told me that I had 0K of memory free. I
>found out soon that this is simply because PiDirect II confuses
>the memory manager in the Palm OS. If one looks at free RAM
>with another utility, such as McFile, then the correct number
>will be displayed.
>
I would agree with this, it still bothers me as well, I wonder if there is a way for the developer (PiTech or Palm) to fix this. I also goto McFile to check the true memory available, but having this fixed would be "nice"

RE: Info
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/8/2002 1:26:57 PM #
you can also check true memory in the pidirect file manager

RE: Info
LaManchaDQ @ 4/8/2002 1:42:07 PM #
I have not had the same experience with memory reporting. With PII active on my m505 my free memory is stated as the same both within PII and through menu/info. It is also reported the same within Launcher III.

I wonder if Launcher III (either activated or deactivated) leaves a piece of itself to report the memory.

Top

Account

Register Register | Login Log in
user:
pass: