Iomega ZIP 250 MB External USB review: Iomega ZIP 250 MB External USB

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Inexpensive; cross-platform; convenient; backward compatible with existing media.

The Bad Slower than IDE Zip drives; no Mac backup utility.

The Bottom Line It's portable and affordable, but this drive's coolest feature is the one it doesn't have: a power cable.

7.0 Overall

Traveling with a 250MB Zip drive--or squeezing one into the clutter around your computer--just got a little easier. Iomega's new Zip model doesn't need a power supply or cord. Instead, it draws power through the same USB cable that carries data. This Zip isn't quite as fast as its internal, IDE cousins, but it beats them hands down on installation and convenience. Traveling with a 250MB Zip drive--or squeezing one into the clutter around your computer--just got a little easier. Iomega's new Zip model doesn't need a power supply or cord. Instead, it draws power through the same USB cable that carries data. This Zip isn't quite as fast as its internal, IDE cousins, but it beats them hands down on installation and convenience.

Slim and simplified
The Zip 250 USB Powered drive costs $180 and comes with one U-shaped, 250MB disk (additional disks cost about $15 each). It can still read and write the older (square) 250MB and 100MB disks, too. The Zip drive works with Mac OS 8.5.1 and later, as well as Windows 95, 98, 2000, Me, and NT 4.0. The whole thing weighs 9 ounces with the included USB cable, and at 6.5 inches long by 4.5 inches wide, it fits easily in the back pocket of your jeans (just don't sit down on it!). To conserve desk space, Iomega provides a little clip to stand the drive on edge. Zip drives are made for carrying around, so a welcome feature on this model is no-slip rubber edges, which lets you get a good grip so that it won't pop out of your hands.

On both a Windows desktop and notebook, setup is simple: Pop in the CD, click through the default settings in Iomega's installer, plug in the USB cable, and it's rock-and-roll time. The setup pamphlet is only six pages long and has large illustrations on every page. Even if you've never configured a PC before, you'll probably get the Zip drive running on the first try. And unlike SCSI and parallel connections, the USB cable lets you hot plug the drive (unplug and reattach the drive without restarting your computer) once the software is installed. But you can't do this while it's writing, of course, and Windows 95 and NT 4.0 don't support hot plugging.

Iomega ships the drive with two CDs of Mac and PC software; how much you get out of your drive depends on how you want to use it. You can collect, edit, arrange, and share photos using Adobe ActiveShare 2 (for PC) or MGI PhotoSuite (for Mac). MusicMatch Jukebox, for finding and playing digital music, works on both platforms. However, Iomega Backup 4.1, the included backup utility, is for PC only. Iomega also includes Quik Sync 2, a more advanced backup utility, that works with both Macs and PCs, but it's a 30-day teaser version (it takes $20 more to get the full version).

Medium fast
A performance gain is not among this new drive's list of virtues. In CNET Labs' tests, the Zip 250 USB Powered drive's write speed was just shy of 700K per second, about 4 percent slower than the 250MB USB Zip with an external power supply. The two models tied on read scores, at 820K per second. Neither USB model, however, can keep up with an internal Zip 250 drive and its ATAPI connection. In CNET's tests, the internal Zip drive reads more than twice as fast as, and writes about 20 percent faster than, the USB Zips.

Extensive support
Iomega backs the drive with a one-year warranty, but the disks are guaranteed for five, and tech support for the drive is substantial. Iomega provides toll-free tech support from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays MT. You can also go to Iomega's Web site for self-serve support, including a searchable knowledgebase that uses the Ask Jeeves engine, a long list of FAQs, support forums where technicians are supposed to answer questions posed by customers (although all the answers seemed to have come from other Zip owners), and direct e-mail to technicians.

Zip drives are nothing fancy, but for backing up or putting large files on cheap, portable media, they do the trick. The USB-powered model is slower than an internal IDE Zip, but it's easier to carry and use wherever you go than were previous external USB Zips. If you want to overcome that last hang-up that keeps you from backing up or if you simply need something that makes it easy to share disks, the new model's ease of use and affordable price make it a good choice.

For the most part, the two external USB Zip drives were neck and neck, but they were no match for the internal Zip Drive's superior read and write speeds.

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