What are floppy disk drives?

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Floppy disk drives were invented by IBM and were available in 3 sizes - 8 inch, 5 1/4 inch and 3 1/2 inch.

As an early form of data storage, they stayed around for approximately thirty years - from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s.

You will still find floppy drives in old computers and even new ones by builder's choice. However, these "old faithfuls" have been overcome by optical drives, USB flash drives, external hard drives, memory cards, etc.

Floppy disk drives (FDD) made it possible for the computer user to store data. A floppy disk drive reads and writes data to a floppy disk.

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Originally, these drives were the "way to go" for data to be added to computers until cd drives were introduced and became popular. It was a very important computer part for many years.

When used, the floppy's function could either be to save data for a backup copy or to transfer data to another computer.

Although these faithful drives are almost obsolete, you'll still see instances of this drive combined with multi-card readers. This configuration still enables reading and writing to memory cards.

Most small consumer electronics are now fitted with media cards for saving data; hence card readers can facilitate the transfer of data from these memory cards to a PC. Click here to view a Floppy Drive with Multi Card Reader. icon

What is a floppy disk?

A floppy disk is a removable data storage medium which has a limited storage capacity. It consists of a thin flexible magnetic storage disk enclosed in a square plastic case.

When the ‘floppy’ (as it is sometimes called) is inserted into the drive, it spins at a high speed while data is recorded to it on one or both sides.

Floppy disks are inexpensive but have slow access speed. It normally holds 1.4 megabytes (MB) of data and is also called a 'diskette'.

The case of the 3.5-inch square disk protects the flexible disk inside.

Floppy Disk Drives – History

These drives originally used 8 inch disks but they eventually got smaller and used a 5.25 inch disk. Then in the 1980s, a 3.5 inch, 1.4 megabyte (MB) capacity floppy disk was introduced by Sony. This is the floppy that is known by today’s computer user.

Write Protect:

The 3.5 inch disk has a ‘write protect’ slider that enables or disables writing to the disk. 'Write-protection' prevents data on your disks from being overwritten or changed.

Moving the slider to expose the tiny square slot in the diskette 'write protects' the diskette; while closing the slot, it disables 'write protection'.

Floppy disks – Formatting:

Before using a floppy disk, you should ensure that it is formatted. This prepares the diskette for writing. You could either buy them pre-formatted or format them yourself.

Floppy Disks – Low Density vs. High Density:

3.5 inch floppy diskettes come in low and high density formats. The density is the amount of space that the diskette has for storing data.

A low density diskette is for storing small amounts of information. They can store approximately 720 KB (kilobytes) of data while high density (HD) diskettes will store 1.44 MB (megabytes) of data. Low density diskettes have now become obsolete.

Caring your floppy disks:

  • To prevent loss of data, never use a floppy disk near magnetic fields including telephones.
  • Never expose disks to excessive temperatures.
  • Always keep diskettes in a storage container when not being used.
  • Keep disks away from food and drink.

Final Thoughts

USB Flash Drives are now the way to go because of their portability and ability to store large amounts of data in a small, portable configuration.


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