Tech Donation: Iomega Zip 250 USB Drive & Assorted Disks

Blogging seems to be like playing a game of catch-up … I’m always behind on posts. Around a month ago, a very generous reader happened to have some Zip 250 equipment that they were done with and wanted to send it on to someone who might appreciate it. As it turns out – that person was me! It was with great honour and gratefulness that I accepted – which resulted in this post (and another to follow).

The Goodies

In my numerous posts about the Iomega ZIP system in the past, I may have mentioned that the Zip 250 system was never really that popular by comparison to the earlier ZIP-100. I rarely ever encountered the Zip 250 drives or media as CD-RW drives were gaining in popularity and the Iomega company was struggling, but by comparison, the Zip 750 system is even more rarely encountered. While I do have two or possibly three functioning Zip 250 drives, a USB one would be a nice addition … so I couldn’t resist.

Rather unfortunately, the ham-fisted postman in my area decided to fumble and drop the package while delivering it, so decided to ring the bell and do a runner. The only reason I knew was because I installed a surveillance camera … oh well. At least it was well packaged, so hopefully it survived.

To my surprise, the unit came with its original box, which makes it even more interesting. Advertising a ultra-thin, easy-to-use design, this drive connects via USB and is suitable for use with PC or Mac. An optional PCMCIA adapter and cable can also be used. Based on the badge which illustrates support for Windows 2000, we can already guess as to its vintage.

The rear is surprisingly uninspiring, painting iomegaware as the “solution” to all your problems. That just seems like putting all your eggs in one basket … assuming the basket even worked in the first place. There are a few tools which it also came with, on a CD-ROM including Quik Sync, RecordIt, 1-Step Backup, CopyMachine and Password Protect. The unit comes with an installation CD-ROM and a single 250MB disk to get started with.

Looking at the top of the box, it’s clear this unit was made around 06/09/2000 (American date?), making it around 18 years old. Gosh how time flies! On the top, it shows other products from Iomega’s lineup including the Clik! (later renamed to PocketZip, also something I rarely encountered), the ZipCD (which was nothing more than a regular CD-RW drive) and the Jaz 2Gb removable hard drive cartridge system.

The underside lists the modest system requirements – for PC, a Pentium 100 with USB controller, Windows 9x or NT 4.0 (note 2000 isn’t listed here) and a 2X CD-ROM or higher. The software needed 8MB RAM, 31MB of hard drive storage.

Performance is listed in the fine print as up to 0.9MB/s read and 0.8MB/s write on Zip 250 media, with 0.8MB/s read and 0.17MB/s write on ZIP-100 media. That’s not the fastest ZIP drive on the block, but part of this is down to the USB 1.1 interface which realistically limits throughput to about 1MB/s and the backwards-compatibility issue of write head track-width.

The side of the box just summarises some of this information. Nothing new here.

Inside, there’s a few documentation pieces including a Zip Install floppy from a ZIP-100 drive. The CD-ROM for the Zip 250 wasn’t included, but that’s fine, still I have an archived copy of IomegaWare and the drivers lying around for Windows 2000 and XP.

Even more unusual was this box, which seems to be from a Zip CD package – I suppose the donor had quite a bit of Iomega gear.

Inside was a blue-coloured USB A to B lead and a 5.2V 1A power supply. Unfortunately, unlike the PocketZIP 100 which was bus powered, this unit requires an external power supply making it less convenient. But if we consider the modern abuse of USB port power by other bus-powered drives, running the drive from a double-headed USB cable could be possible in theory.

The star of the show is this curvy, translucent, slim device with a clear window to view the cartridge inside. The unit has an internal shield, which has the zip branding on it for that extra aesthetic appeal. Given the prevalence of the Apple iMac at the time, this would have been very fitting.

The drive is model Z250USBPCM with part number 04160D01, Made in Malaysia. The underside has captive rubber feet which prevent the drive sliding around on the desk – it’s not particularly weighty.

Unlike the older parallel port/SCSI and early USB ZIP-100 drives, this one is slim. It’s even slimmer than the PocketZIP 100.

The rear has all of the ports – a strange modified barrel jack port on the left (but the plug from the power supply is standard), a USB-B Female socket and an interface for the optional PCMCIA adapter.

Both sides have a tactile rubber surface which makes it easier to keep a firm grip on the drive … but as to why you might need it, I’m not so sure. It’s not like I’d go jogging with the drive in hand …

Zip Disk Media Showcase

That was not all – I was also lucky enough to receive a bundle of media, some of which is worthy of coverage because it’s somehow different from what I’ve already shown.

I haven’t seen such a clean Zip Tools disk in the past – these were bundled with ZIP-100 drives from memory, with a cut-out in the cover card where the barcode would have been. I’ve never had the data from one of these disks because most users format them and reuse them almost immediately, so it will be interesting to see if this one still has the original data.

Zip disks did come from a limited number of brands, but I haven’t had a Fujifilm branded disk cross my desk before. This one has the colourful ring design which is very much like what was on the DLT tapes I saw in the past.

It also came in the ATOMM banding, with an unused label sheet at the bottom. I saved the rear part of the inlay card to show in greater detail, as it tries to explain the technicalities of Zip disk technology:

A titanium non-magnetic layer? I didn’t know it had one at all. Fujifilm claims that this is what “made Zip disk performance a reality” and it’s not a big secret that all brands of Zip disk are basically made from the same factories.

This one caught my eye for being a clean example, but also without the formatting type on the label. In the past, I’ve seen a mass of PC100 marked disks, but this one has a black dot and just “100”.

It also seemed that some earlier products had various verbs coloured – I’m more familiar with the “red” one of the bottom.

The main attraction is the Zip 250 media, this one in a “yellow” colouration stuffed with text … almost screams late 1990’s.

And this version of Zip 250 media with a more “stylish” silver and red colour cover. Text on the label has been mosaiced to protect the user data. The earlier ones seem to be Made in Belgium, with the later ones Made in Malaysia.

Getting it Up and Running … or not?

With very little thought, I decided to plug it into my Windows 10 machine and the unit came to life.

Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. I’m not sure if it’s because of transit damage, clogged heads, a bad power supply or simply due to ageing of components but the drive exhibited worrying behaviour of “clicking” (i.e. unloading the heads) which shows why recovery of data can be problematic especially where read operations can lead to automated writes and further damage to the data.

I started with one of the Zip 250 disks and tried to image it so I could re-use the cartridge for later testing. The cartridge wouldn’t mount due to a read error, raw imaging led to 43 unrecoverable sectors. I decided to try imaging it again – by default, ZIP drives will correct weak data and rewrite it to the media, so I was expecting the originally marginal sectors to clear and subsequent retries may lead to a reduction in unrecoverable sectors. Instead, the exact opposite happened and the drive lost data – now 75 sectors were unrecoverable. After an eject and reinsert cycle, the disk couldn’t even be recognised.

Figuring that things would not get better, I tried to read the cartridge in my reference Zip 250 ATAPI drive. It wouldn’t read even as much as the USB drive did as the drive complained of being unable to read the defect list, so I gave up on the data and decided to long format the cartridge. The cartridge was recovered. With the reference Zip 250 ATAPI drive, I filled the cartridge with random data and read it back with no faults.

But going back to the USB drive resulted in occasional clicking and a read error during rate benchmarking.

I decided to check using a surface test and it seems the drive was happy with everything as written by the reference Zip 250 ATAPI except one sector. The location was different, however. Figuring that this drive might be misaligned, I decided to let it write its own data to the cartridge.

Two attempts and we saw six write errors the first time, and six on the second. The drive claims to have written everything else just fine …

But in reality it has trashed the cartridge so badly that it wouldn’t read it at all. This is probably what was happening during reallocations/weak sector rewrites – the drive was writing the recovered data back to the cartridge and instead failing to do so properly, causing the data to be lost.

My personal suspicion is that the drive itself is wonky and may have been wonky for a while. The reason for this is that I checked a sample of the cartridges provided using my reference Zip 100 ATAPI and Zip 250 ATAPI on my recovery box and none of the cartridges were fully readable with a good proportion not even passing the physical format checks that let the drive recognise the cartridge and format it.

Conclusion

Thanks to a generous donation from a reader, I now have some Zip 250 media to play with and a Zip 250 USB drive that’s not very healthy. I guess this illustrates some of the dangers of the Zip format, as reading a disk with weak sectors being rewritten can cause the disk to be even more damaged. It also illustrates exactly the type of interchange issues that can arise with “wonky” drives. It also gave me a chance to document some of the other packaging designs for Zip disks.

Of course, this opens the door to even more experimentation with my recovery box … coming up in the next post!

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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2 Responses to Tech Donation: Iomega Zip 250 USB Drive & Assorted Disks

  1. matson says:

    In USA, Z250USBPCM came with a upright holder/stand (made of hard rubber). Its USB cable insulator colour was a unique transparent light blue. Your USB cable might have come with a Netgear product. Its mini Centronics 50-pins HPCN50 connector carries power and some kind of Parallel ATA. (Either True ATA or PC Card ATA.) Two host adapters connected to it: Z250PCMCIA (a 16-bit PC Card) and ZIP1394A (‘Zip 250MB FireWire Accessory’). I did not disassemble Z250PCMCIA, I do not know whether it is a PATA host bus adapter, or a “dumb”/passive cable assembly.

    It’s no HipZip, but it is a portable, so its side grips are appreciated. I wish more devices had gummi exteriors. Patriot Xporter Mini was one of my two favourite USB Sticks, it’s all-around gummi. Nokia 3220 is one of my favourite mobile phones, it has gummi sides. Gough, you shared some good commercials with us visitors. Now I have one for you to watch, it’s Nokia 3220. (I don’t really have this commercial.)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg74CH-CkjE

    • lui_gough says:

      Speaking of “gummy” rubber enclosures – my favourite USB sticks from back in the day were the Corsair FlashVoyager series. I had two 4Gb units and a 16Gb GT-series unit, all three lasted me through my undergraduate career and through several USB-connector “accidents” requiring re-soldering and replacement of the connector. The claim to fame was that you could run over these sticks with a truck and they’d still survive (as long as the connector didn’t get crushed). Also claimed a 10-year or lifetime warranty from memory …

      – Gough

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