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Iomega to re-enter removable hard drive biz

2.5in disk offers 35GB

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Iomega is getting back into the removable hard drive market, years after relegating its Jaz drive to its legacy product file.

The new release, as-yet unbranded and known for now as the Removable Rigid Disk (RRD) system, will offer 35GB per disk. Each 2.5in disk is housed in a cartridge "smaller than a deck of playing cards", Iomega claims. The RRD drive will fit into a standard 3.5in bay, the company said.

Iomega will pitch the system at back-up applications, particularly as an alternative to tape back-up systems. The company reckons its system will be cheaper to run that tape, offer better data fidelity and faster back-up times. Iomega claims a 20GB system image would take ten minutes to back up, but we'd note that copying in images isn't the same thing as backing up a working drive, and that Iomega's figure assumes the user has data compression turned on.

The company cites maximum transfer rate of 22MBps, rising to 44MBps with 2:1 compression. Iomega doesn't explicitly say so, but we assume that the compression option is built in, as it is with many tape-based systems.

Unlike Jaz and earlier removable HDD set-ups, the drive motor is built into the RRD cartridge rather than the drive unit itself. That leads to fewer opportunities for dust contamination - the removable drive's key bugbear - and thus improved data reliability.

Reliability will be key to take-up of the RRD. Removable HDD systems have a patchy record on mid- to long-term data integrity, as anyone who's ever tried to pull old files off even six-month-old SyQuest cartridges will recall. Iomega bought SyQuest's assets after that company collapsed in the late 1990s, don't forget.

Jaz had a better record, but was pitched as a personal back-up system, and this at users assumed to be less intolerant of occasional errors. Not so the business and enterprise markets Iomega plans to tout RRD to.

The RRD is being evaluated by a number of potential OEMs, Iomega said, who will, it hopes, build its drives into their PCs and servers. The drive is expected to come to market early next year.

The RRD announcement, like the earlier 1.5GB micro drive launch last month, shows Iomega is moving out of the problems it has experienced over the last four or five years, as demand for its Zip, Jaz and Clik products slumped, partly on the back of poor product innovation but mostly because PC hard drive capacities have ballooned to the point where most users no longer need archival storage systems.

Iomega's recovery strategy has to date centred on leveraging its brand while delivering standard products and established formats, such as CD-RW drives and external HDDs. Clearly, it now believes the time has come to go on the innovation offensive once again. ®

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