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What is a Zip Drive?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated May 16, 2024
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A zip drive is a type of removable disk storage capable of holding a moderate amount of computer information. Although it was embraced by many computer users when it was introduced in 1994, it never replaced the 3.5-inch floppy disk. Rather, items such as rewritable digital versatile discs (DVDs), rewritable compact discs (CDs), and flash drives gained popularity and have virtually replaced the floppy disk. These storage devices have proven to be convenient and capable of holding large amounts of data. For this reason, the zip drive was never a popular device for data storage.

The first zip drive system, introduced by Iomega, was capable of holding only 100 megabytes of information. This made the drive, which cost just under $200 US dollars (USD), an instant success, as people used it to store files that were too large to be placed on a floppy disk. It was later beefed up to hold 250 megabytes, and ultimately 750 megabytes of information. At the same time, Iomega improved upon the drive’s ability to transfer data. The price for the 100 megabyte model steadily fell as competition increased when other companies began offering their own versions.

From 1999 to 2003, however, zip drive sales began to plummet. This was largely due to the decreasing costs of DVD±RW and CD-R. In addition, Universal Serial Bus (USB) flash drives with much larger capacities were introduced. Nonetheless, some computer users still prefer the zip drive because it is durable, reliable, and capable of transferring data quickly.

Although the zip drive is thicker than a 3.5 floppy disk, it is otherwise similar in size. Therefore, the drive slot is large enough to fit a floppy disk inside. Inserting a floppy disk into the drive can, however, cause damage to the drive and to the disk. For this reason, the drive contains a retroreflective spot to help the drive identify the disk as the proper media. If the drive does not identify the media as being of the right type, it will not engage the disk.

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Discussion Comments
By anon166051 — On Apr 07, 2011

ZIP discs were wonderful. As a writer, poet and artist, I used individual discs, groups of different colours, as a filing system. Of course the moment CDs and DVDs arrived I wanted them and the zip discs were allocated a back section of a bookshelf, but they would still be very useful for anyone who wanted an easy filing system!

By anon164966 — On Apr 03, 2011

I still have a few Zip drives laying around as well, even have a complete Jaz drive and media setup! I backed servers up to the Jaz disks!

I did always wonder why Sony never not converted their mini-disk setup for computers. I had friends who carried briefcases of music for their cars, it always made sense they would be a good competitor to the Zip drive.

It's funny now, the stereo in my car has a USB port for MP3s that will take an 8GB flash drive, they never even envisioned doing so with the disks back then, let alone the capacity!

By fitness234 — On Jul 11, 2010

I'll never forget the "click of death" syndrome that many of the first Iomega Zip Drives suffered from. That bone chilling sound of "click, click, click" meant one thing, a dead drive. Luckily when I experienced this problem my unit was still under warranty.

These days I use hard drives to backup all of my data. It might seem expensive but they are rated for a vastly longer shelf-life then optical media and tapes. I think it's worth the price.

By nightlights — On Dec 18, 2009

I remember zip drives! They were great when they first came out, didn't seem to last very long at all though, phased out by the discs pretty fast it seemed. I probably still have a couple of zip disk somewhere around, course I still have a case of 3.5 floppies!

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