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mass storage

Refers to various techniques and devices for storing large amounts of data. The earliest storage devices were punched paper cards, which were used as early as 1804 to control silk-weaving looms. Modern mass storage devices include all types of disk drives and tape drives. Mass storage is distinct from memory, which refers to temporary storage areas within the computer. Unlike main memory, mass storage devices retain data even when the computer is turned off.

The main types of mass storage are:

  • floppy disks : Relatively slow and have a small capacity, but they are portable, inexpensive, and universal.
  • hard disks : Very fast and with more capacity than floppy disks, but also more expensive. Some hard disk systems are portable (removable cartridges), but most are not.
  • optical disks : Unlike floppy and hard disks, which use electromagnetism to encode data, optical disk systems use a laser to read and write data. Optical disks have very large storage capacity, but they are not as fast as hard disks. In addition, the inexpensive optical disk drives are read-only. Read/write varieties are expensive.
  • tapes : Relatively inexpensive and can have very large storage capacities, but they do not permit random access of data.
  • Mass storage is measured in kilobytes (1,024 bytes), megabytes (1,024 kilobytes), gigabytes (1,024 megabytes) and terabytes (1,024 gigabytes).

    Mass storage is sometimes called auxiliary storage.

    See the "Removable Storage Reference" in the Quick Reference section of Webopedia.

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