The Iomega Zip heralded the start of portable, rewritable mass storage – and the death toll for the floppy.

The launch in 1995 of the Iomega Zip disk was a defining technological breakthrough for designers. Previously, bitmapped images had to be squeezed onto 1.4MB floppy disks – or in many cases, over many floppies – for transporting between studio and client. The Zip disk changed all that.

Holding a whopping 100MB – or 70 floppies – the Zip drive impressed due not only to its then vast storage size, but its ease-of-use too. Non-techie designers could stop fiddling around with tape drives or MO storage, and use a Zip disk in exactly the same way as a floppy disk. The rugged shell of the disk deserves special mention, inspiring confidence when chucking them across the office or into jiffy bags – Zip disks seemed unbreakable.

Designers embraced the format – and a generous starter pack with three Zip disks in was released. Iomega touted its capacity – between 300 and 800 digital images, or several A4 pieces of print-ready art. It also had a cool software bonus – QuikSync – that provided automatic back-up of your work.

The Zip system was based on Iomega’s earlier Bernoulli system that, while offering a larger capacity, was beaten by Zip’s smaller physical size and a simplified drive design that lowered the cost for Iomega. Data rates were much faster than traditional floppies – around 1MB per second on average.

Cost-per-megabyte was around six pence, with the disks costing around £7, and by the year 2000 the Zip disk was probably the most compatible storage format being used in all creative studios.

The Zip disk enjoyed tremendous success – by the start of 2000, Iomega had shipped 32 million drives – and a massive 200 million disks, ensuring that Iomega was a darling of the technological market. Shares rocketed, and the company posted bumper profits.

The Zip spawned a wave of updates – from USB-equipped drives to 250MB, then 750MB versions that still retail today.

However, by 2000, the popularity of the Zip disk was clearly starting to suffer. Many users had reported serious problems with the Zip drive – the so-called ‘click of death’ that could see all data destroyed – and this resulted in some bad press for Iomega, which itself was suffering financially.

But the real problem was the rise of recordable CDs, and their very low cost-per-megabyte compared to Zip. It was a trend that even Iomega acknowledged, when it launched the ZipCD in 1999.

That said, The Zip disk was, for a time, the undisputed ruler of design storage – and a true technological classic that found a place in the lives of designers everywhere.

Specifications:

Seek time: 29 milliseconds
Transfer rate: 700KB/s (USB) 600KB/s (Parallel) 1.4MB/s (ATAPI)
Storage: 100MB disks (around 70 floppies)
Power: Automatic low-power mode
Platform: Mac OS 8.1; Windows 95 or higher
Support: Pentium 100 or higher; Power Mac G3 or higher; 8MB of RAM; 30MB hard disk space; 2X CD drive

Extras: One-year warranty on drives; five-year warranty on disks; Starter pack available

In 1997, Iomega extended the life of the original 100MB version with the release of a USB-powered drive in translucent casing to match the then radical original iMac from Apple.

In 1998, Iomega debuted the 250MB version, which featured backwards compatibility with the 100MB drive – plus some odd disk variations, as seen above.






1999 sees the beginning of the end for the Zip’s heyday – and Iomega releases the ZipCD. It may have the Zip badge, but it shows that the cheaper CD-R is the future.