In the beginning, personal computers used cassette tape drives. Then came floppy drives, followed by hard drives. And then came removable media drives such as SyQuest, Bernoulli, and – perhaps best know of all – Zip.
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Iomega had made a name for itself with its Bernoulli Box, a lower cost alternative to SyQuest drives with their hard disk platters. SyQuest had established itself with a 44 MB 5-1/4″ cartridge drive system using the same 130mm platters found in hard drives.
By contrast, Bernoulli cartridges had a floppy disk spinning at 3,000 rpm, using the Bernoulli Principle to pull the disk’s surface toward the read-write head. Unfortunately, the original Bernoulli cartridge system used huge media, measuring about 8″ x 11″ (210 x 275 mm).
Bernoulli Box II used a smaller cartridge along with a drive that fit in a standard 5-1/4″ bay. Bernoulli drives were noted for their reliability, and they came in many different capacities.
Although Apple wasn’t the first to use 3.5″ floppy disks, it was the first to standardize on them instead of the older, larger 5-1/4″ floppies. In the PC world, single-sided 3.5″ floppies held 360 KB of data, double-sided disks 720 KB. On Macs, the same disks stored 400 KB and 800 KB respectively.
High-density (HD) 3.5″ floppies arrived in 1987, and both PCs and Macs used them to store 1.4 MB of information. The same year IBM introduced its DSED (Double Sided Extended Density) 2.88 MB floppy drive and disks, which never caught on. The market needed a removable media drive with more capacity than floppies but at a much better price than SyQuest.
Iomega brought its Zip drive and Zip disks to market in March 1995 with 100 MB capacity. Zip uses a cartridge a little larger and somewhat thicker than a 3.5″ floppy disk. It was also far faster than a floppy drive, which is part of what kept the competing LS-120 SuperDisk from catching on – it had higher capacity than Zip but was far, far slower. (Interestingly, SuperDisk began as an Iomega project that they ditched in favor of Zip. 3M acquired the technology from Iomega and brought it to market.)
With their relatively high capacity and low price (initially $20 per cartridge), Zip took off, selling nearly one million in 1995. A few Zip disks could back up most hard drives in 1995; one Zip disk could hold a bootable system plus diagnostics. Zip was also a great way to send files out to a service bureau.
Zip disks came preformatted for Macs or PCs, and either could be reformatted for the other platform using Iomega Tools.
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The SCSI Zip drive allows you to choose one of two possible SCSI IDs, 5 or 6. SCSI ID 6 is rock solid, but SCSI ID 5 can have issues when other devices on the SCSI bus are moving a lot of data. Avoid using SCSI ID 5 if at all possible.
In 2013, Lui Gough tested several different types of Zip drives on his AMD Sempton 3300+ powered PC running Windows XP SP3. Here are the average and maximum transfer rates by drive mechanism:
Cam Giesbrecht ran benchmark tests on his Mac Quadra 605, also comparing HD floppy and hard drive performance. His results:
The SCSI Zip drive performs better on this Mac and the one tested by Lui Gough on his Windows PC, in part because Macs were optimized for SCSI drives in those days while PCs were optimized for ATA drives. The Zip shows itself to be a decent backup medium, writing data at 70-80% of the write speed of the two tested hard drives.
As for the floppy, there is no comparison. Zip stores 70x as much data and runs about 15x as fast.
Finally, the Iomega Zip FAQ benchmarks Zip 100, SyQuest 44 (an older technology), and the hard drive in a 1989 Mac IIci, obtaining these results:
This seems to be comparing a 1989 vintage hard drive with two removable media options. Even an older hard drive outperforms Zip 100 and SyQuest 44 for random reads and writes, but the big surprise is that for 256 KB sequential reads, Zip beats the hard drive, while it takes a close second for 256 KB sequential writes, just behind the older hard drive.
Overall Zip had decent performance, especially compared to older hard drives. With contemporary mid-1990s hard drives, Zip would fall further behind yet still acquit itself nicely.
As long as Iomega kept things simple, Zip continued to grow and grow. It supported most operating system of that era:
Later versions of Zip supported 250 MB (launched December 1998) and 750 MB (August 2002) of storage. Zip drive sales began their decline in 1999 as CD-R and DVD-R grew in popularity, followed by the explosion in USB thumb drives.
Zip drives were available in numerous interfaces, including:
There were also three later implementations:
With each additional Zip format, Iomega further muddied the waters. It was simple when every Zip disk stored 100 MB and every Zip drive could read and write to it.
Zip 250 drives can read and write both Zip 100 and Zip 250 disks, although they write to Zip 100 disks very slowly. Zip 100 drives automatically eject Zip 250 disks as unreadable.
Zip 750 drives can read Zip 100 disks but not write to them at all. It is fully compatible with Zip 250 disks. Zip 100 and Zip 250 drives will eject a Zip 750 drive as unreadable.
Interestingly, Zip was listed as one of the 25 worst technology products (#15) by PCWorld in 2006 – and one of the 50 best (#23) in 2007!
Iomega was acquired by EMC in June 2008, making it part of the world’s largest storage company. EMC and Lenovo partnered in 2013 to create LenovoEMC, which took over Iomega’s business.
* No, it isn’t a typo. Compleat is a legitimate, albeit archaic, spelling for complete. As Kenneth G. Wilson says in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English: “This obsolete spelling of the adjective complete suggests an air of antiquity that seems to please some of those who name things….” We find that fitting for Low End Mac’s Compleat Guides to “obsolete” hardware and software.
Keywords: #zipdrive #zipdisk #iomegazip
Short link: http://goo.gl/JZA9SU
I’ve recently been experimenting to see if I could somehow use of my old Iomega Zip drives (a 250MB USB version, and a 100MB SCSI) to move files between my Windows PC and my various 68k Macintosh Systems. After a bit of experimentation I discovered how I could not only move files, but also create a disk image that would allow me to use my Windows PC to make fully bootable Zip disks for use with any of the SCSI capable 68k Macintosh systems.
So, similar to my entry on setting up using a floppy disk, I created boot images for System 6.0.8 and System 7.5.5.
This method will only work for 68k Macintosh computers that have an internal Iomega Zip drive, or have a working SCSI or PCMCIA connector for an external Iomega Zip drive. Otherwise, you will need to use one of the other setup methods I’ve previously identified.
I’ve used this method to write an 100MB image file to both:
You can use one of mine, or create your own (I’ve created another blog entry to explain what drive images are, how to create them and with a summary table of all the drive images I’ve created).
First determine which operating system you can, or want to run on your classic Macintosh.
For Iomega Zip drives I’ve made 2 types of bootable drive images, both formatted using the Hierarchical File System (HFS):
For information on the content of these images and how to edit these images see my entry on creating a bootable disk starting with a disk image.
For other images I’ve created a separate page with a complete list of image files etc. I have created for download.
Iâ€™ve created a separate blog entry for how I write the images back to physical drives and how to create your own images if you do not want to use one of mine.
Depending on your setup, your 68k Macintosh System may try to boot from a different drive than your Zipdrive. On some Macintosh Systems, you can use the following keyboard combination to specify the boot drive: