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What is a Zip Drive? - Definition & Concept

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  • 0:00 The Zip Drive and Zip Disk
  • 0:46 How a Zip Drive Works
  • 2:29 The Rise and Fall of…
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

In this lesson we will take look at zip drives, which are 'removable, magnetic disk storage systems for computers'. The zip drive was introduced in the mid-1990s and provided much more storage capacity than floppy disks. By the early 2000s, zip drives became largely obsolete with the advance of USB flash drives, recordable CDs and external hard disks.

The Zip Drive and Zip Disk

In 1994, the company Iomega introduced the first Zip drive. In the early 1990s, the 3 ½-inch floppy disk was the most widely used removable storage system for personal computers. However, a typical floppy disk could not store more than about 2 MB of data. That is really small by today's standards. You could not even fit a single MP3 song on a floppy. Even at the time, many computer users had a need for larger removable storage. Much sturdier than the 3 ½-inch floppy, the Zip disk had a storage capacity of 100 MB. This represented a breakthrough for removable storage, and Zip drives quickly became very popular.

How a Zip Drive Works

A Zip drive system consists of a disk drive with a slot for a Zip disk and the Zip disk itself, also referred to as a Zip cartridge. A Zip disk is about the same size as a 3 ½-inch floppy, but much thicker. The plastic casing is also much stronger. The actual disk itself relies on magnetic storage, much like hard disks and floppy disks.

When the first Zip disk with a storage capacity of 100 MB was introduced, it represented a very good alternative for computer users who needed more removable storage than floppy disks could provide. In addition to a larger storage capacity, the Zip drive had several other advantages. The data transfer rate, how fast data can be moved between the disk and the computer's internal storage, was higher; the seek time, the time it takes to find a particular location on the disk to read or write data, was much faster; and the disks themselves were much stronger and less vulnerable to damage.

There are two types of Zip disk drives: internal and external. An internal drive is installed inside the actual computer case, similar to how an optical drive (CD/DVD) is installed. The drive is directly connected to the motherboard of the computer, and the drive itself cannot easily be removed. This is an example of an internal Zip drive:

Internal Zip drive
internal Zip drive

An external drive has its own separate casing and connects to the computer using a separate connector cable. Earlier models used a parallel port connection, while later models used a USB connection. Drives with a parallel port connection also needed their own power supply. This is an example of an external Zip drive:

External Zip drive
external ZIP drive

Zip disks work in both types of drives.

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