Aardvark Daily
Review: The iomega Zip Drive
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I remember when... There was a time when 1.2MB floppy disk drives were "standard equipment" on 286-based PCs which were luckily to have a 20MB disk drive. This meant that if you used some compression software such as PKZIP, you could back your entire hard drive up using as little as 10 disks, quite a practical proposition.

In recent times however, things have changed - a lot!

These days even entry-level PCs come with drives that are measured in gigabytes, but the "standard equipment" for backups remains a paltry 1.4MB floppy disk.

Compression software hasn't improved very much so PC users are now faced with the daunting prospect of having to use at least 300 floppy disks per gigabyte if they want to do a backup. With a half-full 2GB drive, who has the time to shuffle that many disks on a regular basis?

Of course the use of smart backup software, incremental backups and other techniques can reduce the number of floppies but this generally results in some other penalties, such as the possible need to use several generations of disks to restore just a single file. Unfortunately though, many people would rather run the risk of losing valuable data rather than spend a not insignificant amount of time playing the "floppy shuffle".

The Zip Drive claims So thank goodness for the Zip drive - or at least that's what the advertising blurb would have us believe, but is it true?

The box and brochures claim that the Zip Drive will make it easy to move your data from machine to machine, make backups a breeze and act as an alternative form of online storage. No, I'm sorry it doesn't make coffee or cure the common cold - but who cares? If it lives up to the claims made then it's still doing okay.

The Zip Drive realities Here's the guts of the review...

The drive comes packed in a very politically correct recycled cardboard holder - just like the stuff egg cartons are made from. All the necessary bits were there: power supply, cable, drive, one Zip disk (containing backup software), some bits of paper (I think they were manuals - but "all else" didn't fail so I didn't need them), and a 3.5" floppy with the installation software.

It only took a few minutes to install the drive, a very simple and smooth operation under Windows 95.

Then the wheels fell off At the end of the installation process it was suggested that I try the "parallel port accelerator" which is supposed to make a noticeable difference in the speed of the Zip drive's operation.

Unfortunately it locked up my system - as I was warned it might.

This seemed pretty silly since I'm using a P166 with a pretty recent mother-board and BIOS so I delved into the BIOS setup to see what was going on and found that the printer port was not set to ECP mode. A quick tweak there and the accelerator program did its job.

Speed, and other stuff How well does the Zip Drive work?

I'd have to say that it works pretty much as advertised.

The 100MB isn't exactly 100MB in the traditional sense (102400 bytes), it's actually 95.7MB - but who cares, it's still a whole lot more than a 3.5" floppy disk!

After using the drive for a week I can say that it mostly seems to work as advertised. Backups are great when you can use WinZip to put 150MB-200MB on each disk or use the backup program supplied on the Tools disk to handle the task (it also offers an optional level of compression).

I chose the parallel port version of the Zip drive (it's also available in a SCSI model) since this is the choice of most PC owners and allows the drive to be easily moved from machine to machine for the purposes of copying large files. Users of Macintosh computers and those who have no need to move the drive between multiple machines would be better advised to go for the SCSI option for reasons which I'm about to explain.

Iomega's claim that you can use the Zip as another type of online storage, as an alternative to another hard drive, maybe true but I suspect users of the parallel port version would not find it particularly pleasant to do so.

Unfortunately, in order for the drive to transfer data at a reasonable rate to and from the computer it seems to disable the PC's interrupts at regular intervals during any read or write operation. This produces a decided "jerkiness" to mouse movements whenever the drive is being used. Not a catastrophe but irritating enough to turn me off the idea of using the drive as a regular piece of "working storage". You've also got to remember that for the price of a Zip drive you can buy another 1.7GB hard disk anyway.

Although I didn't have the chance to check, I suspect that the SCSI version won't suffer from this peculiarity and would be a much better bet (albeit at a higher cost for some users) if you want to run programs from, and interactively store data on your Zip drive.

Data transfer rates are more than acceptable for file-copying or backup purposes. It took only a few minutes to back up (without compression) some 60MB of data from my hard drive to a Zip disk. When using XCOPY to copy files to the Zip drive there also seems to be a lot of caching going on so that the DOS prompt returns long before the drive has finished its machinations.

The Aardvark summary Here's the bottom line...


  • 95.7MB of storage that fits in your pocket
  • Seems 100% reliable so far
  • Very simple installation and operation
  • Easy to move from machine to machine
  • Mechanism feels nice and solid


  • Parallel port version makes the mouse jerky when the drive is being accessed.
  • Not even a single blank disk is provided with the drive. What good is the drive without a disk?
  • Questionable choice of case design and colour, it looks like it was designed for the armed services.
  • The NZ Distributor didn't return my call when I told them I'd be reviewing the drive, so what's the support like?

The "list" price for the Zip drive is around NZ$379+GST but if you hand over this much money then I've got some swamp-land on the Hauraki Plains you might be interested in buying. If you shop around you'll find some places selling them for as little as $295+GST, but the normal caveats about choosing a reputable dealer apply.

Aardvark says:
"3.5 inch disks just aren't up to the task of backing up the data on today's PCs. When you look at the flexibility and performance of the Zip drive and weigh up the cost of backing up onto ordinary floppies (or not backing up at all), the Zip drive is a MUST HAVE!."

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