FreeBSD and Iomega ZIP Drives

Iomega ZIP drives and disks are dead technology, but I have an old box from 1999 that has a fully functioning 100MB ZIP drive. Out of the box, FreeBSD supports these devices through the SCSI subsystem. During the boot process, FreeBSD recognizes the drive as /dev/da0.

da0 at ata0 bus 0 scbus0 target 1 lun 0
da0: <IOMEGA ZIP 100 12.A> Removable Direct Access SCSI device
da0: 11.100MB/s transfers (PIO3, ATAPI 12bytes, PIO 65534bytes)
da0: Attempt to query device size failed: NOT READY, Medium not present

The last line is not a critical failure, it just means that there is no ZIP disk inserted in the drive. Rebooting the machine with a ZIP disk inserted results in the following output:

da0 at ata0 bus 0 scbus0 target 1 lun 0
da0: <IOMEGA ZIP 100 12.A> Removable Direct Access SCSI device
da0: 11.100MB/s transfers (PIO3, ATAPI 12bytes, PIO 65534bytes)
da0: 96MB (196608 512 byte sectors: 255H 255S/T 3C)

The last line shows that the ZIP disk media was recognized, and the number of 512-byte blocks is listed. A disk can be inserted at any time, and interestingly enough, when a disk is inserted into the driver, there are no messages in /var/log/messages indicating which partition the media is listed as. Running a listing on the devices in /dev can reveal some hints though.

root@bsdbox:/media # ls /dev
acpi consolectl kbd0 pci ttyv4
….
… da0 …
… da0s4 …

The drive represents the ZIP media on /dev/da0s4. According to older documentation from FreeBSD 6, slice 4 is where the device driver places the media partition.  To access the ZIP disk, first create a mount point on the filesystem, such as /media/zipdisk, and then mount the device using the mount(8). The zip disks I have are FAT formatted, so I need to use the “-t msdosfs” option.

root@bsdbox:/meda # mkdir /media/zipdisk
root@bsdbox:/meda # mount -t msdosfs /dev/da0s4 /media/zipdisk

This disk is now available on /media/zipdisk for reading and writing.  When finished with the disk, before physically ejecting it, be sure to unmount the filesystem first.

root@bsdbox:/meda # umount /media/zipdisk

Now it is safe to press the disk eject button on the drive. Of course for frequent use of a ZIP drive, entries should be added to /etc/fstab to make things easier. For infrequent use, however, the above methodology should work just fine!

Iomega ZIP drives!

I still have my old computer from back when I started at university in 1999! I keep thinking it is time to get rid off the machine, but then again it working just fine.  The only problems with it are that the CD-RW drive is broken and that the Pentium-III consumes a lot of power compared to modern machines. It is a great machine for FreeBSD, however, since all of the hardware is supported by FreeBSD now: wireless NIC, NVidia AGI card, etc.  It also has physical serial ports–two of them!  Last year I installed FreeBSD 10.2, and it has been powered down since. I just got too busy with school work. This morning I came across my stack of Iomega ZIP disks and thought I should see if I still have any data on them. Would my ZIP drive still function after all of this time?

The Iomega ZIP drive was a bid deal for me personally. All of the workstations in the university’s computer science and computer engineering labs had ZIP drives because often our work would not fit on a regular floppy disk. And at this time, there were no USB thumbdrives! I would frequently work in the lab, saving Visual C++ 6.0 projects  or Altera Max-Plus II FPGA projects to my zip disks. I used to carry two around just in case I filled up one disk. I would then continue working at home, taking advantage of the quieter environments to fix my C++ or VHDL code issues. The next day I would take the work I’d accomplished at home and move forward.

Looking back it was really a bit unnecessary though. The school should have prepared a better remote working environment.  The computer science department’s UNIX (Solaris 7 and 8!) network allowed for remote access, so for many of my computer science projects I just worked remotely via ssh on the Solaris machines. But the engineering department didn’t have any remote access capabilities, so I could not use FTP or SCP to transfer work between the engineering network and home. So thus it was the trusty Iomega ZIP disk technology that made my life just that much easier.

When you read about ZIP drives on the Internet, there are lots of complaints about the “click of death” and how unreliable the drives were. I must have been very lucky I suppose. I never had an issue with ZIP drives, and they were extremely reliable. I suppose that the issues was worse for external ZIP drives rather than internal drives. I used zip drives nearly day in and day out for 4 years. Amazingly, the Iomega ZIP drive in my old machine is still working today!

I went through all eight of my disks, and it was a worthwhile experience as I found some old documents and photos. Most of the disks were empty, but one had a bunch of academic papers I had been reading about computational electromagnetics, and another disk had many cover letters and resumes I had written back when I was trying to find a job. I also had some photos from my college days. I got rid of most of the data there, but decided to keep the photos.

In 2003 I purchased a 128 MB USB thumbdrive, and from that time forward I quite using the ZIP drives. The technology now is long dead, and rightly so, USB-based storage is clearly the way to go. But I will alwasy fondly recall the Iomega ZIP disk, much like those before me have memories of 5.25-inch floppy disks. I am going to hold on to these disks for awhile longer. I may keep it around to play around with, but that is about it. After all, I have no where else to transfer the disks to!