Ubiquitous in early computing from 1970 until the early 2000s, the floppy disk is a portable storage device that has since been replaced by more efficient methods, such as USB flash drives, SD cards, and cloud storage. Floppy disks were an affordable and flexible alternative to hard disks, meaning users could accumulate numerous floppy disks for storing and organizing data before spending as much money on a hard disk.
History of floppy disks
Floppy disks were developed by IBM in the early 1970s as a way of maintaining data even when a computer was powered off. Once they became widely accessible in the late 1970s and 1980s, floppy disks became the primary storage method for most computing devices. Although hard disks could hold a larger capacity, they were fixed to the larger computing device and usually considerably more expensive. (The average floppy disk costed less than $10 in the 1970s and 1980s, whereas a hard disk could cost upwards of $1,000.) As such, floppy disks were the most practical storage choice during the rise of personal computers in the 1980s and 1990s.
When computer manufacturers like Dell and Apple stopped incorporating floppy disk drives in their equipment, CD-ROMs, thumb drives, and similar dynamic, portable storage devices took center stage in the early 2000s. Today, floppy disks are largely obsolete but are still referenced as icons for “save” commands in applications like Microsoft Office.
Types of floppy disks
Throughout their history, floppy disks have been available in a range of different sizes:
- 8-inch:The first floppy disk design was used in the early 1970s as first a read-only format and then as a read-write format. Its “floppy” physicality is what gave the entire class of disks its name.
- 5 -inch: This disk fit the common size for PCs made before 1987 and succeeded the 8-inch floppy disk. This type of floppy was generally capable of storing between 100K and 1.2MB (megabytes) of data. The most common sizes were 360K and 1.2MB.
- 3 -inch: Although the compact design and rigid plastic envelope meant the smallest floppy disks were no longer physically floppy, they held a larger storage capacity than other floppy disks from 400K to 1.4MB of data.