about the Zip drive

about the Zip drive


The Zip drive is a medium-capacity removable disk storage system, introduced by Iomega in late 1994. Originally, Zip disks launched with capacities of only 100 MB, but later versions increased this to first 250 MB and then 750 MB.

The format became the most popular of the super-floppy type products but was never popular enough to replace the 3.5-inch floppy disk. Later, rewritable CDs and rewritable DVDs replaced the Zip drive for mass storage. The Zip brand later covered internal and external CD writers known as Zip-650 or Zip-CD which had no relation to the Zip drive.



The Zip system is similar to Iomega's earlier Bernoulli Box system in that in both systems a set of read/write heads mounted on a linear actuator flies over a rapidly spinning flexible medium mounted in a sturdy cartridge. However, the Zip cartridge lacks the Bernoulli plate of the earlier product[1] and as a consequence the ZIP cartridge has only one disk in the cartridge in contrast to the two disks in a Bernoulli cartridge (one on either side of the Bernoulli plate). In the ZIP drive the heads fly in a manner similar to an HDD without the use of the Bernoulli effect. The linear actuator uses the voice coil actuation technology, related to modern hard drives. The Zip disk uses smaller media (about the size of a 9 cm (3½") microfloppy, but more ruggedised, rather than the Compact Disc-sized Bernoulli media), and a simplified drive design that reduced its overall cost.

This resulted in a disk that has all of the 9 cm (3½") floppy's convenience, but holds much more data, with performance that is much quicker than a standard floppy drive (though not directly competitive with hard drives). The original Zip drive had a maximum data transfer rate of about 1 megabyte/second (comparable to 6x CDR; although some connection methods were slower, down to approx. 50 KB/second for maximum-compatibility parallel "nibble" mode) and a seek time of 28 milliseconds on average, compared to a standard 1.44 MB floppy's typical 125 kbit/s (15.6 kB/s) transfer rate and several-hundred millisecond average seek time. Today's typical 7200 RPM desktop hard drives have transfer speeds of 100 MB/s or more and average seek times of around 10 ms.

Early generation Zip drives were in direct competition with the SuperDisk or LS-120 drives, which held 20% more data and could also read standard 3½" 1.44 MB diskettes, but they had a lower data transfer rate due to lower rotational speed. The rivalry was over before the dawn of the USB era.


Later (USB, left) and earlier (parallel, right) Zip drives (media in foreground).Zip drives are available in multiple interfaces including

USB 1.1
USB 2.0
IEEE 1284 (Parallel Port) with Printer passthrough. (See NB 1)
IEEE 1394 Firewire
SCSI (external and Plus version limited to ID 5 and 6) (See NB 2)
ATAPI (the USB Zip 250 has an external ATAPI connection that is rarely used.)
IDE True ATA (very early ATA internal Zip drives mostly sold to OEMs.)
Parallel port external Zip drives are actually SCSI drives with an integrated Parallel-to-SCSI controller, meaning a true SCSI bus implementation but without the electrical buffering circuits necessary for connecting other external devices. Early Zip 100 drives used an AIC 7110 SCSI controller and later parallel drives (Zip Plus and Zip 250) used what was known as Iomega MatchMaker. The drives are identified by the operating system as "IMG VP0" and "IMG VP1" respectively.

Early external SCSI-based Zip drives often came with an included SCSI adapter known as Zip Zoom. The Zip Zoom is a rebadged ISA Adaptec SCSI host controller. Also, originally sold separately was a PCMCIA-to-SCSI adapter for laptop compatibility, also a rebadged Adaptec.


BIOS support

Some modern BIOSes still support booting to Zip Drives via the USB or ATAPI interfaces.



Higher capacity Zip disks must be used in a drive with at least the same capacity ability. Higher capacity drives can read lower capacity media. The 250 MB drive writes much more slowly to 100 MB disks than does the 100 MB drive, and is unable to perform a "long" (thorough) format on a 100 MB disk. The 750 MB drive cannot write to 100 MB disks at all, though they are the cheapest and most common of the three formats.

The retroreflective spot differs on the three media sizes such that if a larger disk is inserted in a smaller capacity drive, the disk is immediately ejected again without any attempt being made to access the disk.


Sales, problems, and licensing

Zip drives initially sold well after their introduction in 1994, owing to their low price point and high (for the time) capacity. The drive was initially sold for just under $200 USD with one cartridge included, and additional 100 MB cartridges for $20. At this time hard disks typically had a capacity of 500 MB and cost around $200 USD, and so backing up with Zip disks was very economical for home users some computer suppliers such as Dell and Apple Inc. included Iomega internal Zip drives with their machines. Zip drives also made significant inroads in the graphic arts market, as a cheaper alternative to the Syquest cartridge hard drive system. The price of additional cartridges swiftly dropped further over the next few years, as more companies began supplying them. Eventually, the suppliers included Fujifilm, Verbatim, Toshiba and Maxell. Epson and Nec also produced a licensed 100 MB drive model with its brand name.

Zip Disk and Drive sales, 1998 to 2003Sales of Zip drives and disks declined steadily from 1999 to 2003 In September 1998, a class action suit was brought against Iomega over a type of Zip disk failure dubbed the Click of Death. Zip disks also had a relatively high cost per megabyte compared to the falling costs of then-new CD-R and CD-RW disks.

The growth of hard drives to multi-gigabyte capacity made backing up with Zip disks less economical. Furthermore, the advent of inexpensive recordable CD and DVD drives for computers, as well as USB flash drives, pushed the Zip drive out of the mainstream market. However, the advantages of magnetic media over optical media and flash memory, in terms of long-term file storage stability and high erase/rewrite cycles, still affords them a niche in the data storage arena. In such applications, Zip competes primarily with USB external hard drives and the Hi-MD version of Sony's MiniDisc, which stores up to 1GB on a disk that is smaller and less expensive than a 100 MB Zip disk.

In 2006, PC World rated the Zip drive as the 15th worst technology product of all time.[6] However, in 2007, PC World rated the Zip drive as the 23rd best technology product of all time.


The ZipCD Drive

Iomega also produced a line of internal and external recordable CD drives under the Zip brand in the late 1990s, called the ZipCD 650. It used regular CD-R media and had no format relation to the magnetic Zip drive. The external models were installed in a Zip drive-style case, and utilised standard USB 1.1 connections.

Iomega used the DirectCD software from Adaptec to allow UDF drive-letter access to CD-R or CD-RW media.

The company also released their own CD-R and CD-RW media under the same ZipCD name. However, the ZipCD drives would burn to any blank CD-R or CD-RW media.

Early models of ZipCD drives were rebadged Philips drives, which were also so unreliable that a class action lawsuit succeeded.

The ZipCD 650 was able to record onto 700MB CDs but could only burn data up to 650MB. There was a 3rd party firmware that forced the ZipCD 650 to be able to write data CDs up to 700MB but made the drive unstable.


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