Jurassic Tech: Iomega Zip Drive Circa 1994

Back when Boyz II Men ruled the radio, our Todd Ogasawara was carrying around 100MB Iomega Zip discs. Today in Jurassic Tech, Todd O spins you back to 1994. Enjoy.

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.


  • I had one of these. And a Bernoulli drive, too! I bet there are a lot of folks out there who had those.

    Would love to see pics of a Bernoulli, if you still have yours, Todd O. Aloha and Happy Lunar New Year.

    • I did not buy an Iomega Bernoulli. However, I bought a competing product – the Syquest Sparq drive. That’s definitely in the queue for a future column,

  • I’ve got a box of Zip Disks (some labeled “Mac Format”) & (bonus points!) 2 Jaz Disks ( which sucked..) if ya need em!

    • Hey, Charles! Thanks for the offer. But, my Zip drive is happily retired after its one last service to me in 2008 when I made sure I transferred all the files from those 45 discs off to a hard drive (also a DVD-R and USB thumb drive).

  • Fantastic, thorough article with great well-chosen photos. Trying to salvage all my old 90s zip data at the moment. =)

  • I bought my zip drive in 1997 for about $120 and really wasn’t the best use of my money. The next year I got a 4.5GB external SCSI drive for $280 and in 1999 bought a 4x CD-R for $300. Those got extensively used, but the zip drive never got used much. I had a total of 6 disks and except holding on to some lesser used files and moving a few from another place. I was in college from 99-03 and while a lot of people brought zips to the labs, I either had a floppy for some small files, or just used the server to juggle files around (I was in the dorms and could access the sun file server from my Mac as well as the windows machines on campus.