A discussion, which resulted from a recent article on a faulty Iomega Zip drive power supply, reminded us about a couple of essential troubleshooting rules. Namely:

  • If devices work, but erratically, swap out the power supply and check again.
  • Never trust your backup media.

Even though a few of our TechRepublic members verbally pummeled us for discussing an old technology like the Iomega Zip drive, the article must have been relevant because more than 80 members took the time to share their experiences—good and bad—with the storage device. Also adding to the article’s relevancy was the fact that 23 of the respondents had similar experiences with faulty power supplies (nearly all of them with the Zip drive). Despite the old technology involved, this is apparently a rather common issue.

Let’s take a look at some highlights from the discussion.

Mixed reactions
The original article, “When good Zip drives seem bad,” explained what happened to one of our colleagues at TechRepublic when he had troubles with his personal Zip drive.

From the mixed responses, one thing was clear: IT pros either love Zip drives or hate them. The middle ground is a lonely place.

Bestia is a card-holding member of the anti-Zip-drive camp. “I have been a tech since 1994, and in all my years of experience, I have never seen a Zip or Jaz drive that worked well for more than a couple of months,” wrote Bestia. “They are the most unreliable pieces of trash I have ever seen. I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent trying to recover lost data or just plain trying to get the damn things to work.”

Awoo121694 has a similar bad impression of Iomega devices. He wrote, “I agree that of all the Jaz drives I have used, I never had one go past one year. Most last only about eight months, on the average. That’s with only occasional use as a backup device. While the cartridge is well made, the problem is in the drive itself. The problem usually starts out as a write error before trashing all the data on the cartridge. I have quit using all Jaz drives of any type, period!”

A number of other members who posted to the discussion said they continue to have no problems with their Iomega drives.

Grayceworkss wrote, “I have an external SCSI Zip that I have had for about five years. It has been dropped, stepped on, and a dog once chewed through the power supply cord. The drive worked perfectly every time until recently when I had it stored in its travel bag for a while.” The cable had broken, but the Zip worked perfectly after the cable was replaced.

Wdkinsey added to the pro side of the discussion, saying, “It’s good to hear stories of a company standing behind its products, even after the warranty period has expired. I’ve had the same Zip-100 external for about five years now, with no problems. It’s been a lifesaver when I’ve had to transfer large files.”

The problem was all too familiar to some members
A solid 25 percent of the discussion focused on people who had similar problems with their Zip drives. The end results were varied, but the cause remained the same.

Droney told us, “I had the same problem quite some time ago and gave up when Iomega’s tech support person wanted me to send the drive back. If I had reached the same person your user did, I might have saved myself a drive. Mine went on the curb instead.”

“I had a drive with the same problem,” wrote Nyroamer. “After reading this article, I swapped power supplies (as luck would have it, I had another faulty drive) and was amazed! I had assumed the power supply was good since the drive lights went on when I connected it. Obviously not!”

The problem is not limited to the United States. Zip drives sent all over the world apparently have the problem as well. Mickg, writing from Australia, said, “I had the same problem a year ago. I rang Iomega locally and got a reply from Singapore. They diagnosed it correctly—same solution—and immediately arranged for it to be replaced at their cost. No problem since.”

The moral of the story
A few electronics specialists took the opportunity to emphasize the appropriate time to test a power supply.

“The very first thing I check when I experience strange problems is the power. A simple multimeter will tell if your power supply is working or not. Some devices will run on less power, although not correctly,” wrote paul.hudson.

Hudson provided this example: “I bought a new scanner the other day. Pulled it out of the box, installed the software, and plugged it in. When it wouldn’t work, I broke out my trusty multimeter and tested the power supply. Dead. Another trip to the store for a new scanner, and I was up and running in less than an hour.”

Packet geek shared a similar view: “I would agree that, with electromechanical drives, a common issue is power. Always remember that you are dealing with complex systems, not discrete components. The experiment with the technician showed that the drive was faulting when not connected to external components. The next block would have been power input to the device. This could be verified with a multimeter, or in rare cases of line harmonics, an oscilloscope.

“The point being that by block troubleshooting (reducing the system to functional blocks and focusing on the most likely block), most problems can be resolved in an efficient manner,” Packet geek continued. “Shotgun troubleshooting, even if it seems to solve the problem, provides neither lessons learned nor a conclusive fix to the problem.”

Just a reminder
Because this troubleshooting problem involved a storage device, it might be useful to remember yet another bit of sage advice brought to us by member Mbwhipple: “The first rule about backups is ‘Never trust one.’ Immediately after you finish, no matter what media you are using (but especially with Zip drives, floppies, and CDs), do a random check to see if you can get some files back. I learned this the hard way. It is a lot easier to check the validity of your backup when you make it, rather than when the data recovery fails a month later.”

More power to you

Do you come across peripherals with faulty power supplies a lot? Do you have a favorite power-supply test? Tell us what you think in the discussion below or send us a note.