Resurrecting my Iomega Zip 100 parallel-port drive – Linux comes to the rescue

Top view of Z100P2 drive with 100 MB Zip disk in front.

Top view of Z100P2 drive with 100 MB Zip disk in front.

Z100P2 drive with disk inserted.

Z100P2 drive with disk inserted.

Rear sockets of Z100P2 drive.

Rear sockets of Z100P2 drive.

Back in 1998 I purchased what was then a state-of-the-art storage medium: an external Iomega Zip 100 drive, which used removable 100 MB ‘SuperFloppy’ disks. Until 2002 I backed up my important files on removable Zip 100 MB disks. Over several years in the 1990s Iomega released various models of the Zip 100 MB drive: internal SCSI; internal IDE; internal ATAPI; external DB-25 IEEE 1284 parallel port; external USB 1.1. I bought the external DB-25 IEEE 1284 parallel port model Z100P2. When affordable CD drives and external hard disk drives started to appear I began using those for backups instead, and the Zip drive and a box full of Zip 100 MB disks had been gathering dust on a shelf at home since I stopped using them in 2002.

Now, I was fairly sure I had copied all the files off those Zip disks all those years ago, but recently I wanted to check the contents and then wipe the disks prior to disposing of them and the drive. The trouble was, I have not owned a computer with a legacy parallel port for many years. This is the story of how I managed to use the Zip 100 drive again after a hiatus of some nineteen years.

Notice that the drive has a second DB-25 port with the icon of a printer above it. That socket is to allow a legacy parallel port printer to be connected (‘daisy chained’) to the computer at the same time as the Zip 100 drive. I have not owned a parallel port printer for many years, so that port is of no interest to me.

By the way, the Iomega Zip 100 drive gained rather a bad reputation because of the so-called click of death, although Iomega stated that it affected less than 0.5 percent of all Jaz and Zip drives. I never experienced this problem with my Zip 100 drive and it is still working.


Power supply for Z100P2

When I purchased it in 1998, the Zip 100 drive was supplied with a chunky and rather heavy 240 VAC to 5 VDC PSU. However, I gave that away several years ago with an old 250 MB external USB HDD that required a 5 VDC power supply. So my first job was to get a 5 VDC supply for the Zip 100 drive. I decided to buy a USB-to-barrel-plug cable to power the Zip drive from a USB port on a computer. So I purchased a ‘USB to 5V DC power cable compatible with the Iomega Z100P2 ZIP drive’ from Amazon. The LEDs on the drive lit up and the drive briefly made the expected noise when I connected the drive to a computer using this power cable, so I was making progress. If a computer happens to have USB Type-A ports, this turns out to be a much neater approach than having to use a 5 VDC PSU.

5 Volts DC power socket on Z100P2 and barrel connector of the cable that is connected to the computer via USB Type-A at the other end.

5 Volts DC power socket on Z100P2 and barrel connector of the cable that is connected to the computer via USB Type-A at the other end.

Failed first attempt: USB to legacy parallel port printer adapters do NOT work with parallel Zip drives!

None of my laptops and desktop machines have the legacy DB-25 parallel port that the Z100P2 drive requires. No problem, I thought to myself, I’ll just buy a ‘USB to Printer DB25 25-Pin Parallel Port Cable Adapter’ – there are umpteen of these adapters available on eBay and Amazon. It wasn’t expensive, but I found out the hard way that these cable adapters usually work with parallel printers but definitely do not work with Iomega Zip 100 drives. So I needed to do one of the following:

  • get a parallel printer interface card for a PCIe slot in my modern desktop machines – and hope it would work with a Z100P2 drive;
  • get a legacy computer with a bidirectional parallel port with a DB-25 socket;
  • get a legacy computer with a PCI slot into which I could insert a legacy parallel printer PCI interface card (assuming I could get hold of one).

Computer with legacy parallel port

I searched eBay and found a second-hand Dell OptiPlex 780 SFF (Small Form Factor) with a legacy DB-25 parallel port (connected to the motherboard rather than to a card in one of its PCI slots), Intel Pentium E5800 CPU (3.20 GHz, 800 Mz FSB), 4 GB of PC3-10600U (1333 MHz) DDR3 DIMM memory and Windows 10 Pro installed with a valid licence. It also has plenty of USB 2.0 Type-A ports, convenient for the USB-to-barrel-plug cable I bought to power the Z100P2 drive. The price was very reasonable indeed, so I bought it in the hope that it would be usable. The vendor assured me that Windows 10 detected the parallel port and no errors were reported, but the vendor had no legacy devices (e.g. parallel port printer) with which to actually test the port. Anyway, as it was so cheap I took a gamble and purchased it, although my research on the Web had already indicated that Windows 10 does not support parallel port Iomega Zip drives. I was thinking I could either try using a virtual machine or just wipe Windows 10 and install Linux on the machine.

The FSB speed of the legacy CPU actually limits the memory speed to 800 MHz, but performance is not too bad. I actually replaced the 4 GB of PC3-10600U memory with 8 GB of PC3-12800U (1600 MHz) memory (Crucial CT51264BD160B.C16FED2) which I purchased for a very good price on eBay, although upgrading to 8 GB of memory was not necessary for the purpose of getting the Zip 100 drive working. I decided to increase the memory because the machine is in a nice condition so I will keep it for future projects, which might need more memory.

By the way, the Dell documentation for the OptiPlex 780 SFF that I downloaded from Dell’s Web site states that the machine can only use 1066 MHz memory modules or 1333 MHz memory modules, and the 1333 MHz memory modules would only be able to have a speed of 1066 MHz. What is not obvious is that the documentation assumes that one of the E6xxx series or E7xxx series Wolfdale-3M CPUs (45 nm) is installed, as the speed of the FSB (Front Side Bus) of those CPUs is 1066 MHz. The earlier Wolfdale-3M CPUs which are installed in some OptiPlex 780 SFF machines have a FSB speed of 800 MHz, so even 1066 MHz memory modules are only going to have a speed of 800 MHz in those machines. The Wolfdale-3M CPU in my Dell machine is an E5800, which has a FSB speed of 800 MHz, so the memory speed is limited to 800 MHz (as confirmed on the BIOS System Setup screen, by the CPU-Z utility program running in Windows 10 (2 x 399.0 MHz), and by the Linux commands ‘sudo dmidecode --type 17‘ and ‘sudo lshw -short -C memory‘). The Crucial CT51264BD160B.C16FED2 PC3-12800 modules work fine in the machine, albeit limited to 800 MHz due to the CPU bus speed. On another note, if you happen to be looking for memory for a Dell OptiPlex 780 SFF, do NOT buy CT51264BD160BJ modules: the ‘J’ stands for ‘high-density’, and high-density modules do not work in this model.

Parallel port settings in the PC BIOS

The refurbished Dell OptiPlex 780 SFF has the following user-selectable options:

  1. Disable = Port is disabled
  2. AT = Port is configured for IBM AT compatibility
  3. PS/2 = Port is configured for IBM PS/2 compatibility
  4. EPP = Enhanced Parallel Port protocol
  5. ECP No DMA = Extended Capability Port protocol with no DMA
  6. ECP DMA 1 = Extended Capability Port protocol with DMA 1
  7. ECP DMA 3 = Extended Capability Port protocol with DMA 3

The BIOS had option ‘PS/2’ selected when I received the machine, which I eventually changed to ‘ECP No DMA’ but I think that was unnecessary.

The BIOS also had the Parallel Port Address set to 378h when I received it, and I left it as that.

Data connection

Fortunately I still had the original parallel cable to connect the Zip drive to a DB-25 parallel port on a computer.

Z100P2 end of cable connected to computer parallel port.

Z100P2 end of cable connected to computer parallel port.

Rear of legacy Dell PC with Z100P2 cable connected to the parallel port, and USB-to-barrel-plug power cable connected to a USB port.

Rear of legacy Dell PC with Z100P2 cable connected to the parallel port, and USB-to-barrel-plug power cable connected to a USB port.


First attempt – Failure: Windows XP in a VirtualBox virtual machine

My original intention was to wipe Windows 10 from the Dell machine and install Linux to see if I could get Linux to access the Zip drive. But, on second thoughts, I decided I might have a better chance in Windows because my research on the Web had already indicated that several people had successfully used Iomega Zip 100 parallel-port drives with Windows XP running in a virtual machine under Windows 10. I carefully followed a detailed article on how to do this using VirtualBox (How to use iomega zip 100 with parallel port on a windows 10 computer (so long as you have a free PCI slot)), but the Zip drive would not work with the Dell machine. I tried every BIOS option for the parallel port; I tried allowing Windows XP to install the driver; I installed the last official Iomega issue of the driver for Windows XP. Nothing worked.

Second attempt – Failure: Lubuntu 20.10 in a VirtualBox virtual machine

Then I decided to try installing Linux in a VirtualBox virtual machine under Windows 10. I chose Lubuntu 20.10 because it already has the necessary ppa (for older Zip parallel-port drives like mine) and the imm (for later versions of Zip 100 parallel-port drives than mine) modules built and either could simply be loaded from the command line. But that couldn’t access the drive either. Again, I tried without success every BIOS option for the parallel port.

Third attempt – Success: Live Lubuntu 20.10 on a USB pendrive

I was resigned to wiping Windows 10 and installing a Linux distribution when I had a brainwave: Why not try a Live Linux distribution? I used the mkusb utility to create a persistent installation of Live Lubuntu 20.10 on a USB pendrive (it had to use PC BIOS, as the legacy Dell machine does not support UEFI), booted it and used the command modprobe ppa to load the ppa parallel port driver. Shazam! The drive became device /dev/sdc4 and was auto-mounted as ‘ZIP-100’ in the LXQt file manager window. I can browse all the files on the 100 MB ZIP disks. It’s fast, too. I wish I’d thought of trying that first. I could have reformatted the disks with a Linux filesystem (ext4 or whatever) if I wanted to do that.

I then downloaded from a Debian amd64 repository the binary package for a 1996 Linux GUI utility named ‘jaZip‘ that someone named Jarrod Smith (thank you!) wrote in 1996 for Iomega Jaz and Zip drives, and I installed it easily in the Live Lubuntu 20.10 environment. It works perfectly, allowing me to mount, unmount, lock, unlock and eject Zip 100 MB disks. Linux came to the rescue again. I’m chuffed. Below are details of the steps I took to create a persistent Live USB pendrive with Lubuntu 20.10 with the ability to use my Iomega Z100P2 drive connected to the Dell OptiPlex 780 SFF PC.

By the way, a persistent Live Linux USB pendrive is not essential, it just means you don’t have to manually load the ppa module, re-install jaZip and configure it every time you boot the Live Linux environment.

1. Download the ISO of Lubuntu 20.10 from the official Lubuntu Web site.

2. Use the procedure in the following ‘How To’ article to create a persistent Live pendrive of Lubuntu 20.10 by using the utility mkusb:

Create a persistent Ubuntu USB which boots to RAM

The mkusb windows in that 2016 article are a bit different to those in the version of mkusb (12.3.9) that was installed by following the procedure, but it is fairly obvious what to do. Select the old user interface (Option e: Old User Interface). There is no need to perform the steps in ‘Extra: Boot the Live USB to RAM’ because it is now done automatically for you and added to the GRUB boot menu as an additional option.

3. Once I had created the persistent Live pendrive, I booted it and performed the installation procedure for jaZip, and configured the persistent Live installation. The console output for all these steps is shown below:

lubuntu@lubuntu:~$ sudo apt install libforms2
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree       
Reading state information... Done
The following NEW packages will be installed:
0 upgraded, 1 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 327 kB of archives.
After this operation, 975 kB of additional disk space will be used.
Get:1 groovy/universe amd64 libforms2 amd64 1.2.3-1.4 [327 kB]
Fetched 327 kB in 0s (807 kB/s)  
Selecting previously unselected package libforms2.
(Reading database ... 240052 files and directories currently installed.)
Preparing to unpack .../libforms2_1.2.3-1.4_amd64.deb ...
Unpacking libforms2 (1.2.3-1.4) ...
Setting up libforms2 (1.2.3-1.4) ...
Processing triggers for libc-bin (2.32-0ubuntu3) ...
lubuntu@lubuntu:~$ cd ~/Downloads
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ wget
--2021-04-14 15:09:15--
Resolving ( 2001:1b40:5600:ff80:f8ee::1,
Connecting to (|2001:1b40:5600:ff80:f8ee::1|:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
Length: 81280 (79K) [application/octet-stream]
Saving to: ‘jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.deb’ 100%[===========================================>]  79.38K  --.-KB/s    in 0.08s

2021-04-14 15:09:15 (941 KB/s) - ‘jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.deb’ saved [81280/81280]

lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo dpkg -i jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.deb
Selecting previously unselected package jazip.
(Reading database ... 240059 files and directories currently installed.)
Preparing to unpack jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.deb ...
Unpacking jazip (0.34-15.1+b2) ...
Setting up jazip (0.34-15.1+b2) ...
Processing triggers for man-db (2.9.3-2) ...
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo adduser lubuntu floppy
Adding user `lubuntu' to group `floppy' ...
Adding user lubuntu to group floppy
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo modprobe ppa # Load the parallel port driver for the Zip drive.
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo blkid # Check if the Zip drive has now been detected.
/dev/sda1: LABEL="system" BLOCK_SIZE="512" UUID="BCF27E52F27E10BE" TYPE="ntfs" PARTUUID="6da119a3-01"
/dev/sda2: LABEL="windows" BLOCK_SIZE="512" UUID="527280DF7280C8E5" TYPE="ntfs" PARTUUID="6da119a3-02"
/dev/sdb1: LABEL="usbdata" BLOCK_SIZE="512" UUID="347345C33A9B90D1" TYPE="ntfs" PARTUUID="793c91c2-01"
/dev/sdb3: LABEL_FATBOOT="lub201064" LABEL="lub201064" UUID="7EAA-D59C" BLOCK_SIZE="512" TYPE="vfat" PARTUUID="793c91c2-03"
/dev/sdb4: BLOCK_SIZE="2048" UUID="2020-10-22-14-26-38-00" LABEL="Lubuntu 20.10 amd64" TYPE="iso9660" PTUUID="509643ab-f22d-4d70-8a47-8708c562cbfe" PTTYPE="gpt" PARTUUID="793c91c2-04"
/dev/loop0: TYPE="squashfs"
/dev/sdb5: LABEL="casper-rw" UUID="55459d4d-48f3-4b50-bd9b-3fd71e552bb2" BLOCK_SIZE="4096" TYPE="ext4" PARTUUID="793c91c2-05"
/dev/zram0: UUID="073aa55f-241b-4deb-b6a0-907676dfff65" TYPE="swap"
/dev/zram1: UUID="692d4cc6-21fa-48b8-8ef7-948dc13dec53" TYPE="swap"
/dev/sdc4: SEC_TYPE="msdos" LABEL_FATBOOT="ZIP-100" LABEL="ZIP-100" UUID="15F9-2C71" BLOCK_SIZE="512" TYPE="vfat" PARTUUID="726a014e-04"
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo mkdir -p /media/lubuntu/ZIP-100
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo /usr/sbin/jazipconfig
There are currently no entries in /etc/jazip.conf.

Zip devices detected on the system:

  1:  Device /dev/sdc

There are no Jaz devices detected on the system.

Available commands:
 (a)dd an entry listed from detected devices.
 (c)reate an entry from scratch.
 (q)uit without saving.
 (e)xit and save changes.
                           ? a

What mount point? (e.g. /zip) /media/lubuntu/ZIP-100
These are the entries currently selected for /etc/jazip.conf:

  1:   Device /dev/sdc   Mount point /media/lubuntu/ZIP-100

There are no other Zip devices detected on the system.

There are no Jaz devices detected on the system.

Available commands:
 (d)elete an entry from /etc/jazip.conf
 (c)reate an entry from scratch.
 (q)uit without saving.
 (e)xit and save changes.
                           ? e
Creating /etc/jazip.conf
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ cat /etc/jazip.conf
# Configuration file for jaZip
# Raw Device         Mount Point                  Read but ignored
  /dev/sdc              /media/lubuntu/ZIP-100                      auto    auto        0 0
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo jazip # Launch jaZip.
ERROR! Couldn't write entry to /etc/mtab.
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo jazip # Launch jaZip.
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo nano /etc/modules # Add ppa so it gets loaded automatically.

4. Add a jaZip icon on the Linux Desktop so that you can launch jaZip easily:

4.1 Create the file /home/lubuntu/Desktop/jazip.desktop containing:

[Desktop Entry]
GenericName=Manage Iomega Jaz and Zip drives

4.2 Right-click on the icon on the Desktop and tick ‘Trust this executable’.

4.3 Create the file /home/lubuntu/ containing:

lxqt-sudo nohup jazip &

4.4 Make it executable:

lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ chmod +x ~/
jaZip window open on the Lubuntu 20.10 Desktop.

jaZip window open on the Lubuntu 20.10 Desktop.

What a pleasure to find that the ppa module, which has been part of the kernel distribution since sometime in the 1.3.x series, is still available and working in today’s Linux kernels, and that jaZip, a utility program for Linux originally released in 1996 and last updated (as far as I can tell) in the year 2001, still works in today’s Linux to manage hardware that has been obsolete for almost as long.

Using jaZip to mount a Zip disk will mount the disk with ownership root:root. Therefore, if I want to copy files to a Zip disk, instead of using jaZip to mount and unmount the disk I click on the device ‘101 MB Volume’ that appears in the Lists pane of the PCManFM-Qt file manager window after a Zip disk is inserted in the drive. I just use jaZip to eject the Zip disk from the drive after unmounting it by clicking on the Unmount icon in the Lists pane of PCManFM-Qt.