Floppy Disk: An Introduction to the Vintage Storage Device

Aaron Paul updated on Aug 24, 2022 to Knowledge Center

The floppy disk has been around for decades, and there was a time when the floppy disk was an essential piece of technology. Even though they seem archaic by today's standards, they were once the best way to store data. But what exactly are floppy disks? How do they work? And why can't we just use USB flash drives or external hard drives? The following guide gives you everything you need to know about floppy disks, from how they came to their everyday uses.

what is a floppy disk

What is a floppy disk?

A floppy disk or floppy diskette, also known as a floppy, or a diskette, is a type of storage device composed of a thin, circular piece of magnetic storage media encased in a rectangular plastic shell. They are encased in a protective jacket called a sleeve. The floppy disk can be read and written via a floppy disk drive (FDD). The FDD inserts the floppy disk into a loading slot, where a read/write head on the arm accesses the data track of the spinning disk. When not in use, the FDD's arm rests on an inner rail inside the drive to keep the head from touching the disk and damaging it. During the 1980s and 1990s, they were very popular and supported by most operating systems.

Brief history of the floppy disk

You might start thinking about when the floppy disk was invented and who invented it. The answer is that it was created in 1967 by IBM engineer Alan Shugart as an inexpensive way to store data on mainframe computers.

The first floppy disks were 8 inches in diameter and could store 80 kilobytes of data. In 1971, IBM released the first commercially available floppy disk drive, the 8-inch Model 5150. The following year, Shugart Associates introduced the 5.25-inch floppy disk. It could store 100 kilobytes of data and quickly became the standard for personal computers.

In 1981, Sony released the 3.5-inch floppy disk, which could store 1 megabyte of data. Then the 3.5-inch floppy disks became the standard for personal computers and remained popular until the late 1990s, when flash drives and other removable storage devices took their place.

What were the different sizes of the floppy-disk?

There were three main types of floppy disks: 8-inch, 5¼-inch, and 3½-inch:

IBM different floppy disk sizes

Evolution of floppy disks: from 8-inch to 5¼-inch, and down to 3½-inch (Image credit: IBM)

 

  • The early 1970s saw the rise of 8-inch floppy drives. These were primarily used as read-only storage until they became capable of data transfer and archiving. Thanks to their physicality, they gave us all that is known today as 'floppy.'
  • The 5¼-inch floppy drives were a popular computer storage medium that could store data between 360 kilobytes and 1.2 megabytes. Some manufacturers also made double-sided floppies - which means you could write onto both sides at once without any problems whatsoever (until someone tried writing over what already existed).
  • The 3½-inch floppy disk is a type of storage medium that can store more information than the 5¼ drive. It can hold around 1.44 megabytes on a high-density disk, making this an excellent choice for installations with Macintosh computers.

What were floppy disks used for?

People commonly use floppy disks to store small amounts of data, such as text files, images, or videos. You could also use them to store programs or games that could be loaded into a computer's memory and run from there. People also used floppy disks to transfer data between computers. For example, if you wanted to share a document with someone, you could save it to a floppy disk and then give them the disk. You can also create a bootable USB with a floppy disk to start a computer in a situation where the operating system is corrupt or missing.

Are floppy disks still used today?

Floppy disks are not as common as they once were, but they are still used today in various applications. For example, some businesses use them to store data that is not sensitive enough to warrant the use of more expensive storage options, such as CDs or DVDs. They are also sometimes used in vintage computer systems or for transferring data between computers that do not have access to the Internet. Additionally, some embedded systems still rely on floppy disks because they are a simple and robust way to store data.

Final words

Although floppy disks are no longer in mainstream use, they continue to have a place in some industries and can be used for certain tasks. If you need to use or store files on floppy disks, make sure you know which type will work with your equipment. For most people, however, the cloud is a more reliable and convenient way to store data.

 

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