Iomega's Rev 70GB Drive Might Make Tape Obsolete

Iomega's removable Rev drive is too expensive for home use, but could be a great alternative for tape backup systems.

September 12, 2006

5 Min Read
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When Iomega released the Zip drive back in 1995, it set the tech world on its ear. Finally, there was a rewriteable way to back up your hard drive on removable disks without the trouble and expense of tape. The Zip drive eventually disappeared, partially because of problems such as the "click of death" that surfaced later. Now, Iomega is trying again with its Rev hard disk cartridge drive. The Rev 70GB drive is the latest model.

The Rev cartridge hard drive system is made up of a separate drive unit that contains all the sensitive electronics and a separate disk cartridge that contains the disk platter. The idea is that you can you can drop the 2.9 x 3.0 x 0.4-inch, 3-ounce cartridge in your pocket and not worry about damaging it -- unlike all-in-one portable hard drives, the more fragile elements are all contained in the drive unit.

In The Box
Not that the drive portion of the hardware is all that large itself: It measures 6.2 x 4.4 x 1.3 inches (HWD) and weighs in at under a pound. Iomega sells both an internal ATAPI drive and an external USB device (with a separate power cord) suitable for either a PC or a Mac. I reviewed the latter.

According to Iomega, both the drive and the cartridges are manufactured for long-term use. The drive's electronics are capable of sensing and compensating for temperature, barometric pressure, and vibration variations, while Iomega claims that the cartridge alone will survive a four-foot drop onto commercial grade carpet and a five-foot drop if it hits a hard floor while still in its plastic case. Both the drive and disk cartridge are designed to be resistive to dust intrusion. All in all, Iomega has anointed the cartridge with a 30-year shelf life.

Whether or not that's true, I can't help thinking that the actual lifespan is limited more by the market than by the technology -- a case in point being Iomega's remarkable Bernoulli Box, a groundbreaking storage medium from the 1980s that was consigned to history well before its shelf life could have expired.Installation
Theoretically, the Rev 70 drive can be attached to any Windows XP system as just another add-on USB drive -- but that would be a tremendous waste of your investment. With the drive, Iomega includes a CD containing not only the needed drivers, but a copy of the EMC Retrospect Express backup software. Installing Retrospect Express may take an extra few minutes, but it's well spent -- it gives you the tools you'll need to create full or selected file backups either on demand or through an automated daily or weekly schedule.

Retrospect Express offers drive compression so that your 70GB Rev cartridge can stretch to as much as 140GB. Encryption and a single or double backup regimen are also included. The software runs full screen during backup operations, so it might be best to backup your computer when you're not planning to do anything else. (The Retrospect Express Wizard will guide you through the setup process painlessly but, if you prefer to be hands-on, you can select an "Advanced" mode that lets you cherry-pick your options.) You're automatically prompted whenever new media will be needed.

It took about 20 seconds or so for Retrospect Express to find the Rev drive (I had to wait for Windows to recognize the USB device). This was made up for by how fast the Rev disk cartridge goes from fully stopped to spinning at its 4200rpm rotational speed -- if you've ever spent an eternity drumming your fingers on a desk while a tape cartridge was being tensioned (that is, running the tape from end to end and back again to make sure there's no slack), it will seem a near miracle.

The Bottom Line
If you're looking for a casual backup solution for your desktop PC, keep looking. The Rev 70 could certainly do the job, but its price is prohibitive -- you could easily pick up a trio of 300+GB external USB drives for its $600 list price (not the mention the $69 disk cartridge).

On the other hand, if you're with an enterprise, or running mission-critical operations, or are affected by government programs such as Sarbanes-Oxley that require you to save everything short of nail parings for time immemorial while having the ability to recover that data in as short a time as possible, a renewable long-term backup strategy, not a chorus line of individual drives, is the most practical approach.In such situations, tape cartridges have been the mainstay of operations. With the Rev 70, however, Iomega is attempting to push tape backup solutions into the corner. Aside from being appreciably faster than tape, the Rev 70 hard disk cartridge is a renewable backup medium in a form factor that's comparable to tape in both size and flexibility. And, Rev cartridge drives are less affected by handling and environmental harshness than tape could ever hope to be. Whether Iomega has the muscle to force such a profound transformation in backup strategy is the only open question.

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