Review: Iomega Rev 120GB Backup Drive

by Gerry Blackwell

The company's latest addition to the Rev backup drive family offers even more capacity thanks to a new technology, plus the typical speed and reliability we've come to expect from Iomega.

The Iomega Rev 120GB Backup Drive, the third generation of the company's popular removable hard disk backup technology, is a compelling alternative for small businesses considering tape or other options for offsite backup and archiving.

Introduced in early April and available now, the Rev 120GB can read new, larger-capacity 120 GB disks thanks to a hard drive technology called perpendicular recording. This method stacks data vertically, or perpendicular to the disk instead of horizontally or parallel to the disk (also called longitudinal recording). The end result is that individual disks can hold a lot more data.

Iomega Rev 120GB Backup Drive
The Iomega Rev 120GB Backup Drive offers speed, versatility and easy portability.

The first and second generation Rev drives use 35GB and 70GB capacity disks respectively. If you own an older Rev, take note: The new 120GB drive is backward compatible with the 70GB disks for reading data only – it can't write data to 70GB disks. It does not work at all with the even-older 35GB disks.

Compact Cartridge

In the Rev system, the removable part is a compact cartridge with just the 2.5-inch disk platter and spindle motor. The cartridge is only 2.95 x 3.03 x 0.39-inches and weighs 2.58 ounces. The rest of the mechanics and electronics, including the shock-sensitive read/write heads, are in the drive unit, which means if you drop a disk, you don't have to worry about damaging your data.

The new drive comes in two workstation versions: an external USB 2.0 and an internal SATA. Both include one 120GB disk and Retrospect Express backup software from EMC. The USB version lists for $500, the SATA version for $480. (The Rev 70GB drive debuted at $600 in 2006.) Additional disks sell for $75 each or five for $325.

Iomega also offers backup kits, bundles designed for use with a server. They come with either USB or SATA interface – $700 or $680 – and include five 120GB discs and a version of CA’s more advanced BrightStor ARCserve Backup software with disaster recovery functionality.

With the price of the Rev products dropping and storage capacity increasing, Iomega claims it offer a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than other backup solutions, including LTO, DAT and DLT tape, Blu-Ray optical discs and competing removable hard disk products.

According to Iomega’s calculations, over a five year period the Rev 120GB technology is 64 percent less expensive than DAT160, 67 percent less expensive than LTO1 and 53 percent less expensive than Blu-ray 50GB.

The company calculated TCO as the initial drive cost, plus initial cost of media (the disk or tape cartridge), plus the media replacement cost per year and labor cost to change the media, times five years.

Portability Factor

The Rev 120 offers the advantage of a compact, lightweight cartridge you can take out and transport to another location to store backup or archive files offsite. Storing both types of files offsite is a good idea. If you keep your backups onsite, you risk losing critical data in the event of a fire or burglary.

Many fixed external hard drives are also small enough to transport offsite on a daily or weekly basis, but this is not a practical solution because hard drives are vulnerable to damage in transit. The Rev disks, once removed from the drive, are rugged and sealed to keep out dust and dirt.

Fixed external hard drives are a lot less expensive, though. (Iomega doesn’t include them in its TCO comparisons.) Name-brand 500GB drives sell for as little as $100 – or 20 cents per gigabyte. Initial cost per gigabyte for Rev, even if you buy one of the economical five-disk bundles, is more than $1. Fixed USB drives are slightly faster too, as we’ll see.

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Speed Factor

Iomega conducted a survey of its customers and found that 25 to 30 percent were moving from tape backup to the Rev drive because of improved speed and ease of use. While we weren't able to compare Rev to a tape-backup system, we wondered how it would stand up to external hard drives – a common backup solution for many small businesses.

Iomega claims transfer rates – the rate at which you can copy or move data from the computer to a Rev 120GB drive – are “up to” 35 megabytes per second. We compared the transfer rates of the Rev drive and a fixed USB drive from a different manufacturer.

It took 18.6 seconds to transfer a 437MB file from the computer’s internal hard drive to the fixed USB drive. And it took 22.3 seconds to move the same file to the Rev 120GB drive – approximately 20 percent slower.

The Rev transfer rate is still very fast, and it's significantly faster than transferring data to a network-attached storage (NAS) drive, another popular small business storage /backup option. With NAS, you can backup several computers to the same drive over a network. But backing up over a network takes significantly longer than backing up to a Rev drive -- it took 66 seconds to move the same file over a 100-Mbps Ethernet link to a NAS drive.

Small businesses can use Rev to back up several workstations in an office over a network. But the Rev drive has to be connected to a server. It can’t connect to a network on its own like a NAS unit.

Simple Installation

We tested the USB version of the Rev 120GB drive on a Windows XP laptop, and, like its Rev ancestors, setting it up was simple and hassle free – if slightly counter-intuitive. You install the Iomega software, turn off the computer, plug the drive in using the USB cable, power it on, and only then reboot your computer.

On a Windows machine, once you insert a disk in the Rev drive, it appears in My Computer with a drive letter and behaves like any other attached drive. Installing Retrospect Express was also uneventful. The EMC software provides all the functionality that most small businesses will ever need.

Retrospect lets you set up conventional backups that create compressed files, which take up half the space of the originals. To reconstitute the original files, though, you have to use the relatively time-consuming Recover function.

The software gives you the option to create Duplicate backups as well. They copy entire folders or volumes, retaining the original file structure. Individual files in a Duplicate are accessible any time without going through the Recover process.

Retrospect also offers sophisticated scripting so you can schedule automatic backups.

Bottom Line

As a small business backup solution, Rev is not a slam-dunk, but it's close. It offers speed, versatility and easy portability, a useful combination for just about any small business. It can be used for both onsite and offsite backup and for backing up individual workstations or whole offices. And, according to analyst group IDC, it outsold all its competitors combined last year.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s.

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This article was originally published on Tuesday Apr 29th 2008
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