You don’t want to know how long it took for me to get a functioning Jaz drive from Iomega, but I tell you anyway. Mein kampf in less than a page. Heart of darkness (“The horror! The horror!”) to Shangri-La. Eighth wonder of the world or desktop Three Mile Island? Presenting yet another sure-fire insomnia cure of a review.

In a move that, in terms of sheer idiocy, must have rivalled Custer’s strategy (i.e. “Let’s git’em!”) at the Little Bighorn, I bought one of the first Jaz drives to hit the market. Known as being on the “cutting edge” (aka “bleeding edge”) of technology, this kind of stunt makes Evel Knievel look sane. Please kids, don’t try this at home. If there’s something dumber than being an early adopter, I’m not sure I can think of it in time to put it in this review. Not only did I pay more ($615 vs. the current $399), but the initial promise and failure to deliver was utterly heart-breaking.

My original Jaz, a very fast 1 gigabyte (that’s 1000 megabytes) removable cartridge drive, worked properly for about two months. It then sputtered and croaked its way through another month of service before I was required to enter the la-la land of Iomega tech support. And what a nightmare that turned out to be.

As a complete chronology would bore even the hardiest of you to tears, suffice to say that I made 7 calls to tech support, 3 calls to the “fax-back number” (without ever receiving a fax back), 4 calls to the repair center, 3 calls to Iomega corporate and twice sent my drive to the repair shop. I won’t go into further details, but frankly, a lesser man would’ve been destroyed. As is, I’ve got a facial twitch, and I get real jumpy whenever somebody puts me on hold. My wife got tired of finding clumps of my hair around the house, too. Ultimately, however, the God of Technology smiled upon me, and Iomega, righting an unimaginable wrong, just shipped me a replacement drive.

My understanding, as flawed as it often is, is that Iomega has made a number of quality control improvements since the first batch of Jaz drives came out of the shoot. Well, gidee-up. It’s about time. Being on the bleeding edge, in a word, sucks.

How does the new drive work? Thank you for asking. It’s quiet, it’s fast and it holds tons of info. I’ve got hundreds of megs of desktop publishing files, Quicktime movies, etc. stored and accessing them is faster than accessing stuff on my hard drive. I’m planning on buying a Roland XP-80 workstation (a music keyboard) and recording digital audio later this year, and I’ll post an update for the Jaz’ capacities in that area later. Thus far, it’s been terrific.

The 1-gig cartridges used by the Jaz aren’t nearly as sturdy as Zip cartridges or floppy disks. You would never want to play frisbee with one of these $100 things and stick it back in the drive. The kind of bumping and grinding you’d get wouldn’t make anyone happy. I have three cartridges currently (3 gigs!), and they all seem to work fine. I’m not sure what Iomega’s policy is on replacing bad media, though I sure hope to God I don’t have to find out.

Jaz’ main competition is the new Syquest Syjet which, like the Six Million Dollar Man, is bigger, stronger, faster, and they can rebuild him. It’s priced about the same, too. Nonetheless, the Syjet is coming very late to the party and will undoubtedly have trouble finding a dance partner. Like Iomega’s little brother product, the Zip drive, the Jaz is entrenched in a number of quarters and Syquest faces a decidedly uphill climb. (Let’s see, is that four mixed metaphors? I’ve lost count.)

Hey! I thought of it! The only thing dumber than being an early adopter…is being an adopter of orphaned technology. (And you thought I was losing my edge.) It’s no state secret that Syquest has been getting their butts kicked all over the map in the removable storage arena, and there’s some question as to how much longer they will remain a solvent company. So if you’re considering a Syjet, you might want to wait for a month or two to see how sales are going.

Is the Jaz worth it for you? Given current hard drive prices, you can get a 2.1 gig for around $350. So Jaz owners will need to buy at least three or four additional cartridges ($100 each) to hit break-even in terms of price-per-megabyte. Do you need that much storage capacity? If you’re an audio/video person, yeah. If you’re not…well, Jaz is pretty portable and you can even get a nifty carry case for $30. So you make the call…

When the Jaz works, it’s one of the greatest peripherals around. Now that I’ve got a working model, I can’t begin to describe my feelings of relief. Finally, the long national nightmare is over.