"Click of death" strikes Iomega

Zip Drive users are reporting serious malfunction of their drives and disks, including data loss.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
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Paul Festa
3 min read
Users of Iomega's Zip drives are reporting serious malfunctions in their drives and disks in a problem that has come to be known as the "click of death."

The problem is being discussed in several newsgroups, including "alt.iomega.zip.jazz" and "comp.sys.ibm.pc.hardware.misc," as well as on Web sites, such as the New Unofficial Iomega Page and the Click Death Home Page.

Users report that, after a time, their Zip drives no longer read disks and instead produce a loud clicking sound, from which the problem gets its name. Afflicted units reportedly no longer work once they get the "click of death," and numerous users reported damaged disks as well as data loss.

The problem is not reported to be associated with Iomega's new storage product for handheld devices, called Clik.

DJ Breslin, a consultant and programmer at Intel, told NEWS.COM that, in the past 18 months, he has lost five Zip drives to the "click of death" problem. While he lauded Iomega's customer service department for replacing his broken drives in each instance, he noted that the company had not responded to a letter of complaint he sent in November.

Breslin said Iomega's products were the most convenient to use because of their large installed base, but said, "If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't go with Iomega. I wouldn't trust it."

Iomega today issued a statement saying that "of the more than 12 million Zip drives shipped, Iomega is aware of a small percentage of customer complaints, a number lower than industry norms."

Iomega did not acknowledge the "click of death" problem. The company's Web site, however, has a page that describes it.

Iomega later amended its statement to acknowledge the problem.

"A number of Iomega's customers call from time to time describing a 'clicking' sound emanating from their Zip drive, which can be a symptom of a variety of problems in Zip drives, as well as in other kinds of drive products in general," the statement read. "Iomega continually works with its customers to resolve the particular problems they are experiencing. Iomega also continually evaluates its own product testing data to ensure the highest quality standards."

A source who identified himself as a former Iomega technician said the problem was well-known within the company when he started working there more than two years ago. He said the problem was not common, but noted that it accounted for about half of the malfunctioning drives on which he worked.

The source said the clicking sound is caused by the read/write head bumping against its movement stops--bumpers that keep the head within its intended range--while searching for and not finding track 0 on the Zip disk. When the "click of death" problem happens, the read/write head fails to find that track, which contains vital directory information, because the head has become misaligned.

The cause for that misalignment?

"The drive and disk are not extremely sturdy," the source said. "They're not flimsy, but people like to carry them around, and depending on how your car rides, after six to eight months, you might get the problem."

The source also said that dropping the drive, exposing it to the electromagnetism of a computer monitor, and other external factors could cause the misalignment. He noted that internal drives were less susceptible to the problem, and stressed that, apart from the sturdiness of the casing, the products themselves were not defective.

"I don't think the drives are faulty in any way," he said, noting that he had just authorized the purchase of 50 Zip drives for the company where he is currently employed.

The source said he also had encountered a related problem reported in newsgroups: a domino effect in which misaligned heads damage disks, which in turn misalign heads of other drives, which then damage more disks.

"It's fairly rare," he said. "But it does happen."