IOMega Jaz Review

by Adam Hough

Jaz and Wangtek ES150 tape drive Recently I found myself in a position where I needed two new drives, so went out shopping for IDE drives in the $300- range. Too bad $350 seems to be the minimum these days...

While in Future Shop I noticed that the long anticipated Jaz drives were in stock at a reasonable price (which became far more reasonable a bit later.) Being a bit of a technology geek, I just had to buy one.

For those who've never heard of the things, the Jaz drive is a small, light portable removable harddrive. It's similar in concept to the older Bernoulli removable harddrives, but rather better.


Well, to start off with, each cartridge holds a gigabyte. Yes, a gigabyte. Compared to the 100 megs held by the Zip drive, IOmega's earlier entry in the high end removable media stakes, this is pretty darn good. It's also really quite small -- the external case measures 8" by 5" and weighs about a pound. The cartridges are 4" by 4" by under half an inch thick.

The drive itself comes with two high density DB ports -- mini D50s although I've heard them referred to by other names -- so if you have a SCSI 2 bus, you don't start running into many problems encountered when knocked down to 25 lines as with the original SCSI 1 specification. The drive suitably enough comes with a cable that has that connector on either end so plugging into the newer SCSI controller cards on the PC and Mac is a snap, but also has a 25-50 pin adaptor for those with older outs. The ID of the drive can be set for any of the standard SCSI IDs which is nice. The termination is handled by either being ON, OFF or automatic in which case the drive decides whether it's at the end of the chain or in the middle. I left it on automatic and it's worked really quite well.

It's also supplied with a Universal Power supply so can be taken around the world and plugged in just about anywhere. However, due to this IOmega don't actually bother to supply the cable that goes between the power supply and the socket. It's a standard fitting, so the chances are you'll have several lying around anyway.

But what's the relevance to the Amiga you cry? The answer is that it works well with the machine. I use a 4000 with a Commodore 4091 which is a proper SCSI 2 card. I plugged in the drive, powered on, and nothing came up. Undaunted I started up HDToolbox which promptly found the drive and added it, although taking it's own sweet time to do so. I then reformatted the cartridge from MacOS to AmigaDOS and away I went merrily. Repartitioning the cartridge too is quite easy via HDToolbox. The Mac cartridge I worked with already came with two partitions on it so I didn't really mess with it any further.

Transfer rates are very high -- IOmega claims transfers of 6.6 MB/Sec at best with an average rate of 5.4 MB/sec; while I didn't get rates of quite that high, I'd say they're definitely above 4 MB/sec. Seek times are also good with roughly 10 milisecond on a read and 12 on a write. This makes it faster than many current harddrives...

But what good is such a drive if you can't share it with other people? Well, you can. I've used it on a 3000's SCSI port where it performed beautifully, and under Win95 on a neighbouring PC where installation was a snap (but then it should be with that much vaunted Plug'n'Play!)

The Jaz comes with a set of tools on the included cartridge for both the PC and Macintosh. On the PC side, there're variations for DOS, Win 3.1 and Win'95 which extend the drive from being recognised as "removable media" to supporting cartridge eject, Jaz disk copying and several other useful features. It also comes with an extensive amount of Quicktime animations demonstrating the speed of the drive. I'd tell you more about the Macintosh software and how well it works via ShapeShifter, but the Jaz's installation software automatically deletes the Macintosh tools when you install it on a PC without asking :( I don't have any undelete tools for the Jaz to recover it. There are also two floppies included for PC and Mac systems that don't recognise the Jaz drive automatically.

Ok, now say you have a PC formatted Jaz drive and you want to read it on the Amiga (for whatever purpose -- DTP, animations or anything else that needs incredible amounts of storage.) You're in luck -- CrossDOS v6 (and quite possibly other versions too) reads and writes MS-DOS formatted Jaz drives. It doesn't unfortunately support the Win95 extended file names, but you can't have everything.

Hisoft Software of the UK have also apparently extended their Zip Tools package for the Amiga to support the Jaz as well which adds in the autoeject feature, write protection and probably several others, but I've not personally seen it so can't really say. I just note it here for reference.

While the Jaz is badged as a backup medium, I'd say it excels as being a great source of extra harddrive space. Tape is still far cheaper for static backups even though the linear access of that medium can be frustrating. The portability factor is excellent is you're going to be moving large amounts of data between systems as I've been doing recently. Tape'll do it, but you'll then need the storage at the other end, plus have a compatible system. Moving normal hardrives around for a similar purpose is feasible, but not recommended.

So, overall, what do I think of the Jaz? Quite frankly, I love it. It's fast, small, portable, and holds a lot of data. Plus with the cartridges at about $200 apiece is cheaper than IDE in terms of storage. And, most importantly, it works flawlessly on the Amiga. At $899/$839/$806 (depending on how and where you buy it!) it's not all that cheap initially, but I feel that its versatility and subsequent $/MB cost more than covers any reservations about the inital outlay.

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