April 16, 2001

Review: Iomega Zip 250 USB for Linux

Author: JT Smith

- By Jeff Field -

It seems it's removable storage month on NewsForge; I have reviewed two CD-RW drives, and here I review another popular form of removable storage, the Iomega Zip 250. A few years ago, when CD-Rs were expensive and uncommon, zip disks were all the rage.
Offering more storage at faster speeds than floppy drives, zip disks made perfect sense; and they were quickly adopted. In order to compete with the increasing number of CD-RW drives being sold, Iomega has introduced the Zip 250 -- but how does it compare to CD-RWs?

The drive
The drive itself is certainly different from those Iomega used to make. It is sleek and translucent, a real 180-degree change from the solid-blue giant Zip 100 drives. The drive reads and writes both Zip 100 and Zip 250 disks, although Zip 100 disks write significantly slower than Zip 250 disks. It is slim and portable enough to not be a burden in a laptop bag or even in a coat pocket. Unfortunately, the drive does not pull power from the USB cable, so you must carry along the power cable, which while relatively small, is something that could be improved on.

Installing the drive is relatively simple, just plug it into a power source and then plug the USB cable into the port on your PC. Linux recognizes the zip drive via the usb-storage module, which can be loaded from the command line via "insmod usb-storage". Once the module is loaded, it picks up the drive, displays information about it and assigns it a device ID, in this case /dev/sda, with the partition on /dev/sda4.

I mounted the existing FAT partition on the disks (mount -tvfat /dev/sda4 /mnt/zip) in order to perform the tests. I decided to use FAT even though it may be inferior to ext2 or Reiser or any number of Linux FS types, because FAT is the most common FS type. Also, because removable media is generally shared, I imagine most users will use this drive as a FAT disk.

Documentation was included in HTML form on a CD that is focused on Windows. Little of the information on this disc will be useful to a Linux user, except for the problems that deal with the drive itself and not the host operating system. The manual was completely readable in Netscape 4.7 in X, and although well written, the documentation is of little use in our case.

The following tests were done by mounting the drive as previously mentioned, and reading and writing the same 90.6 megabyte file. Between each test, I rebooted the machine to make sure the cache was not affecting the results. For the write tests, I simply did "time cp ~/xaa /mnt/zip" where xaa was the 90.6 megabyte file. For the read tests, I copied the same 90.6 megabyte file from the zip drive to the hard drive, via the command "time cp xaa ~". The results here are compared to those of a Plextor 12x and an Acer 4X CD-RW. The Plextor is included because it can be purchased for about $50 more than the zip drive, and the 4x because you can get external USB 4X drives for similar prices as the zip drive.

Speed test results

Drive Reading Writing
Zip 250
(250 MB Disk)
0.62MB/s 0.65MB/s
Zip 250
(100 MB Disk)
0.56MB/s 0.15MB/s
Acer 4x4x32 8.14X - 1.19MB/s 3.97x - 0.58MB/s
Plextor 12/10/32A 13.03X, 1.91MB/s 12.16x - 1.78MB/s

As you can see, the zip drive using 250 megabyte disks performs similarly to a 4x CD-ROM. So, is the zip drive worth the money? Zip disk cartridges of 250 megs are $9 on Pricewatch. For the same price, you can buy a 10 pack of CD-RW media, which each hold 650 MBs and will work on nearly every machine made in the last few years.

Also take into consideration that the zip drive media is mechanical, meaning it will be more prone to failure than a CD-RW. Because speed does not seem to be a factor, CD-RW drives are better the zip drive in cost and size as well. I just cannot recommend a zip drive to someone knowing they will end up paying so much more for less. I just picked up 100 CD-Rs for $29.99 after rebate, the same price I would pay for three zip disks. It would seem that the zip drive is now past its prime, and I would strongly recommend against purchasing one. Do yourself a favor and pick up a CD-RW instead. The disks are readable on nearly any PC, they are cheaper, and they hold more. Even Iomega knows that the life of the zip disk will soon be over -- its ZipCD CD-RW drive can be found on Pricewatch -- certainly a sign of the times.

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