Zip disks give floppies run for the money

Zip disks give floppies run for the money

The ubiquitous 1.44M floppy,

Storage, price advantages propel Iomega's Zip drive to Reviewer's Choice over Imation SuperDisks

By Jason Byrne

GCN Staff

One of the oldest pieces of technology in PCs today is the 3.5-inch floppy drive. Even with no groundswell of support to protect its dominance, it has endured for a decade. But how?

The reason is openness. Every computer with a 1.44M floppy drive can read and write to the same disk media'arguably the most successful example of standardization in PC history. To supplant the floppy, a replacement standard will have to be just as widely accepted.

But the industry has devoted little attention to it because of the tight focus on faster processors and larger hard drives. Two exceptions were Iomega Corp.'s 1995 release of the 100M Zip drive and cartridge, and Imation Corp.'s 1997 release of the SuperDisk device.

The Zip has not secured its position as heir apparent, however. Potential new standards, including some that are backward-compatible with existing floppies, have been appearing as optional equipment on many systems.

So what's new?

The GCN Lab recently took a look at the latest Zip 250MB drive from Iomega of Roy, Utah, and two SuperDisk drives from Imation of Oakdale, Minn.

One SuperDisk drive attached to the test computer's parallel port, as the Zip drive did. The other SuperDisk drive was designed for notebook computer use with a PC Card as an IDE and ATAPI controller.

To compare them, I installed all three drives on a notebook. My test scenario showed the advantages and disadvantages of parallel port drives compared with PC Card devices.

None of the test units was difficult to get up and running; all three came with the necessary drivers and software. The two parallel-port units need access to a power outlet. The SuperDisk, which attaches through a PC Card, can draw enough power from most notebook batteries through the PC Card slot.

Tip for SuperDisk users: If the drive does not operate properly with a notebook, it might need extra power from an AC adapter or a cable that pulls power from the mouse port.

A floppy is just a floppy. But floppy replacements are removable storage systems with bells and whistles that fall into three categories.

The first category is the navigation aid, which usually offers to help find data on the disk'something Microsoft Windows already does well. Such navigation tools clutter up a usable and familiar interface. Tools that come with the Iomega Zip drive fall into this category.

The second category is the performance enhancer, which usually sets up a disk cache and file buffer on the hard drive. With this option, a file directed to a SuperDisk is, in fact, written to the hard drive first, then to the diskette. This saves time and also speeds up opening frequently used files; if a current copy of the file exists in the hard drive cache, it will load faster from there.

Both Imation drives came with diskettes that supported hard drive caching. When I benchmarked the units, I did so without the software installed to get a truer performance picture. In later tests, I verified that the acceleration software worked and could increase file access speed under some circumstances by as much as a factor of 10. Most users, however, will see little difference in how quickly they can open or save files.

The third tool category, also included with the Imation drives, is file encryption via a password. Encrypted and unencrypted files can be stored on the same diskette, and the encrypted files are accessible under a separate drive letter. In a sense, this gives the user two disks in one: a disk that anyone can access, and a second that acts as a virtual lock box.

It certainly is not foolproof security, but it does provide an extra degree of protection for sensitive information. Of the three tool categories, present to varying degrees in the drives tested, the security tool is by far the most useful.

Iomega currently delivers Zip drives in 100M and 250M sizes. The 250MB drives can read the 100M cartridges but not standard floppies. The Imation SuperDisk stores up to 120M and is backward read/write compatible with the ubiquitous 1.44M media in use today.'

Parallel trumped

Performance is quite different, as shown in the table below. The Iomega Zip 250MB drive was the best performer, trumping the parallel port version of the Imation SuperDisk.

The Zip's performance advantage dissolved when compared to the PC Card SuperDisk, which had the advantage of a much faster interface.

If file access speeds matter, the Zip drive would probably be the best bet, but even the slow, parallel-port SuperDisk was faster than a 1.44M floppy and gave more than 80 times as much storage space.

As for the ever-important price question, buyers should always consider the ongoing cost of media when they shop for floppy replacements.

For only a little more money than the Imation units, the Iomega Zip 250MB can deliver twice as much storage with good performance.'' Price per megabyte is the best way to compare storage media costs.

From the numbers in the table below, it's clear not only that the Zip is a good deal, but also that standard 1.44M floppies are a money hole, costing up to five times as much per megabyte as Zip media.

Better price

Both Iomega's and Imation's offerings can make good floppy replacements, but I have
to give the Reviewer's Choice designation to the Iomega Zip 250MB.

The SuperDisk's security options and backward compatibility with standard 3.5-inch floppies are attractive. But it lacks a strong price advantage, and performance is not inspiring.

Zip and SuperDisk PC Card make decent floppy replacements

PC Card
floppy drive
'Iomega Corp.
Roy, Utah
Imation Corp.
Oakdale, Minn.
Imation Corp.
Oakdale, Minn.
Drive price
Media price
Drive cost per megabyte
Media cost per megabyte
80 cents
8 cents
$141 GSA
11 cents
$206 GSA
11 cents
$40 (average)
60 cents
42 cents
Typical large-file throughput
Typical small-file throughput
151.4 kilobytes/sec
161.8 kilobytes/sec
41.1 kilobytes/sec
39.1 kilobytes/sec
122.9 kilobytes/sec
171.4 kilobytes/sec
28.1 kilobytes/sec
Pros and cons+ Excellent value
+Best performance
'Software tools only
moderately useful
+Encryption and performance
acceleration tools work well
+Backward compatibility with
standard floppy
'Poor performance
+Excellent solution for mobile
+Easy to install and use
'Performance could be better considering speed of connectionand performance
+Available for almost
every PC
'Outdated capacity
Overall grade''


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