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What is a Floppy Disk Drive?

A floppy disk drive is a vintage data storage device, once essential for transferring files between computers. It reads and writes to floppy disks, which are thin, flexible magnetic storage mediums. Despite being overshadowed by modern USBs and cloud services, floppy drives were the keystones of personal computing for decades. Wondering how these relics influenced today's tech? Let's explore their legacy together.
Ken Black
Ken Black

A floppy disk drive is a hardware device that reads one of the first types of portable data storage media: floppy diskettes, also known as floppy disks. Over the years, like many other aspects of personal computing, these disks got smaller and smaller, but increased their capacity. As they changed, the drive also changed. But as newer storage technologies are developed and the floppy disk becomes increasingly outdated, the drives that read them are becoming increasingly rare as well.

The first floppy disk drives accommodated disks that were 8 inches (20.32 cm) diagonally. For years, when the personal computer first started to be affordable for the majority of those in industrialized nations, the standard was the 5.25-inch (13.34 cm) disk. These not only were somewhat smaller, they could hold up to 360 kilobytes of information, more than three times what the 8-inch disk could hold. Then, the 3.5-inch (8.9 cm) disk replaced the 5.25-inch (13.34 cm) disk in the early 1990s, and was capable of holding 1.44 megabytes of information. For a while, there were two floppy disk drive types often included with computers.

Floppy disk drives are computer hardware used to read floppy disks.
Floppy disk drives are computer hardware used to read floppy disks.

The floppy disk drive has many parts that are needed in order for it to work properly. Among the most important of these are the read and write heads. Most floppy drives have two of these heads. These are used to get information from the disk and transfer information to the disk. Some floppy disks have tabs that can be moved to prevent the writing of information on a disk, even if an attempt is made. A motor spins the disk and does so at a rate of at least 360 revolutions per second.

Some floppy disk drives were external, meaning they could be plugged into a computer and removed easily.
Some floppy disk drives were external, meaning they could be plugged into a computer and removed easily.

The other major parts of a drive include the stepper motor and circuit board. The stepper motor is responsible for moving the read/write heads where they need to be. The circuit board is responsible for taking the information and transferring it between the computer and floppy drive. The circuit board is also responsible for controlling the motors in the drive.

Internal floppy disk drives are built directly into a computer.
Internal floppy disk drives are built directly into a computer.

While the floppy disk drive used to be a standard feature available on all computers, technology has advanced to the point where that is no longer the case. Rather, those who want one will likely need to buy it separate from the computer or choose it as an add-on option for a new computer. They can still be bought as internal drives or external drives. The external drive, which normally connects to the computer through a USB port, is probably the most popular choice.

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Discussion Comments

anon101299

very useful.

anon73123

this is very useful and good website.

anon69304

This website is great!

desertdunes

I still have a shoe box of floppy disks. I don't even know if the disks are worth keeping. Although I think you can get an external floppy drive for under $50.

I have an open port for an internal drive, but there really isn't a point in installing one.

Anybody know how long the floppy disks are "good" before they start degrading?

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    • Floppy disk drives are computer hardware used to read floppy disks.
      By: Iakov Kalinin
      Floppy disk drives are computer hardware used to read floppy disks.
    • Some floppy disk drives were external, meaning they could be plugged into a computer and removed easily.
      By: madarakis
      Some floppy disk drives were external, meaning they could be plugged into a computer and removed easily.
    • Internal floppy disk drives are built directly into a computer.
      By: Pavel Kirichenko
      Internal floppy disk drives are built directly into a computer.
    • As the floppy disk becomes increasingly outdated, the drives that read them are becoming rare as well.
      By: sdubrov
      As the floppy disk becomes increasingly outdated, the drives that read them are becoming rare as well.
    • Floppy disks were replaced as a storage media by CDs.
      By: Roman Gorielov
      Floppy disks were replaced as a storage media by CDs.