Review: Iomega Rev 120 -- Kicking the tape out of IT

Will the Rev 120 finally kill all of those tape drives?

Iomega Corp. is at it again. The company that brought you the Bernoulli Box 26 years ago has been steadily working toward removing tape drive systems from the IT industry with its Rev series of cartridge hard drives. Back in 2004, Iomega introduced the somewhat minimalist Rev 35, a 35GB cartridge system; in 2006, the Rev 70 doubled that capacity. Now, Iomega has brought to market its latest attempt at torpedoing tape drives: the Rev 120, with 120GB on tap.

The Rev cartridge system consists of a drive unit that holds all of the electronics, and a separate disk cartridge. You simply pop the cartridge into the Rev 120 drive to back up your data. When you're done , you can drop the 2.9-by-3-by-0.4 in., 3-oz. cartridge in your pocket or toss it on a storage shelf and go on your way. (If you're upgrading, don't worry -- the device is read-compatible with older Rev 70 disks, so your existing backups won't depend on aging hardware.)

According to Iomega, both the drive and the cartridge are built for longevity -- in fact, Iomega claims a 30-year lifespan for the Rev 120 cartridge. Inside the drive unit, electronics can sense and compensate for temperature, barometric pressure and vibration variations. Iomega claims that the cartridge itself 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 outer plastic case. In addition, the drive unit and the disk cartridge are resistant to dust invasion.

Installation couldn't be simpler. Just run the driver disc, which installs both the hardware drivers and EMC Corp.'s Retrospect Express backup software, then attach the drive to an available USB port. That's it.

Retrospect provides the managed backup regimen you'll need. The software will compress the drive, if desired, to boost capacity to 240GB; and its wizard will lead you through the setup steps with ease. (There's an "Advanced" mode that makes everything manual, but why bother?) You don't even need to keep track of how much of your cartridge has been used; you'll be prompted when it's time to insert another one.

Testing the drive

Windows Vista recognized the Rev 120 but HD Tach benchmark software didn't (it uses Universal Disk Format or UDF), so testing was ad hoc.

When copying 4,666 files and folders (a total of 8.05GB) from an internal Serial ATA (SATA) hard drive to the Rev 120, Iomega's newest drive needed just over 14.5 minutes to complete the task. That's not as slow as it could be, and it's really because of the USB interface.

When I copied the same files to an external 250GB USB drive (a DIY setup using a dual-interface enclosure from Antec Inc. and a 250GB Western Digital Caviar SATA drive), it took almost 12.5 minutes. USB, at 480Mbit/sec., is never a great choice for data transfers. Add on whatever additional overhead the drive itself might require -- for example, more or less stringent read/write verification -- and you easily account for the extra 2 minutes needed by the cartridge-based REV 120.

In contrast, when I tried again with the external SATA (eSATA) hard drive -- the same one originally connected via USB -- connected via an eSATA port, it ran through the test in barely over 3 minutes. (Iomega does offer an internally installable SATA version of the Rev 120, which is a better choice if you only need to back up a single system rather than carry the drive unit around to several computers.)

Copying 8.05GB of Data With 4,666 files (times in minutes)

  Paste to Copy from
Iomega Rev 120 14:53 19:20
External eSATA Hard Drive 3:11 3:63
External USB Drive 12:40 10:10

The initial Rev 120 drive system costs $500 and a fivepack of 120GB cartridges adds $325. That's 720GB for an overall suggested retail cost of $825. It's also the equivalent price of four 1TB external hard drives.

However, cost isn't everything: Where would you stash all of those external hard drives as your backup sessions progress? And do you know of anyone who has a 5-year-old (let alone 30-year-old) external drive that still works?

What Iomega has built in the Rev 120 is an archival backup system that will let you comply with all of the federal, state and local regulations for data retention -- not a daily storage device. As has been the case for previous 35GB and 70GB iterations, the Rev 120 does the job well. It just does more of it now.

Will the Rev 120 finally kill all of those tape drives? Probably not. But it will definitely yank another brick out of the wall.

Iomega Rev 120

MSRP: $499.99

888-516-8467 (Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern)

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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