When it comes to computers and their peripherals, we're pretty well used to prices falling and capacity increasing, but even so, Iomega's nifty 100Mb Zip drive caused a lot of excitement when it was first announced back in 1994: almost overnight, the clunky and expensive small-capacity Syquest drives that we all thought were so great at the time were consigned to history. So popular was the Zip drive that it's probably fair to say that it's only in recent months that supply has been able to meet demand, and despite reservations over reliability, both the drive and the media have proven to be adequately robust so far.
Though the Zip isn't fast enough for direct-to-disk audio (and 100Mb isn't really big enough for serious jobs either), it excels as a storage medium for audio samples and for general large-scale backup work. In some ways, keeping audio samples on multiple 100Mb cartridges feels more secure than the 'all eggs in one basket' approach of using multi-gigabyte hard drives. Even so, Iomega were aware of the need for a faster, large-capacity drive to meet the demands of the growing multimedia market, so the Jaz was launched, hot on the heels of Zip.
The Zip drive medium is, in effect, a precision floppy disk mounted within a 3.5-inch rigid shell. The slightly thicker 3.5-inch Jaz cartridge houses a rigid, dual-platter mechanism incorporating an 'anti-rattle' device to help protect the cartridge during transportation. The drive spins at 5400rpm (revolutions per minute) and has a formatted capacity of 1070Mb (over 1 Gigabyte) with a 12ms average seek time. With a sustained data transfer rate of between 3.77 and 6.73Mb per second, Jaz rivals current fast hard drives in speed, making it eminently suitable for multitrack digital audio. Several hard disk recording systems are available with Jaz drives as an option: Roland's VS880 digital 'studio in a box', for example, can be supplied with an internal Jaz drive if required. While external Jaz drives are SCSI only, both SCSI and IDE internal versions are available.
The Jaz drive itself is tiny -- about the size of a modem -- and uses the new high-density, 50-pin SCSI connectors. A SCSI lead is provided, along with a 50-pin to 25-pin SCSI adaptor, so that I could hook up the drive to my antique Mac Centris 650. Cosmetically, the Jaz looks not unlike the Zip, the main difference being that it's green rather than blue. Also, very importantly, the Jaz must be mounted flat -- it can't be used on its side.
Power for the drive comes from the increasingly familiar (but not increasingly popular!) external PSU, and the majority of the installation software comes on the cartridge included with the drive, though the package also includes two floppies (one Mac, one PC), to get the installation process rolling. Installation routines are supplied for both Mac and PC. Also on the cartridge are a number of utility programs, including Jaz Tools, designed to assist with cataloguing and backing up files.
A recessed numerical selector switch on the rear panel of the green plastic case allows the SCSI ID to be set to any required value; termination can either be set by the user or left for the Jaz to configure automatically. The mean time between failures is quoted as being 250,000 hours -- which equates to over 28 years of normal use. Blank Jaz cartridges are now well under £100 each, and when you consider that this piece is been written by a man still smarting from paying £2500 for a 650Mb external drive (and not as many years ago as you might think!), this is indeed a bargain.
Installation is straightforward enough, and involves inserting the Jaz Tools disk, then running the Mac installer from floppy. Installation must be undertaken with the extensions switched off (start the Mac holding down Shift), then the Mac must be restarted after installation is complete. The Jaz drive icon will now appear on the desktop. The only problem I encountered was that the drive sometimes tried to spit out the disk before it got around to reading it, so I had to physically hold it in for a second or two until it was accepted. Because the Tools disk contains essential installation stuff, it's as well not to wipe this, though there is plenty of room left on the disk for new data.
Trouble-free though the installation was, running the Jaz with Pro Tools III hardware was less straightforward -- the Jaz driver couldn't find the drive. In Pro Tools III, the audio drives connect directly to the Digidesign card, not to the Mac's SCSI port, and in the natural scheme of things, the Digidesign disks mount pretty late on in the boot-up sequence. I initially thought that my problem was down to the Jaz driver trying to load before the disks were mounted by the Digidesign software, but it turned out that the drivers just don't hit it off, no matter what order they load in.
A call to Digidesign's tech support revealed that the Jaz drive was not yet approved for use with Pro Tools III, though Digidesign are apparently still doing tests on it. Even so, I was told that it is possible to mount the drive using the Mt. Digi Control Panel widget rather than its own driver -- which was true -- but from that point on, I found I couldn't copy any data from any Digidesign-connected drive to any other without the system freezing solid. Even after removing the Jaz drive and all traces of its occupation, I still couldn't copy between my two conventional Digidesign-connected drives without locking up the system again!
It turned out that something in the install procedure had corrupted my Digidesign extension, so after ditching the Jaz driver and reinstalling the Digidesign extension, I found the system was back to normal -- and the Jaz drive mounted with no problem, providing I let Digidesign do the mounting. Of course, Pro Tools II hardware -- which uses the Mac's SCSI port -- will work OK (even my old Sound Accelerator card seemed quite happy), and for Power Mac users, the internal audio will work fine, but it remains to be seen how compatible Pro Tools III is at the moment. Even so, I decided to plough on with the tests to see what happened.
Working on a typical song-length, 8-track composition, the Jaz seemed to perform just as well as my fixed drive, with no evident glitching, complaining or dire warning messages. What's more, the Jaz runs a lot quieter than my other hard drives -- there's a little bit of a whine as it gets up to speed, but after that, the noise level is surprisingly low. When you finish work, dragging the drive icon to the trash can ejects the disk automatically.
Because Digidesign don't yet recommend the Jaz drive for use with Pro Tools III, it would be foolish for me to suggest you rush out and buy one for that particular purpose, even though my limited tests showed up no problems once the installation hassles had been sorted out. For any other audio application where the Jaz connects directly to the SCSI port of the Mac, things should be more straightforward, but because anything associated with computers always includes a propensity for conflicts and incompatibilities, always check with the manufacturers of both your software and computer, just to be on the safe side. I only tested the drive up to eight tracks of audio: I don't know what its practical limit is, but for most private users, this will probably be enough anyway.
As a sample-archiving system, the Jaz has a lot going for it, though as I mentioned earlier, I feel more secure spreading my sample library over multiple Zip drives -- but then you can always buy two Jaz cartridges and keep a backup.
The bottom line is that the Jaz drive is great value -- it costs little more than a regular fixed drive -- it's quiet, it's fast enough for audio, and the media is sensibly priced, so providing it's compatible with your system, it seems to be the best removable option at the moment.
Fast enough for 8-track audio.
Not proven to be 100% compatible with Pro Tools III yet.
A truly affordable, multi-purpose 1Gb removable drive
system that's fast enough, and quiet enough, for audio.
Check for compatibility with your system before buying.
£ Iomega do not quote a recommended retail price; the 'street' price of the Jaz drive varies, but an external Jaz should not cost more than £450 including VAT. Removable Jaz disks sell for between £70 and £105 including VAT. Check the computer press for the best prices.
T Iomega Customer Service Centre
+44 (0)800 973194 (Freephone).