Back in 1994, thanks to my new Iomega’s Zip drive, I blew people’s minds with my breathtaking 100MB Zip discs. Don’t laugh. That was a lot of space back then. The desktop PC in my office at the time only had an 80MB drive. And you couldn’t move it around. Iomega’s Zip was revolutionary for its time.
Back then, it was typical for a PC to ship with two diskette drives, one 5.25-inch for compatibility with older systems, and one 3.5-inch drive. Neither could hold more than 1.2MB. So the Iomega Zip was pretty impressive.
Check out my Zip drive below and its Reveal branding. This was a house brand for Computer City. Other parts of the device, however, show its Iomega origins.
The top of the Zip drive, when lying flat, had a clear plastic window that let you see the Zip disk’s label.
This Iomega Zip drive used a parallel printer port to connect with the PC. That wasn’t unusual. Lot of peripherals, including scanners and even the earliest webcams, used parallel ports. Other Zip drive models that followed had IDE, USB, SCSI and firewire interfaces. But, in 1995, the parallel port model was a good choice for compatibility with 100 percent of PCs.
Note there is a pass-through port to let the Zip drive sit between a PC and its printer.
One side of the Zip drive had another set of rubber feet to let the device be used in a vertical orientation.
While the device itself was reasonably small — much smaller than external CD-ROM drives of the time — a bit of space was required to allow for cabling: the large parallel cable to the PC, another large parallel cable connecting a printer and the power cable.
The Zip discs were relatively compact and light. Each came in individual hard plastic carrying cases. Each of the 100MB disks cost about $7 if you bought them in a 10-pack.
The drive model I used only worked with 100MB disks. Later models could also deal with 250MB Zip disks. These later model drives and disks gained some infamy for the dreaded click of death, a clicking noise that signaled a failing Zip drive or disk.
The Zip system was a descendent of Iomega’s original Bernoulli Box, which used Bernoulli flight principles to ensure hard disk heads would always hover and never collide with the media. Unfortunately, the Zip drive didn’t use such technology.
The photo below gives you an idea of the relative thickness difference of the Zip Drive parallel port cable and its connector compared to a typical USB cable.
My Zip disk use really took off after buying my first digital camera in 1997, which was a Kodak DC-20. In the summer of 2008 I gathered all the Zip disks I had used over the years, attached the still working drive, and copied all the files.
That’s 45 100MB Zip disks in the photo below. Because most of the disks were not filled to capacity, the data from those disks fit on a single 4GB USB thumb drive — with room to spare.
Consider the time. In 1994, PCs generally shipped with diskette drives, one 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch. Magneto-optical (MO) drives and CD-RW (read write) drives were on the horizon, but they cost a lot. Consumer-grade digital tape drives were still available but they were old school even then and generally slow.
The tapes I used maxed out at 250MB with compression turned on. So if you wanted to carry around more than a few megabytes of data, Iomega’s 100MB discs were ideal.
While my own use of Zip disks tapered off after the turn of the century, I still saw them around for years after that. The Iomega Zip drive and its media played a brief but important role as a portable digital storage solution in my personal computing history. It was a lot more than a one-hit wonder.