Sunday, February 1, 2015

Who Else Kinda Misses Their Zip Disks?

Christopher Phin:

A little over 20 years ago, however, when Iomega introduced the original 100MB Zip disk, that was staggeringly huge for a removable disk. The wildly more common 3.5-inch floppies held 1.4MB. For context, the entry-level PowerBook 150, introduced in the same year, had a 120MB hard disk, and the base configurations of even 1994’s server Macs came with hard disks that were only five times the capacity of the Zip disk.

The humble Zip disk, then, was a kind of de facto successor to the ubiquitous high-density 3.5-inch floppy. You had to buy a special drive to mount it in, because although they had about the same footprint as a regular floppy disk, they were much thicker. In fact, Zip disks had a lovely chunky, seemingly hugely robust quality compared to normal floppies.

As I recall, the novelty wasn’t that the Zip disk was huge in capacity. In that respect, it was similar to the SyQuest and Bernoulli removable disks of the day. What was special was that Zip disks were physically smaller and much cheaper. And, in spite of the “click of death,” I recall them being more reliable than their 88 MB SyQuest predecessors and their 1 GB Jaz successors.

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Yeah, the price was the main differentiator. I don't think a lot of non-professional users ever used SyQuest or Bernoulli, but Zips were really aimed at consumers. A lot of people used them. At one point, they were popular enough that you could buy Macs with built-in Zip drives; I had a Power Macintosh 6500 with one.

I burned through a lot of 44 MB SyQuest cartridges. I found Zip disks to be more reliable. SyQuest cartridges quickly turned bad when stored. Probably from demagnetization. After a couple of months in the cupboard a SyQuest cartridge required a visit to Norton Disk Doctor before being readable.

Another big plus of the Zip: they were pretty wide spread. SyQuest was for archival only. Zip could be used to transfer files between home, university and office.

Never had an issue with the Jaz, I even used it to boot on MkLinux or Mac OS X Server.

Got an internal zip drive in a PowerMac G3 and it suffered from the click of death one month later.

A family member worked at one of the first places in Europe to get Zip drives, circa 1995, and even for professionals Zip was a godsend; my memories are hazy, but I remember SyQuest (which they used before) as being unwieldy in software too, behaving like hard disks, while Zip disks simply behaved like floppies.

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