The SyQuest EZ-135 and System 6

At this point in our series on the SyQuest EZ-135, we have looked at the history and market results of the product, have installed it onto a Mac OS 8.6 Power Macintosh 7500/366 and run performance benchmarks between the EZ-135 and its primary competitor of the day, the Iomega Zip-100. However, with all the work this blog has done recently on System 6, I could not leave the EZ-135 topic without seeing how it would perform under System 6.

The EZ-135 retail box (see below) states that support is provided from System 6.0.5 onwards, and so the game was on. This post examines how well that support really works on a real world System 6 machine, the Happy Macs lab Macintosh IIsi.

EZ-135 Retail Box Back

The Software:

As with the initial Mac OS 8.6 testing of the EZ-135, the first thing to do was to install the software. You will recall from the earlier posts in this series that this was a set of three files (vs. the dozens provided for Windows!). I copied these files over to the IIsi and gave them a whirl.

This was a minimal experience on System 6. The whatscsi.id utility crashed the machine, necessitating a restart to recover control. The “readme” file… wouldn’t let me! It too crashed the machine. Finally, but happily, the SilverLining Lite utility did run. Following my nose, and knowing that it was a control panel, I copied it to the System folder and restarted the Mac.

After a successful boot sequence, SilverLining Lite did show up in the Control Panel DA as expected.

The Hardware:

I powered down, plugged in the EZ-135 (ironically, I connected it to the middle of an external SCSI chain that was terminated by an Iomega Zip-100!) and rebooted once again.

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As you can see below, the SilverLining Lite control panel recognized the new comer to the chain and displayed it at SCSI ID 5:

SilverLiningCtlPanel0-cropped

Operation:

I inserted a cartridge, slid the Load/Unload lever all the way to the right, and waited expectantly for the disk to mount on the desktop. After the cartridge was obviously fully spun up, and no more accesses were occurring, it became clear that it simply WASN’T going to mount on the desktop. Now at this point I recall reading a review from the period that indicated that cartridges had to be manually mounted and unmounted, so I went hunting for a way to do that. Ta Da! The SilverLining Lite control panel had “Mount” and “Unmount” buttons, so I pressed the Mount button and that did the trick – the cartridge mounted on the desktop right away.

Desktop w EZ-135

After this one additional step (manually mounting the cartridge), I was able to use the cartridge as normal, copying files onto and off of it with no issues. When I had satisfied myself that the drive and cartridge were working fully, I tried to unmount the cartridge by dragging its icon to the trash. No joy! The icon would in fact disappear, but then immediately reappear on the desktop.

I rather expected that something like this would happen. If the cartridge had to be manually mounted, it probably had to be manually dismounted too, but I had to push my luck and see if simply dragging the icon to the trash would accomplish the goal. Clearly it would not, so I pulled up the SilverLining Lite control panel again and pressed the Unmount button. I am sure that you will not be surprised to read that the cartridge obediently and immediately spun down and ejected.

SilverLiningCtlPanel1-cropped

So far, so good. Using the EZ-135 under System 6 required 2 more steps (manual mount, manual unmount) than using it under Mac OS 8.6, but it was still very usable and still quite intuitive.

Now that everything was clearly installed and working, how reliable was it? To find out, I restarted the Macintosh and tried everything again. This was a fortuitous step because this time, and every time since then, when I inserted a cartridge into the drive and slid the Load/Unload lever all the way to the right, the cartridge spun up and auto mounted on the desktop, without the need to use the Mount button! Likewise, when I drug the cartridge icon to the trash, the cartridge spun down and ejected, again all without the use of the Unmount button!

Thus, after the first restart, operation of the EZ-135 under System 6 (well, System 6.0.7 anyway) followed exactly the floppy paradigm, and was identical to the way the Zip-100 on the Mac IIsi also behaved. I concluded that we are “good to go” for use of the EZ-135 on System 6.

Some Closing EZ-135 Thoughts

One final note. I had not found any images of the EZ-135 retail box when I wrote the first post in this series, and in that post I wondered “out loud” whether the original retail packaging had included a SCSI terminator. I subsequently did find the image shown above, and it makes it clear that a SCSI terminator WAS included with each package. A curious choice, but one I wanted to record, so as to set the record straight.

So, there you have it. The EZ-135 story is now complete from the perspective of this blog. It runs well on System 6, and equally well on Mac OS X 8.6 (I am going to assume that System 7 therefore would support it cleanly as well), offers more capacity and higher speed operation. I am pleased to have stumbled across this useful device and I will be putting it to good use in the future!

What’s Next?

What’s coming next to the pages of this blog? Next up is configuring, loading and getting online a Macintosh IIfx that I picked up some months ago, along with getting it to dual boot System 6 and System 7. This will be followed by a long overdue segue into the interesting and wonderful world of the Apple IIGS, a sort of Apple II / Macintosh hybrid. Stay tuned… lots of fun to come!

 

 

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Performance Results – SyQuest EZ-135 vs. Iomega Zip-100

In the last two posts on the topic of the SyQuest EZ-135 “super floppy”, we looked more closely into the product, compared it to the Zip-100, installed the software and hardware and got it fully functioning under Mac OS 8.6 on the Happy Mac Lab’s Power Macintosh 7500/366.

Now, with our SyQuest EZ-135 installed, set up and running successfully, the next questions are clearly “how fast is?” and “how fast is it relative to its Iomega Zip-100 competitor?”. This post delves into that question and provides answers.

The EZ-135 specs seem to have it running about 70% faster than a Zip-100, so it was time to test this out. As a quick refresher from the original post in this series, here is what the relevant specs say:

Iomega Zip-100:

  • Average Seek Time: 30ms
  • Sustained Transfer Rate: up to 1.4 MB/s

SyQuest EZ-135:

  • Average Seek Time: 13.5ms
  • Sustained Transfer Rate: up to 2.4 MB/s

As it happens, I have the good fortune to have both the EZ-135 and a Zip-100 in the Happy Macs lab, both external SCSI interfaced units. In turn therefore I connected each to the same Mac, my Power Mac 7500/366, and tested their performance at the same real world tasks.

ez-135, zip-100 test environment

The Test

The real world test tasks chosen were a small simulation of a backup and a restore: copying roughly 6.3 MB of large files (400KB to 500KB each) onto the cartridge from the HD, and then copying them back onto the HD from the cartridge. As a bonus, and since I had one handy, I performed this same “benchmark” using an Iomega Jaz 1GB as well.

The Results [drum roll please…]

Here are the results (smaller results are better):

peformance result table

These results show that in the real world work of backing up and restoring files, the EZ-135 is faster than the Zip-100, but not by quite as much as the above specifications might lead you to expect. The EZ-135 was 33.9% faster to copy from the HDD to the cartridge, and 41.5% faster to copy from the cartridge to the HDD. Of course, the Jaz drive outpaced both of them by a healthy margin, which comes as no surprise.

SyQuest EZ-135, Conclusions and Wrap Up

In head-to-head performance testing, the EZ-135 beat the Zip-100 by at least 33%, and up to as much as 41%, at the primary task which framed their all too brief time in the sun – backup and restore. Setting these results aside for just a moment and looking at the rest of the commercial offer, the two platforms were remarkably similar: both featured solid hardware platforms, good to excellent software support and very similar usage paradigms. So, with all other things being more or less equal, and with its higher performance, why didn’t the technically superior EZ-135 dominate the market? What happened?

In the end, it may be as simple as time-to-market. The Zip-100 had a six month market lead on the EZ-135, and was firmly established before the EZ-135 debuted. In addition, it was backed by aggressive marketing, widespread bundling with manufacturer offerings (Apple offered the Zip-100 as an option on several models of Macintosh, as did many PC vendors) and a slightly lower price point. Thinking back, I purchased a Zip-100 almost as soon as they came out, and I remember being dimly aware that there was now a competitor when I decided to purchase a second one. However, cartridge compatibility was important at that point, and my second “super floppy” (and all subsequent ones until this series of blog posts) was another Zip-100.

That may be it in the final analysis… time to market and cartridge compatibility. We will never know of course, and so the EZ-135 remains as a fascinating “what if” product, but one that I have been pleased to bring back to life in the pages of this blog, if only for a brief moment.

On a personal note, as a result of this series of posts, I now have two of these excellent devices in the lab, and I plan to keep them in service doing the type of work they shine at these days… mass file transfer to vintage Macintosh computers that I am performing initial software loads on. Of course, the Zip family of devices is well represented throughout the Happy Macs lab and is not going away, and so both the EZ-135 and the Zip-100/250 will coexist and each be used as the application of the moment dictates.

This might seem like the end of the road for this series of posts but we are not quite there yet. There will be one more post… After all the work I have done recently on System 6, I couldn’t resist testing the EZ-135’s support on System 6 Macs. This is particularly useful to me just now as I have a newly acquired Macintosh IIfx that I am about to load up with System 6 and a set of compatible applications. Stay tuned therefore for one last edition of the “EZ-135 story”, telling the tale of System 6 and the EZ-135. Coming soon to a blog near you! Until then…

 

Installing EZ-135 Software and Hardware

In the first post of this series on the SyQuest EZ-135 “super floppy”, I examined the backup problems presented by the rapidly growing capacities of hard drives in the mid 1990s, and charted the rise of the “super floppy” – drive and cartridge systems with capacities in the 100 MB range per cartridge, which dramatically simplified the task of keeping precious hard drive data backed up.

I zero’d in on the SyQuest EZ-135 super floppy, which has largely faded from the public consciousness, and presented a device that for all intents and purposes seemed superior to the Iomega Zip-100 system that ultimately dominated the field. I acquired a set of EZ-135 drives and cartridges on eBay to learn more about these devices, and in this post I present my experiences installing the software and the hardware onto my Mac OS 8.6 Power Macintosh 7500/366.

Unboxing

The unboxing experience has become a “thing” these days, courtesy of Apple’s frequently exquisite packaging of their new products, and the results are often recorded and presented in detail. My EZ-135s came from eBay of course, packaged by the shipper, and so perhaps unboxing is not a particularly key experience, but first impressions are lasting, and so as I unpacked the package my EZ-135’s arrived in, I made note of my immediate impressions, and present them below:

  • The EZ-135 Drive: The drive is definitely much larger than the equivalent Zip-100 drive and probably twice as thick. It is not unpleasant looking, but definitely much chunkier than its Iomega counterpart. To get a sense of this, compare the two in the picture below:

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  • The EZ-135 Cartridges: The cartridges are see-through in places and they seem to “rattle” when handled, as if the platter was loose inside. This did not create an immediate impression of solid quality, and the garish yellow font used on the cartridge’s EZ-135 labeling did not further enhance my overall impression of them. Finally, the cartridges are marginally larger than their Iomega competitor, perhaps in keeping with their larger capacity!

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  • The Power Brick: Enormous! Relative to pretty much any other power brick for any other product, the EZ-135 brick is huge… and heavy. I am not sure what to think the reason might be for this, but I noted right away that tucking this monster out of sight would be a challenge. In the image below, evaluate the size of the power brick relative to the size of the drive itself!

ez-135 drive and power brick

All in all, my initial impressions were less than 100% favorable, but operation and performance are what really count, so onward I went.

Installing the Software

The supplied software came on three floppies, all of which were for DOS/Windows. The label of the first floppy had a line in small font near the bottom instructing Mac users to access the Mac files via PC Exchange. This likely saved SyQuest the cost of an extra floppy per product sold, at the expense of making it clear that they did not consider the Macintosh platform to be a key market for them.

ez-135 floppies 3

Since I am on the Macintosh platform however, I popped the floppy into my Power Macintosh 7600/366 (a 7500/100, accelerated with a Newer Technology G3 card at 366 MHz) running Mac OS 8.6, and despite being DOS formatted, it immediately mounted on the desktop, revealing an entire diskette worth of dozens of Windows files (.bat, .sys, .com, .exe, .etc!) and a Mac folder containing just three files, one of which was a “readme”. Life is easier on the Macintosh platform! 🙂

I copied the three files across to the Mac’s hard drive and ejected the floppy. The three files were (1) a “readme” file, (2) a SyQuest utility called whatscsi.id (how very DOS 8.3!) and (3) the drivers and utilities themselves, all in a single file called mac.sea.

I executed the whatscsi.id utility, it scanned my Mac’s SCSI bus and displayed all of the free SCSI IDs on the bus. It recommended “2” for the EZ-135 drive, but I selected “6” instead, which was also free, for the simple reason that it was already selected on the SCSI ID switch on the back of the drive!

I then executed the mac.sea file and it quietly and very quickly installed the necessary software. Now it was time for the hardware.

Connecting the Hardware

Setting up the hardware seemed simple enough: a drive, a power brick and a SCSI cable. All three were provided with my purchase and plugging them all together did not require a rocket scientist. But wait… What about SCSI termination? Anyone who has worked with external SCSI devices knows that the SCSI chain has to be electrically terminated in order to work successfully. Pretty much every SCSI device I have ever worked with has a switch of some sort on the back, usually near the SCSI connector, that allows an internal termination to be set to “on” or “off”.

Not so with the EZ-135. No switch was to be found. Instead, if termination is required, the 2nd SCSI port on the back of the drive must have a SCSI terminator block plugged into it. Now the drives I bought on eBay came with these terminator blocks, but I cannot say if the original retail box included them or not. The ones I received were not SyQuest branded, and so I am just a bit suspicious. It was a curious design decision on SyQuest’s behalf to omit the customary termination switch and hardware. Like the omission of a Macintosh-specific floppy, it suggests to me a product team that was working very hard to fit the retail offering into an overly aggressive price point for the actual product cost.

Setting that concern aside, I plugged it all together, termination and all, powered up the empty drive (no cartridge yet) and booted the Macintosh. When Finder presented itself, I found the newly installed SilverLining Lite control panel and launched it. It detected the EZ-135 right away and correctly declared it to be on the external SCSI bus at ID 6. So far, so good.

silverlining light w ez135

Here is my test environment at this point (with the original Iomega Jaz that was on the external SCSI bus still present but unplugged):

ez-135 testbed

Initial Testing

It was time for the moment of truth – would an inserted cartridge mount on the desktop or not? I inserted a cartridge into the drive slot and pushed it fully in. There is a little mechanical lever underneath the drive slot, labelled “Load/Unload”, that has to be slid fully to the right to lock the cartridge into the drive. I did this and the cartridge immediately spun up. Almost like magic, it popped onto the desktop, just as you would hope it would.

Of course the cartridge turned out to be DOS-formatted and so my first real work with the EZ-135 was to format the cartridge as Mac OS Standard. SilverLining Lite happily provided the functionality needed, and in a few minutes, the cartridge was now Mac-friendly. This is what it looked like mounted on the desktop. Notice the helpful little touch of embedding the SCSI ID in the icon – nice!

desktop w ez-135 2

I did some basic tests, copying files to the cartridge and then from it, and all seemed well. Next up then was to test the unmount and eject procedures, which I had read in one contemporary review were more involved than with their Iomega competitor. Not so! I dragged the EZ-135 icon to the trash and the drive immediately spun down and popped the Load/Unload lever partly to the left. The lever then had to be slid fully to the left, which mechanically ejected the cartridge part way out of the slot, at which point it could be grasped and pulled completely out. It was all very easy and very intuitive.

Just now however, a glitch occurred that has not repeated itself since. I will report it nonetheless, just in case it should happen to you. An apparent artifact of reformatting the cartridge was that I ended up with two EZ-135 icons on my desktop, one representing the original DOS-formatted instance of the cartridge, and the other representing the Mac-formatted instance. Prior to the above basic testing, I had dragged the DOS “ghost” to the trash and it had disappeared. I was able to do my tests and eject the drive without issue, but I suspect that the DOS “ghost” was in fact the artifact of a bug in the drivers, and the Mac was now compromised.

I say this because when I inserted the cartridge into the drive again, to see if it would just as seamlessly remount on the desktop, that ghost, or something anyway, came back to haunt me. I put the cartridge into the drive, slid the Load/Unload lever over, the cartridge spun up and then… Finder crashed! I was presented with a dialog to that effect and I could not clear it. When I pressed the OK button, Finder would restart, re-crash, and re-present the dialog. I ran through this loop several times to ensure that it was not transient, and it was not. I even manually spun down the cartridge and removed it, but Finder stubbornly remained in its crash loop. Finally, I had to unplug the power to the Macintosh to accomplish a restart.

This has never happened since, and perhaps was entirely coincidental, but I am making you aware of it for your future reference. Since then, I have been able to insert and eject EZ-135 cartridges at will, with no issues whatsoever. It has quickly become clear the EZ-135 system can be depended upon to reliably and quickly store and retrieve files to/from its cartridges.

Conclusions

With my Mac OS 8.6 initial testing as my reference, I can say that both the EZ-135 hardware and its supporting software worked intuitively and well, and that operation of the drive and its media followed a paradigm similar to that of floppy removable media: insert the media and it mounts on the desktop, drag the media to the trash and it unmounts and ejects.

It was thus time to put the drive to the most important test of all: performance. Would it live up to its advertised performance specs? Would it be faster than an Iomega ZIP-100? In the next post in this series, I will dig into this and learn how the drive and its cartridges perform in real world tasks.

Read on…

Backing Up Your Mac With the SyQuest EZ-135

Browsing eBay one day I was surprised to happen upon a listing for a SyQuest EZ-135 drive/catridge system, featuring removable 135 MB disks and a rather chunky looking SCSI-interfaced external drive. At first blush, this seemed remarkably like the Zip-100/250 drive/catridge systems that I am so familiar with, and yet completely new – I had never heard of an EZ-135 before! Intrigued, I dug into this unfamiliar “new” product further and uncovered not just a viable competitor to the Zip-100, but in fact a far superior product technically, albeit one that did not impact on the public consciousness to the extent that the Zip-100 did.

Cast your mind back to the early to mid-1990s. Hard drives were sold in capacities of 100’s of MB, and the then ubiquitous 3.5” floppy was the only game in town for backing up the precious contents of your hard drive (setting aside what I would consider to be the fragile and unreliable mechanism of tape backup). Backing up a few 100 MBs of hard drive onto 1.4 MB floppies required enormous discipline, patience and large numbers of the floppies. The backup programs of the day did their best to make this bearable, with as much compression as they could manage, floppy “sets” and so on, but it was still a chore. If you used Macs or PCs at the time, you will remember this not so fondly.

Larger Set of Floppies

The stage was set for a better solution, a kind of “super floppy”, and in 1994, the Iomega Zip-100 burst upon the scene.

iomega-zip-100-drive

At 100 MB per cartridge, it took only a few Zip cartridges to back up your entire hard drive, and the write speed onto the Zip-100 cartridges was so much faster than the equivalent speed onto floppies that the time required to perform a backup was dramatically reduced. The Zip drive met a pressing market need and its fortunes blossomed.

In 1995, SyQuest entered the fray with its own super floppy, and the topic of this post, the EZ-135 drive/catridge system.

EZ-135 External Drive and Catridge (large)

Like the Zip-100 it was competing with, it was SCSI-interfaced, featured large capacity removable cartridges and came in both external and internal formats. The Zip-100 had about a six month market lead on the EZ-135, but (as we shall see) the EZ-135 was a higher capacity, faster and better product. What happened? Well, not what you might expect. Have YOU ever heard of the EZ-135? I hadn’t! I bet you haven’t either, but I bet that you know all about the Zip-100!

Let’s have a look at these two competitors.

Iomega Zip-100

Introduced in late 1994.

Key specs:

  • Capacity: 100 MB
  • Average Seek Time: 30ms
  • Sustained Transfer Rate: up to 1.4 MB/s
  • Reliability: problematic as the drives age
  • Price: $200 with one disk included

These specs may not sound impressive to today’s eye, but compared to the then ubiquitous 3.5” floppy, they were stellar. The 3.5” floppy had a measly 1.4 MB capacity, a seek time of 200ms and an average transfer speed of 16 KB/s. The Zip drive looked like a real racehorse by comparison.

Zip-100 (and later Zip-250) drives were available in both internal and external formats. The internal format came in two flavors, IDE/ATAPI or SCSI. The external format was also offered in two different interfaces, Parallel or SCSI. A little known fact is that the parallel version was just the SCSI version with a Parallel-SCSI converter added internally! That Parallel interface really slowed the drive down however, reducing its transfer rate from 1.4 MB/s to 50 KB/s… still 3x better than a floppy however!

Operation was simplicity itself, and perfectly mimicked the floppy model. Under Mac OS, to mount a Zip-100 disk you simply popped it into the drive and it automatically spun up and mounted on the desktop. Dismounting was similarly straightforward and floppy-like: you simply dragged the desktop icon to the trash and it automatically dismounted the drive, spun it down and ejected it. Users familiar with keyboard shortcuts could accomplish the same dismount action by clicking on the desktop icon and selecting Apple-Y (the “put away” command).

Under DOS/Windows, operation was predictably more cumbersome, but under Windows 9.x, the paradigm was quite simple to navigate.

The software that was included with the drive was quite good. Iomega drivers and utility programs were nicely designed and solid, and the Guest application was very versatile when needed. Support was available from Mac System 6 onward, and for the Wintel camp was available from DOS right through Windows 9x. I *believe* that it carried forward into the Windows XP and later era, but have not confirmed this.

As evidenced by this post, Zip drives remain popular amongst retro computing enthusiasts. The reason for this is slightly different than the reason for their original popularity however. Now it is all about getting files ONTO the computers, not copying the files OFF of the computers (i.e. backup)! Bulk loading of software and files onto older vintage computers has become the main use case for the Zip-100 class of drives, and has in fact featured in at least two recent posts in this blog!

SyQuest EZ-135

Announced in 1995.

The EZ-135 was the “Six Million Dollar Man” to the Zip-100’s “human”: it was “better… stronger… faster” than its competitor, as clearly reflected in the key specs below.

Key specs:

  • Capacity: 135 MB
  • Average Seek Time: 13.5ms
  • Sustained Transfer Rate: up to 2.4 MB/s (burst transfer up to 4 MB/s)
  • Reliability: Mechanism rated for 200,000 hours
  • Price: $220 with one disk included

Like the Zip-100, the EZ-135 was available in both internal and external formats. Internal was IDE/ATAPI or SCSI. External was parallel or SCSI. Also like the Zip-100, a higher capacity version debuted in 1996: the EZFlyer, which had 230 MB disks.

Operation of the drive could apparently be more complex than operation of the Zip-100, but full details on that will come in my next post. I have acquired a set of EZ-135 drives on eBay, and will report on my experience of installing and using them as part of this series of EZ-135 posts. In the meantime, a review written at the time, and accessed today via the wonderful WayBackMachine, mentioned the need to manually mount, dismount, spin up, spin down and eject the disk. While this sounds like a few more steps than is needed in the floppy paradigm, as long as each step is reliable and simple, the net effort is not that much of a detriment.

The software that came with the EZ-135 was, like the software that came with the Zip-100, very good. Each EZ-135 came with a copy of LaCie Silver Lining Lite, a very nice disk utility/maintenance package and a SCSI probe utility that could recommend the SCSI ID to set on the drive. Support was provided from System 6.0.5 right through Mac OS 9.x.

So What Happened?

As a class, super floppies faded from view in the early 2000’s as hard drives burgeoned into the GB range, USB flash drives became commonplace and a 100’ish MB backup drive no longer solved the backup need. During their heyday however, super floppies solved a very real and very pressing problem and were a valuable part of the arsenal of any computer user who was concerned about their data security/longevity. I was one of those, and I remember being able to backup all of my files onto just five Zip-100 cartridges, and loving it.

As for the EZ-135, despite being a technically superior product, it failed to dominate. Most people (myself included) don’t even remember it from “back then”. The ZIP drive zoomed in popularity and the EZ-135 slowly faded away. Perhaps it was the bulky size of the EZ-135 drive, or maybe the slightly higher price point per disk (each disk was about $5 more than its Iomega counterpart) or even perhaps the cool blue design language that characterized the Zip-100 product, vs. the dull gray and garish yellow that SyQuest used for the EZ-135 family… it is hard to say. In the end, better technology doesn’t always win, and this was the case with the EZ-135.

Coming Up Next Time

As I mentioned above, I have acquired a pair of EZ-135s on eBay, and some cartridges to go with them, and will be installing and testing them next. I will report back my experiences in upcoming posts, as the results dictate. Stay tuned!

Sources:

  • Wikipedia
  • Florin Neumann, florin@quartz.geology.utoronto.ca, article “Comparison of Zip and EZ-135 drives” published on the web Mar 11, 2007 and accessed via WayBackMachine