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…

 

Advertisements

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