ZIP Drive

By on October 26, 2009

Iomega ZIP driveOriginally published in 2000 this article remains popular with readers. The original text is published here along with a product update below.  The ZIP drive has been around for quite a while now. If you’re not an early adopter of technology, and let’s face it, once bitten twice shy, then you probably haven’t got around to including a ZIP drive as part of your system yet.  This is in spite often fact that all your friends and business associates probably have them and offer to send you data on a ZIP drive quite frequently.

I’d say that this year you’re going to relent.  You probably need to get a new computer so that you’re up to date with all the Y2K stuff and while you’re at it you’ll probably include a few niceties.  Should a Zip drive be included on the list?  I think so.

If you upgraded hardware recently, you’re probably already feeling the strain of diminishing hard disk space.  A nice little removable storage device might be handy for data that you don’t images, or other files that are huge and which you don’t need all the time.

Is 100Mb enough?  Depends what you’re doing, but I’d say that 100Mb is a pretty nice amount.  If you’re scared that it’s not enough, then check out the 250Mb model.

My theory is that it is wise to pack stuff in containers of about the right size, that is, a storage unit that holds the stuff comfortably with a bit of room to spare.

So if the files you wish to store or suite of files you wish to store together need under say, 85Mb of storage, then a 100Mb disk is a good size.  This way there is less temptation to mix project X with project Y just because there a stack of waste space that will never be used on the project Y disk.

If your files need more than 100Mb, there is a 250Mb model Zip drive, maybe that’s an option.

Isn’t more better?  Iomega’s JAZ drive holds 1Gb (10 times as much) and now there is a 2Gb JAZ drive available now as well.  Sure its a great size if the files you want to store together just about fill a 1Gb disk.  If you don’t, you’re under-using your disks (and JAZ disks are not cheap) and if you put another project on the disk, you’re complicating information storage and particularly the retrieval process.

You can get a Zip drive as an internal or external model.  Internal is good if you have a spare bay on your computer and if you don’t intend to carry the drive around.  External is good if you do not have a spare bay or wish to use the drive on a variety of computers.

The external Zip drive is available in four models; parallel port, SCSI and parallel and SCSI; and USB.  Models are priced according to speed and versatility.  The parallel port model is very handy; you can use it on practically any computer very easily.  The downside is it has the slowest transfer speed.  The SCSI model is very quick, but you can only plug it into a SCSI port.  Having both I/O option in one is handy and fast.  The USB model provides ease-of-use and speed, but it can only be used with newer computers that have a USB interface.

We checked out the parallel version as it is the cheapest and most portable device.

The package includes the drive, a cable (about 600mm or 2 ft long) a power cable, floppy disk and Zip disk.  Documentation comprises an Installation and Reference Guide and a Printer Installation Guide.

Installation is simple.  Power down you computer and printer.  Plug the zip drive into the parallel port using the supplied cable and plug you printer into the passthrough socket at the back of the Zip drive.  The passthrough will only work (i.e. you printer will only work) if the Zip drive is powered on.

Power everything up again and run the installation setup from the floppy disk.  This also required the Tools Zip disk to be in the drive.  The default installation installs the driver and a range of utilities including a backup and restore function, disk copy tool, cataloging and search tools.

I was intrigued by the neat little slot in the side of the drive case.  The slot holds the power cable which plugs in halfway down the right sight of the case.  Then I discovered that there is no power switch!  The easiest way to power the drive off is just to pull out the power lead.  The slot stops the power cable from falling down the back of the desk, which in my office is a real blessing.

Insert the floppy disk and use Control Panel | Add/remove programs and click the Install button.  The Iomega tools software installed flawlessly and added the new drive to my system.

I had been warned that the parallel port model is no speed demon and having played around with SCSI JAZ drives which are very quick, I was prepared for the worst.  Just as well.  When it comes to big file movements back and forth, the parallel Zip is ssllooww.  How slow?  We clocked 25 minutes to copy 80Mb of a range of files from hard disk to Zip disk.  The same transfer between hard disks took 1.5 minutes.  In practice however, the speed is not such an issue when you are using it as a library store (for symbols, clipart or other items of small filesize) or as a project volume where you might only store and retrieve relatively small files one or two at a time.

Gotcha.  Use a parallel port dongle?  We installed the Zip drive through a parallel port dongle and found that the computer would hang during file copy tests.  Iomega addresses the problem in the included notes and recommends installing another parallel port.  Not a high cost (under US$15) and quite satisfactory if you have a spare ISA slot.  Some parallel port dongles may work OK, you need to test or ask the developer who provided your dongle.

A really strong point for any Zip drive is its almost universal use as a transfer medium for files that are a wee bit too big to squeeze across an electronic line.

Use any excuse you can to get a Zip drive asap.  It will give you instant value and installing it before you absolutely need it will save you valuable time at the critical moment.  If you have USB on your computer, this would be our interface of choice for a good compromise of speed and portability over the life of the unit.  Highly recommended.

Oct 2009 Update

Iomega Zip 250Mb USB driveEven in these days of monster hard drives, USB memory sticks and read/write CDs and DVDs, ZIP drives give you a great way to reliably and eficiently manage data. Being able to dedicate a disk to a project gives you a great way to organise information. Whether you are backing up projects to the ZIP drive or working directly from it, you will find that it is an easy and efficient way to keep your data close to hand yet securely stored.

ZIP drives are now available in 750Mb and 250Mb capacity disks. Drives still read 100Mb disks but these disks cannot be written to with new drives.

The connection interface is now either USB (1.1 and 2.0 standards supported – higher speeds only availabel with 2.0 interface) or ATPi. USB makes for a more portable devices that can be shared between machines if required and allows the ZIP drive to be used with boith PC and Mac computers. The ATAPi interface is an 40 wire ribbon cable connection that is typcially available inside a computer case and used for devices installed in the case. If you want to use a ZIP drive with ATAPi interface be sure that your motherboard has a spare IDE interface socket or capacity for one more IDE device  and that you have a spare mounting bay for the ZIP drive.

I have personally been using ZIP disks for over 10 years and all my old disks work as well today as they did when new. All the project data that I have from 10 years ago is accessible and ready to go by just putting a disk in the drive. Try that with a floppy or even a CD you burnt yourself.


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