I don’t feature products often, but this one deserves it

Zalman, a Korean company that filed for bankruptcy a few years ago and is better known for silent CPU and chassis fans and power supplies, is selling a range of devices that are being designed and produced by another Korean company: iODD.

But let me start differently. For years and years I’ve searched for a viable solution that allows me to boot straight from ISO images. Yes, I am aware that some progress was made for machines with lots of RAM and with special BIOS or UEFI features, but none of those really cut it. When in 2012 I came across the ISOStick, I was quite charmed. A USB key sized device, microSD slot for up to 64 GiB and it promised to pose itself as a CD/DVD, short an optical disk drive or ODD. The read/write switch in hardware was a nice addition to the bundle. However, despite initial promises by the developer to open up the source base by the end of 2013, ISOStick is still a closed platform even now. We know the chip, we have exposed JTAG pins, so we could theoretically do it ourselves. But while I initially thought about it, I have discarded that idea on account of the fact that the μSD-card used by the ISOstick slows it down considerably and imposes size limits.

Anyway, the ISOStick didn’t deliver what it promised. Not only did it work on very very few computers I have tried (despite trying certain obscure methods discussed on the reboot.pro subforum for the ISOStick), it actually doesn’t work on any modern machine for me. So instead of saving me from carrying that stack of CDs and DVDs I am in for a surprise when I need it. Oh well …

The device that iODD produces under the denomination iodd2541 and which Zalman sells as ZM-VE400 comes to the rescue. I was first pointed to it in a comment about the ISOStick in which another commenter also pointed out how unreliable the ISOStick actually was (yes, I purchased two, still have them and they were not exactly cheap; so advertised functionality should be expected).

It’s not just a USB 3.0 drive enclosure, it also contains an emulation of an optical disc drive (ODD) similar to how the ISOStick promises. But it also contains a backlit display and a keypad for selecting the ISO image you want to mount. Best of all: underneath the _iso folder in the root of the drive, you can create your own folder structure which will be reflected in the menu that you get to navigate via display and keypad1.

Anyway, another product called Digitus MegaMount has come to my attention. But for starters it is sold out in Germany and the producer doesn’t seem to have any intention of continuing production according to the shops. Probably they figured that the feature set is not too different from the Zalman ZM-VE300, the little brother of the ZM-VE400 discussed above and the ZM-VE500 which has since become available.

Anyway: to anyone who is looking for a way to boot from ISO files by emulating optical disc drives I will readily recommend the ZM-VE400 or ZMVE500. I own both and I am happy2.

// Oliver

PS: I do not promote any products for money, so don’t even bother in an attempt to contact me. Yeah, I know you will anyway, but I will anyway put you on my special blacklist 😉
PPS: this article has been in the pipeline for more than five years, but better late than never.

  1. It is also said to contain a hardware encryption (AES-256 based), but I have not tried that as it requires wiping the contents and then repopulating the drive. However, it sounds promising. []
  2. The touch pad on the ZM-VE400 is somewhat of an issue, you have to get used to it. It doesn’t work as easy as a smartphone touch screen, but once you figure out your device, it works like a charm. And yes, since I own four ZM-VE400 purchased at different times, owned one iODD-branded identical device and own one ZM-VE500, I think I can tell to some extent. But the touchpad is definitely a point of criticism. But with the ZM-VE500 in my book it has improved quite a bit. []
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