7.2 Choosing a High-Capacity FDD

Use the following guidelines when choosing a high-capacity FDD:

  • If you need to exchange data bidirectionally with other people or computers not on your network. Buy a drive compatible with the media in use. SuperDisk Drives and Zip Drives cannot read or write each other's media. SuperDisk Drives are common on recent Compaq computers, but are seldom seen elsewhere. Zip Drives are by far the most commonly used superfloppy, so installing one allows you to exchange data with more people. In theory, the Zip750 Drive is most flexible because it reads all Zip disks and writes 750 MB and 250 MB disks. But the inability of the Zip750 to write 100 MB disks means it isn't useful if you need to exchange data with people who use Zip100 drives. In that situation, choose the Zip250 Drive.

  • If you need to send data to other people or computers, but will not receive data from them. Do not buy a high-capacity FDD. Buy a CD-RW drive and a supply of CD-R discs. Nearly everyone has a CD-ROM drive that can read the CDs you produce, and sending people $0.20 CD-R discs is a lot less painful than sending them $10 Zip disks.

  • If you will use the drive to back up and/or archive data. Do not buy a high-capacity FDD. They are unsuitable for these purposes because they are slow and use costly and relatively unreliable media. If backup is your primary need, buy a tape drive. If you need to archive data permanently, buy a CD-RW drive or DVD writer and archive the data to optical discs. If you can afford only one drive, and if 650 MB is enough capacity to back up your important data, buy a fast CD writer and some CD-RW discs, which can be reused repeatedly. If 650 MB is insufficient and your budget is somewhat larger, buy a DVD writer and a supply of rewritable discs.

You may have the functional equivalent of a high-capacity floppy drive lurking in your camera case. Although most people use them only to store and move images, a digital camera memory card and USB card reader can be used as a high-capacity FDD. In fact, before marketers got around to renaming it, the SmartMedia Card was called the SSFDC (Solid State Floppy Disk Card). We hadn't thought about using our digital camera equipment that way until one day we desperately needed to transfer some files from a notebook system with a dead LAN interface. We were about to install a USB CD writer and software on the notebook system when we realized everything we needed to transfer the files was already installed. Duh.

You can use any memory card that allows you to read and write ordinary files. Memory cards have maximum capacities ranging from 128 MB to 1 GB or more, depending on type, so these cards can be used to transfer a large amount of data in one pass. In fact, this method is so useful for emergency data transfers that we keep a $20 USB card reader with driver CD and a 64 MB card in our kit. Memory cards cost more per megabyte capacity than SuperDisk or Zip disks, but you can use the memory card in your digital camera when you're not using it to transfer files.

Another alternative to using a high-capacity FDD for data portability is a USB Flash Memory Drive. These keyring-size devices are made by Belkin, Lexar, SanDisk, Sony, and others in capacities from 16 MB to 1 GB or more. Some have removable media, but most do not. Although these devices are relatively costly per byte stored, they have become increasingly popular as "personal data stores" because they are small, rugged, and trivially easy to move between systems.

Other than drives we install temporarily for testing purposes, we've used only two high-capacity FDDs regularly. We installed one Zip250 drive on our network, which we used only to read Zip disks that people sent us. That drive died, and we didn't bother to replace it because nowadays everyone sends us CDs. We also had an Imation LS-120 drive installed in one of our systems, but it died. We didn't bother to replace it, either, because no one had ever sent us an LS-120 disk. That's a small sample, certainly, but based on our experiences we see little point to having a high-capacity FDD at all. We actually get more use from the one 5.25-inch 1.2 MB FDD that we use occasionally to read antique 5.25-inch floppies. We now exclusively use tape drives for backup, and CD or DVD writers for archiving data or sending it to others.

7.2.1 Choosing a Zip Drive

If, despite our discouragement, you decide to install a Zip Drive, keep the following in mind:

Click of Death (COD)

Zip disks whose logical formatting is damaged cause the dreaded Click of Death. When this occurs, the drive repeatedly seeks unsuccessfully, making a characteristic COD clicking sound. This problem can usually be solved simply by using another disk. However, if the problem disk is physically damaged, it generates the same clicking sound but also physically damages any drive you attempt to read it in. When they experience COD, many people immediately either attempt to read the disk in another drive, which simply destroys that drive as well, or attempt to read another disk in the damaged drive, which simply destroys yet another disk. A damaged drive literally has its heads ripped loose and a damaged disk has its edge shredded. Using a good disk in a damaged drive destroys that disk, which will subsequently destroy any drive that attempts to access it. If you experience COD, always examine the disk carefully to determine if it is physically damaged before you do anything else. For details about COD, visit http://grc.com/tip/clickdeath.htm. This page describes the COD in full detail and has a link to a free utility that you can use to test Zip and Iomega Jaz Drives for this problem.

Choose your interface carefully

Zip Drives have been made in IDE, SCSI, parallel port, and USB interfaces. An external SCSI, parallel, or USB model provides the most flexibility. It can be carried from computer to computer along with the data?e.g., to download a large service pack using the T1 at work and then carry the drive home to install the service pack?and used to expand the disk storage available on older laptop systems with small hard drives.


The IDE/ATAPI version (Zip Insider) is fast, is easy to install, and runs reliably. However, if you plan to use your Zip Drive for disaster recovery?which is not the best choice anyway?note that the Iomega IDE Zip drivers do not function under DOS. The SCSI and parallel drivers do, which means you can access data on a SCSI or parallel Zip Drive before Windows is reinstalled and running. We have had few problems when installing the ATAPI version as the Sole/Master on the Secondary ATA channel?the usual configuration on a system that has an existing Primary/Master hard disk and a Primary/Slave CD-ROM drive. We have experienced occasional problems installing the ATAPI version as a Slave on the Primary channel with a Primary/Master hard disk. If this happens, installing the Zip as Secondary/Master usually solves the problem. We have experienced more problems when installing an ATAPI Zip Drive as either Master or Slave on the Secondary ATA channel with a CD-ROM drive jumpered to the opposite. Some systems do not function properly with the CD-ROM as Master and the Zip as Slave, but work fine with the Zip as Master and the CD-ROM as Slave. Others work properly with the drives jumpered conversely. Some systems don't work properly either way, and the only option is to swap drives around between the Primary and Secondary channels, or to substitute a different CD-ROM drive. Also note that ATAPI Zip Drives frequently conflict with CD and DVD writers, tape drives, and other ATAPI devices.


The SCSI version is fast and runs reliably. However, to use it you must install a SCSI adapter, which adds to the expense and complexity. Note that only the final device in a SCSI chain should be terminated, and SCSI Zip Drives are terminated by default on the assumption that they will be the only SCSI device installed. If you install a SCSI Zip Drive on an existing SCSI chain, turn off termination unless the Zip Drive is the final device on the chain. In that case, make sure to turn off termination on the device that was formerly the last device.


These are much slower than the other versions, but can be used on any computer with an available parallel port. We have occasionally encountered incompatibilities with the parallel versions, including failure to recognize the drive and inability to access the drive other than in Safe Mode under Windows 95/98. If this occurs, check BIOS Setup to determine how the parallel port is configured. Setting the port to EPP or EPP/ECP (depending on your BIOS) may resolve the problem, and will allow the Zip Drive to operate at the highest possible speed, although that is still much slower than the other versions. If the port is already configured correctly, removing and then reinstalling the drivers sometimes cures the problem.

Parallel Zip Drives may also be problematic under Windows NT. Some Windows NT systems bluescreen at boot if a parallel Zip Drive is attached. If this occurs, remove the Iomega parallel port SCSI driver, change the parallel port mode (some NT systems work properly only if configured for Standard Parallel Port mode, while others seem to prefer EPP/ECP mode), and reinstall the Iomega parallel port SCSI driver.

Parallel Zip Drives may also cause conflicts with some printer drivers, notably those for HP inkjet printers. This problem is documented with workarounds on both the Iomega and HP web sites.


After a somewhat rocky start, particularly on Windows 2000 systems, we now consider USB Zip Drives to be reasonably reliable under Windows 9X and Windows 2000/XP, assuming that you install recent drivers. USB Zip Drives, like other USB drives, may be less prone to causing trouble if connected to a root USB port rather than to a hub.

Always eject the disk properly

Although the Zip Drive has an Eject button, using it risks damaging your data. Always eject the disk by selecting My Computer, highlighting the drive icon, and choosing Eject. Alternatively, use the Iomega icon on the desktop to eject the disk. If you have just written data to the disk, a period of several seconds must pass before software Eject is enabled. During this period, data is being written to the disk. Using the Eject button on the drive may force an eject before the write is complete, which trashes your data.

Check frequently for updated drivers

Many Zip Drive problems can be solved by using the most current drivers, which Iomega updates frequently. Numerous strange things happen with Zip Drives using older drivers?e.g., exiting Excel97 SR1 causes the Zip disk to eject under some circumstances when using older drivers. If your Zip Drive begins behaving strangely, update your driver to the latest version before taking any other troubleshooting steps.

Keep the system simple

A Zip Drive usually works reliably on a system that has only a hard drive and a CD-ROM drive. On a system that also has a tape drive, CD writer, and/or DVD writer, installing a Zip Drive may cause conflicts. In particular, installing a Zip Drive may cause problems on a system with other components that use virtual drive volumes, such as a CD writer with packet-writing software or backup software that assigns a virtual drive volume to the tape drive.

7.2.2 Choosing a SuperDisk Drive

If, despite our discouragement, you decide to install a SuperDisk Drive, keep the following in mind:

Choose the LS-120 SuperDisk Drive

The LS-240 SuperDisk Drive is expensive. Its only advantages relative to the LS-120 are that it has twice the capacity and supports FD32MB, which allows using 1.44 MB diskettes as 32 MB write-once media. If you must have a high-capacity FDD larger than 120 MB, choose the Zip250 Drive, which is much cheaper than the LS-240 and uses readily available disks. As far as writing 32 MB to a 1.44 MB diskette, we wouldn't trust our data to such a scheme and suggest you don't either.

Choose the internal ATAPI model whenever possible

Our readers report many fewer problems with the internal ATAPI SuperDisk Drives than with USB, parallel port, and PC Card models. ATAPI models are supported natively by Windows 95B and later, and usually just work. The USB, parallel port, and PC Card models require drivers, and we've had reports of driver conflicts and other problems with them. The ATAPI model running under Windows 95A and earlier also requires drivers, so we expect similar conflicts might occur with that configuration.

Choose the USB model if you have a notebook

The external USB drive can be transferred easily between a notebook and desktop system?assuming, of course, that both systems have USB ports and a USB-aware OS?allowing you to move data back and forth in relatively large chunks. The same might be true of the parallel port model, but we've never been pleased with any parallel port drive. The PC Card model is usable only on a notebook computer, unless you happen to have a PC Card interface on your desktop system. We've found that USB drives in general are less likely to cause problems if you connect them to a root USB port rather than to a USB hub, and we suspect that is also true for USB SuperDisk Drives.

Verify that your BIOS supports the SuperDisk Drive

Although the SuperDisk Drive can be installed in nearly any computer by installing drivers for it, it works best in a computer whose BIOS natively supports it. BIOS support means that you can boot from the SuperDisk Drive, and generally also means you're less likely to have conflicts or other problems with the drive.

Don't depend on the SuperDisk Drive for backups

Of the few people we know who've installed a SuperDisk Drive, most use it for backing up. That's a mistake because the disks are expensive and relatively unreliable compared to alternatives. Although the drives themselves are inexpensive, the cost of disks quickly mounts to the point where you'd have spent less for a better backup solution, such as a CD writer, DVD writer, or tape drive. The SuperDisk Drive may make sense in special situations, such as routinely transferring moderate amounts of data between a work system and a home system. Even in such situations, however, we recommend using CD-RW drives with packet-writing software, which are much more flexible, store more data, and use much less-expensive media.