Learn all about the floppy disk drive and find out how this classic invention is faring now against modern technology. Keep reading to find out more.
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In this article:
- Floppy Disk History: Where Did It Originate?
- Floppy Disk and Floppy Disk Drive: What’s the Difference?
- What Are the Functions of a Floppy Disk Drive?
- What Are the Types of Floppy Disk?
- What Is the Storage Capacity of a Floppy Disk?
- What Are the Floppy Disk Advantages and Disadvantages?
- Are FDD and Floppy Disk Still Manufactured?
- Why Are FDD and Floppy Disk Rarely Used Today?
- What Replaced the FDD and Floppy Disk?
- How Can You Upcycle a Floppy Disk?
All About the Floppy Disk Drive: Its History and Applications
Floppy Disk History: Where Did It Originate?
Before the CD-ROM became popular, people added data to a computer using the floppy disk drive (FDD). It was an important part of personal computers for more than 20 years.
Alan Shugart of IBM invented the floppy disk drive in 1967. IBM then started selling it in 1971 and had the drive and floppy disk patented in 1972.
The floppy disk turned out to be revolutionary. Because it is portable, it provided a convenient way to transfer data from one computer to another.
Floppy Disk and Floppy Disk Drive: What’s the Difference?
To familiarize yourself with the terminology and avoid confusion, here’s what you need to remember:
What is a Floppy Disk?
- The floppy disk is a magnetic storage device used for computer systems. It’s a flexible and thin magnetic disk encased in a square-shaped plastic.
- Also known as “diskette”, it uses one or two sides for recording.
- It’s commonly 3.5 inches in size.
What is a Floppy Disk Drive (FDD)?
- The floppy disk drive (FDD) is the electromechanical device that writes data to and reads data from floppy disks.
- It captures its center and spins it like a record. Then, the read/write head makes contact with the surface through the envelope or plastic shell’s opening.
- Reading and writing data from a floppy disk is possible when your computer system has an FDD.
What Are the Functions of a Floppy Disk Drive?
As mentioned, its basic function is to read and write data on the floppy’s magnetic disk. The most common floppy disk drive functions are as follows:
- Transfer small amounts of data from one computer to another
- Back up small important files stored in the hard disk
- Act as storage for restricted files that you want to keep away from your computer’s users
What Are the Types of Floppy Disk?
The pioneer floppy drives used an 8-inch disk. A flexible plastic packaging protected it, and as it became smaller in size, it was later called the diskette.
Eventually, the 8-inch disk became the 5.25-inch disk. The first IBM Personal Computer used this in August 1981.
The 5.25-inch disk got the moniker “floppy” because its packaging was a plastic envelope that was flexible.
The mid-1980’s brought about improvements to the floppy in terms of the read/write heads’ designs and the magnetic recording media.
This led to the creation of the 3.5-inch FDD, which is still used today. It has a rigid plastic case with a sliding metal shutter.
Computers before were able to accommodate both the 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch. Yet during the mid-1990’s, the 5.25-inch version phased out.
This is partly because its recording surface was prone to fingerprint contamination through the access area.
What Is the Storage Capacity of a Floppy Disk?
Compared to the storage sizes of our modern devices today such as USB drives and hard drives, the floppy disk storage capacity contains very little amount of space.
Here are the different floppy disk sizes.
- 8-inch disk — 80 kilobytes
- 5.25-inch disk — 360 kilobytes
- 3.5-inch FDD — 1.44 megabytes
The predecessors of our modern storage devices show how much our technology has progressed since the first FDD came out.
What Are the Floppy Disk Advantages and Disadvantages?
Floppy disks don’t come without their own set of pros and cons. They certainly had a number of advantages, which contributed to their popularity during the ’90’s.
Here are the salient benefits that allowed floppy disks to thrive during their prime years:
- In terms of pricing, they are cheap.
- Floppy disks are portable. Their plastic casing protects the disk, so you don’t need to put it in a case to transport it.
- They have built-in write protection that can protect your data from accidental erasure or overwriting.
- Floppy disks are often compatible with early computers, which may not recognize modern data storage devices.
- You can turn them into boot disks by saving the right boot program in it. When you use a floppy disk to boot, you can check your system’s memory for errors and troubleshoot them if needed.
- They are reusable.
There are also disadvantages to using floppy disks, which contributed to the dwindled market demand for them. These are the most notable:
- They have a lot less storage capacity than modern storage devices.
- Heat and magnetic field can affect their quality and performance.
- They are very sensitive to moisture and dust.
- They have a low data transfer rate.
- Many newer computers don’t have a floppy drive, which makes it an unreliable storage device.
- Floppy disks’ plastic cases are more flexible than sturdy.
Are FDD and Floppy Disk Still Manufactured?
Decades after their prime years, you can still find FDD and floppy disks in — guess where — Amazon. There are still companies that make them, and they’re even sold online.
The same goes for the floppy disk, as they’re still available for purchase online. Fair warning, though: some sellers don’t specify if their product is brand new or not, so it’s best to read the fine print before making a purchase.
Why Are FDD and Floppy Disk Rarely Used Today?
Even with modern technology, computers need to have a floppy disk drive to be able to read floppy disk. Yet, a lot of the computers we currently use don’t have this anymore because we now work with file sizes beyond their capacity.
In spite of that, there are still applications that make use of floppy disks:
- Select Sony digital cameras
- ZIP drive (in high-density form)
- When you need data from another computer and your computer is not networked with it
- To facilitate software recovery after a virus attack or a system crash
- As a boot disk to update your personal computer’s BIOS
What Replaced the FDD and Floppy Disk?
The floppy reigned the market during the ’90’s until the early 21st century. Now, new portable and built-in storage devices with a wider range of compatibility and higher data storage replaced them.
The optical disk drive replaced the FDD. This is mostly used for CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays.
Hard disk drives, ZIP drives, and USB flash drives also eventually took over as the primary medium for storage in the market.
How Can You Upcycle a Floppy Disk?
If you still have floppy disks lying around, you don’t need to immediately throw them out. There are many ways how you can upcycle and give them a new purpose!
Scouring the internet for DIY inspirations will give you new ideas. Here are some new things you can create from your old diskettes:
- Diskette pen holder
- Night light holder
- Mini notepad
- Diskette-designed letter card
- Diskette art and art canvas
- Plant holder
- Floppy disk jewelry
- Trash can holder
- Wall clock
Although they’re well past their prime years, people will always remember the floppy disk drive and floppy disk as the useful early storage devices.
You never know when you might need them, so if you still have them, save some for future use. If not, you can always do a floppy disk upcycle or sell used floppy disks.
Great inventions like the FDD and floppy will always find new purpose and relevance to the people who use them.
What new purpose can you find for your old diskettes? Share your ideas with us in the comments section below!