Canb2016: Special 2 – iomega REV 35Gb/90Gb Drives & Disks

The second special installment also has to do with removable storage, funnily enough. This post deals with the iomega REV, a removable hard drive system with capacities of 35Gb, 70Gb and 120Gb. This system was supposed to be a follow-up to the Jaz, and didn’t achieve high levels of popularity, instead having a reputation for unreliability and high failure rates, fading away with the popularity of bus-powered USB hard drives.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking a closer look into though …

The Drives

I was fortunate to have received not one, but two REV drives. The first (and arguably more useful) drive was an ATAPI/IDE internal drive. This drive had a model of REV-ATAPI, and was assembled in China.

The drive has a semi-exposed eject mechanism with gear wheels on the top left, with some exposed PCB, but is otherwise covered with an anti-magnetic-field shield on the top and regular plated steel on the rear.

The rear has a full size molex power connector, an IDE connector and a jumper block for selecting the master/slave/cable-select designation.

The outer frame is very solid, and the drive is designed to fit in a regular 3.5″ exterior facing bay.

This particular drive has a black faceplate. An emergency eject hole is provided, as the clear eject button (and activity indicator) is a software based eject button that requires power. Because this drive is an internal drive, it’s relatively easy to get plugged in and working.

This was in stark contrast to the curvy external Firewire REV drive, Model REV-1394, also assembled in China. While Firewire ports have mostly evaporated, I’ve still got a few host controllers kicking about, so that wasn’t a big issue, and neither was sourcing a 6-pin to 6-pin cable.

The bigger issue was that it didn’t come with a power supply. That’s most likely because the original power supply probably died, but it needed a “qualified” 5v 1A power supply. None of the ones I had on hand from VoIP adapters, or USB hubs managed to fit the plug, because it seems to have a larger centre pin than the regular 2.5mm type. Because I wasn’t so desperate to get it to work, I left it at that and decided not to bother running this drive until I absolutely have no other alternative. The rear has two Firewire 6-pin connectors allowing for daisy chaining, but unfortunately, judging from the power plug, is not bus powered.

Both sides are a mirror image of each other, with rubbed rubber bumper protection and provision for Kensington locks.

Unlike the other drive, this drive has a white fascia. As I didn’t want to destroy the drives, I didn’t take any of them apart, but it’s not hard to imagine what might be inside.

The Media

Having a drive is nice, especially when it comes to recovering data for others, but having some media to test it with is a big bonus. Guess what?

That’s covered. Literally. A brand new packet of four REV Disks, 35Gb disks with a “90Gb” compressed capacity (when using their software, assuming a 2.6:1 compression ratio). Interestingly, they claim the disks to be “Long Life”, whatever that means …

The disks come in a folded colour print cardboard box which claims there is a five year limited warranty on the disks. The disks were Made in China, with the package copyright date being 2005 or about 11 years ago.

Each disk comes in a translucent plastic case, wrapped in cellophane with a pull-tab.

The case has a clip latch at the front and overlapping seams along the sides to keep the dust out.

The insert features some space on the rear for labelling and more details about the warranty on offer.

A single plastic label sheet is included in the package, similar to the labels offered with Jaz cartridges. The choice of plastic is likely to avoid paper fibres that came come off paper labels, but it makes marking the labels difficult. One of the labels come pre-applied to the cartridge, although users are reminded not to apply the labels to anywhere but the spine.

The cartridge is two toned, with a grey and black enclosure with moulded logos.

The label comes pre-applied to the curved spine which remains visible when the cartridge is inserted into the drive.

The sides of the cartridge feature only slight alignment notches and moulding features for the internal platter chamber.

The underside of the cartridge has a metal base plate. A sealing label is applied which indicates the spindle motor is enclosed within the cartridge – this avoids mechanical fit, centering and vibration issues with mechanical coupling linkages, and also means that under heavy use, bearing wear will only affect the cartridge in use. However, the head stack assembly doesn’t seem to be enclosed within the drive.

A thick metal swing-door front with rubber gasket covers the cartridge opening. The latch is released from the underside to reveal …

… four exposed contacts for driving the spindle motor, a single platter, and a plastic ramp for loading the heads.

As I had a number of cartridges, I decided to take one apart. The cartridge comes apart with undoing four T5 screws on the baseplate, and unclipping the front grey plastic part, which releases the two plastic halves.

There isn’t anything unexpected inside. The platter seems to be an intermediate size – between 2.5″ and 3.5″ hard drives. Because the media-to-head match is “fixed” in the sense of cross-drive compatibility, there isn’t much leeway to optimize and maximise capacity while ensuring good yields. As a result, the capacity was likely easily eclipsed by 2.5″ drives leading to the demise of the REV system. The drive does have some air filtration within it, and a strange “outside” unused chamber which probably exists only to increase the cartridge rigidity.

We can see the front cover gasket very carefully designed to seal around the mouth of the cartridge to exclude dust.

Operating the Drive

Rather unconventionally, the drive is installed as a CD-ROM drive when operating without drivers. This allows for read only access of media, which is convenient but not-ideal. The drive name is Iomega RRD, which refers to “removable rigid disk”.

The blank cartridge was identified as having a UDF filesystem. Inside, it contained an icon file and autorun.inf, and a ClickHere.exe (11 August 2003 9:04:46PM, 2,151,612 bytes) program with ClickHere.ini configuration file.

The program expects to connect back to their servers, so obviously, it wouldn’t work. The .ini file denoted the following:

SERVER=http://www.iomega.com/
PRODUCT=rev35_pc
BGCOLOR=#CC0000
RELEASEDATE=2004-03-15

At least, we could get an idea of its performance by benchmarking the drive as if it was a CD-ROM … although due to its size, it does crash such apps eventually. The 165x corresponds to a speed of about 24,750kB/s.

To gain write access to the drive, the drivers need to be installed. Luckily, a copy of the drivers were found here and installed no issues under Windows XP SP3. It seems to operate by injecting their own filter driver into the stack and intercepting/translating/allowing write requests to the drive. It lacks signing unfortunately and only operates under 32-bit.

It comes with a basic diagnostic software. Clicking Run Diagnostics just checks the burst rate of the drive and ejects the cartridge.

Benchmarking

Now that I’ve managed to get the drive to write, it’s going to be interesting to see how fast it is. Using ATTO, I got a fairly strange result, which may be indicative of caching effects:

It advertises a 2kB native sector size, as per CD-ROM, thus it is not capable of benchmarking 512 byte accesses. Anyhow, the I/O performance is reported as consistent when using overlapped I/O of depth 4 (as used with hard drives). Performance reaches about 23-25MB/s.

H2testW was again used to see if this could be sustained throughout the surface …

… which it could not. Instead averaging out 19.1MB/s read and 18.1MB/s write. It’s not terrible performance by any measure, but it’s not particularly fast compared to 2.5″ drives of the era and USB 2.0 connections.

Conclusion

It would not have been surprising that the REV drive and media were probably fairly expensive, and as with all external hard drive systems, dust and interchangeability cause interesting constraints which limit the reliability, performance and density achieved by the drives. The drives did achieve higher densities, but were not very popular to my knowledge. That being said, the tested REV cartridge and drive still functioned just fine, so I suppose I can add this to my data recovery arsenal. If you have any REV 35Gb cartridges you’d like your data recovered from, feel free to give me a shout!

The next special post will take a little longer to compile, but it’s not external storage related. Care to guess what it might be about?

About lui_gough

I’m a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!

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