I’ve been sorting through old computer hardware lately and forcing myself to jettison some of it. I’ve always liked having boxes of spare parts, so I cling onto DVD drives, hard disks, and a Radeon 5770 that’s prone to overheating. I have to ask myself though, what do I see myself doing with four IDE cables? Am I going to build¬† a PC out of pre-2006 technology? Also I have three USB wifi dongles, so I should really chuck out the two from the previous decade. Epecially when I always connect my desktop to the router via ethernet anyway.

One item I came across was this:



You may recall the zip disk: a form of removable magnetic disk, with its own dedicated drive. This particular example was bought in 2001 and could could store 100MB, about 70 times as much as a floppy disk. (re)Writable CDs already existed by this point, and had even greater capacity but I found the zip disks more convenient to use. With no need for faffing around with CD-burner software, you copied stuff via drag and drop, as easily as you would to a floppy. Also a zip disk was easier to fit in a pocket, having about the same dimensions as a floppy disk (albeit, about twice as thick).

I ended up buying a zip drive because they were fitted to many library PCs at my University. At that point we didn’t yet have internet connections in our college rooms, so, a zip disk proved the easiest way of moving large quantities of downloaded data to my own PC. Where by “data” I mean “abandonware games”. I still have them stashed on my current PC, many still unplayed, 16 years later.

Zips with greater storage did exist: there was a 250Mb version and in 2002 Iomega even announced a 750Mb disk. However, within a few years the format was killed off by the USB flash memory stick. I’m not sure if capacity was a deciding factor at first; I vaguely recall that around 2003-2004 the standard was 128-256MB for USB sticks.

However, zips did have one clear disadvantage. I mentioned them being convenient, but that only applied if the computer you wanted to use had a zip drive installed in the first place. If not then the disk was quite obviously useless. Zip drives were moderately popular, but never so much that you could assume one was going to be available when, say, visiting a friend or travelling on business. Whereas a stick could of course plug straight into a USB socket and would work with any vaguely modern PC. Plus USB sticks were cheaper than a zip drive + disk.

(I wonder how mad the university IT department was about all that cash spent on quickly-obselete drives)

My zip clung on a while for backup purposes – I’m kind of curious to know what’s on it. It must be some snapshot of important data I had around 2004. Possibly working files for an early version of this site?¬† I still have the drive, built into my old computer (so, yeah, I already have a pre-2006 PC…). which is currently hanging around the server room at work. Amazingly no-one’s told me to get rid of the damn thing yet.