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What is a Floppy Disk Drive?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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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 But as newer storage technologies are developed and the floppy disk becomes increasingly outdated, the drives that read them are becoming increasingly rare as well.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.

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.

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.

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
By anon101299 — On Aug 02, 2010

very useful.

By anon73123 — On Mar 25, 2010

this is very useful and good website.

By anon69304 — On Mar 07, 2010

This website is great!

By desertdunes — On Jan 30, 2010

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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