An idea whose time has gone

GCN Lab review: REV drive offers handy, removable storage but in an outdated format

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Iomega 120G REV drive

Iomega

LET ME TELL you a tale of a fine technology that was released too late and is trying to make a comeback in a different form.

This is the story of the Zip drive, and to set the stage, we need to go back to the days of the sneakernet. It's 1992, and your boss wants a file you've been working on. So you save it to a floppy disk ' either the 3.5-inch kind or the even older 5.25-inch kind, which really was floppy ' and walk it over to her office. Your speed and comfort depend more on your shoes than your computer network.

[IMGCAP(1)]Iomega introduced the Zip drive into that world. It was a pretty impressive technology for 1994. Offering as much as 100M of storage, the Zip looked like it would be the next-generation drive that every computer would have. We still have some older test machines in the lab with built-in Zip drives.

But the ability to move smaller files via the rapidly expanding world of e-mail hit Zip hard. Being able to save larger files and folders on CD-Rs, which dropped rapidly in price in the mid-1990s when Zip was still getting its feet wet, was the follow-up blow. That one-two punch KO'd Zip. Eventually, portable thumb drives effectively killed it.

The Zip drive might have been the ultimate disk drive, but that is like saying it was the most efficient dinosaur on the planet. Both the Tyrannosaurus rex and the Apatosaurus are dead, no matter which one was better.

Nevertheless, Iomega is still trying to resurrect its portable storage technology. If the Zip drive had been introduced a few years earlier, Iomega would probably be a household name.

The 120G REV drive is the company's latest effort, and it fills a niche in the portable storage arena ' for now. However, it suffers from the same problems as the Zip drive. For it to work as a sharing medium, there must be two of them. Otherwise, it's like having a fax machine: Unless the person you want to send documents to has one, it does you no good.

The 120G REV drive would be nearly perfect if you needed to get huge files, such as databases or elaborate PowerPoint presentations, to someone who also has a REV drive. You could save the file to the disk and then walk it to them or send it via U.S. mail if they happen to be outside your office. Given REV disks' small size, about four-inch squares, it would not cost much to ship them. And because the most capacious key drives top out at about 8G, that 120G of space means you have a lot of storage capacity. And should you need more, you can always pop in a new disk without investing in more hardware.

Local backup

Another good application for the REV drive would be maintaining an ongoing, constantly expanding archive. If you create reports every day, for example, you could save them to the disk and add a new disk when the old one is full.

A primary use for the REV drive is backup. You could use it instead of a tape backup system and store full disks off-site. The advantages are numerous, the two primary ones being the durability of the drives compared to flimsy tapes and the much faster read-and-write speeds.

The REV drive's data transfer speed beats most tape systems, but it is a bit of an Achilles' heel. In our testing, we transferred data to the drive at 165.14 megabits/sec. Data coming off the drive was read a lot faster, at an average of 181.33 megabits/sec. That means you will wait about a minute to write 1G of data to the drive and about 50 seconds to read it.

Stacked up against the 11 drives in our recent portable hard-drive review, including Iomega's 750G USB 2.0 desktop hard drive, the REV would be dead last for both read and write times. That is not surprising considering that the drive's removable media slows data transfer more than a drive that is all hardware. Even so, we are only talking about at most 10 more seconds of waiting when writing a 1G file and, in most cases, only a second or two.

Of course, the main advantage of the REV drive is that when you run low on storage space, you can simply buy a new disk. However, even with this advantage, its value compared to a high-capacity external drive is questionable. Given that 1T drives sell for about $300, buying the REV drive for $500 already puts you behind on money spent. And considering that you would need to buy nine 120G disks at $75 each to reach the same level of storage, you are spending another $675. So that is $1,175 for 1T of storage, which can be had in a typical external drive for about $300.

So here we are more than 10 years after the Zip's demise, and the REV drive is facing the same inherent problems. Its only real advantage over an external hard drive is that the media is removable. But given that you could buy almost four external 1T drives for the price of getting a single REV drive with the same amount of removable storage, it does not seem practical to put your eggs in the REV basket. Even Iomega's 750G USB 2.0 desktop hard drive, which sells for $200, is an infinitely better value.

If the REV drive offered a cheap alternative to external storage, it might be worth considering. If the drive cost less than $100 and disks were no more than $20 each, it would be a great solution. But $500 for the drive and $75 per disk when there are better, faster and cheaper alternatives make this a technology that is far behind the times.

There might be instances in which the REV drive would be a good solution, but for the most part, we can't recommend it unless you have a lot of extra money in your budget and don't mind backing a slow, aging technology whose time has come ' and gone.

Iomega, (877) 312-0042, www.iomega.com

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About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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