Nomai MCD 540 (1995 – 1999)

The Nomai MCD (Multimedia Cartridge Drive) 540 was a rigid disk cartridge system for personal computers, and was introduced by the small French company Nomai in 1995.

At the time, the capacity of 540 MB was considered good and the system was competively priced, but the MCD 540 was soon competing with SyQuest’s SyJet and the Iomega Jaz disc with capacities of between 1 and 2 GB.

The MCD 540 was available with SCSI and IDE interfaces and could be used with PCs or Macintosh computers. The cartridge was physically very similar to the SyQuest 270 cartridge, but was not compatible with the SyQuest 270 drive. Nomai used its own technology for tighter sealing and higher rotational speeds.

Nomai was involved in lawsuits with both Iomega and SyQuest over some of its other products, and was bought by Iomega in 1998, ceasing production of all products in 1999.

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Sony Memory Stick / Floppy Disk Adaptor (2000 – 2001)

The Memory Stick / Floppy Disk Adaptor (MSAC-FD2M) was introduced by Sony in 2000 for use in several of its Mavica line of digital cameras, and allowed the cameras to use a Memory Stick as an alternative form of storage.

The adaptor had the same form-factor as a 3.5-inch High-Density floppy disk, and incorporated a slot for a Memory Stick. The adaptor could be used in PCs (it could also be used in Macs, but was read-only) after installing suitable drivers. The adaptor required two lithium batteries to operate.

In the new Mavica cameras, users had a choice of using floppy disks for storage (as a number of previous Mavica models offered), or a Memory Stick with the adaptor which had the advantage of higher capacity (at the time, this was up to 64 MB).

By 2001, Sony had introduced Mavica cameras with dedicated Memory Stick slots, so an adaptor was no longer required.

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3.5-inch hard disk drive (1983 – )

Hard disk drives consist of one of more rigid disks (or platters) with magnetic heads arranged on a moving actuator arm to read and write data to the surfaces.

The 3.5-inch form factor hard disk drive is one of the two dominant types on the market, with the other being 2.5-inch. The 3.5-inch form factor hard disk drive was introduced by Rodime, a Scottish company, in 1983. Rodime already built hard disk drives using the 5.25-inch form factor, but introduced the smaller size that utilised the form factor already introduced for 3.5-inch floppy disk drives.

The first 3.5-inch hard disk drive had a capacity of 10 MB. After its introduction, many competitors introduced hard disk drives using the 3.5-inch form factor, and Rodime sued many other disk manufacturers for infringement of its patents.

Whilst called 3.5-inch, the drives occupy a space 4-inches wide, and were initially 1.6-inches high (the same as the then current ‘half-height’ 3.5-inch floppy disk drives), but the most popular size today is the 1-inch high ‘slimline’ or ‘low-profile’ version.

As of 2014, the largest capacity 3.5-inch hard disk drive is 10 TB, equal to 1,000,000 times the capacity of the first disk.

Whilst not strictly speaking removable media, 3.5-inch hard disk drives form the basis for many external hard disk drives such as those connected by USB, and docks are available to read many hard disk drives without installing them.

Solid-state drives using flash memory are beginning to replace hard disk drives for uses where speed, power consumption and durability are more important considerations, such as in tablet computing.

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Caleb UHD144 / it drive (1998 – 2002)

The Caleb UHD144 (Ultra High Density) was a floptical-based 144 MB floppy disk system introduced in early 1998, by Caleb Technology, and marketed as the it drive. The it drive could read and write to DD and HD 3.5-inch microfloppy disks as well.

Its main advantage was the low cost of the media, but the UHD144 had little chance in the marketplace, competing against the much more popular and faster Zip drive, floppy disk alternatives such as the SuperDisk, and later CD-R and CD-RW.

Caleb Technology went bankrupt in 2002.

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3.5-inch microfloppy (High Density) (1987 – late 2000s)

The 3.5-inch HD (High Density) microfloppy was first introduced in 1987, and first used on the IBM PS/2 range, and the Macintosh IIx. It quickly become almost universally used on PC and Macintosh hardware.

High density disks were recognisable by a second hole in the opposite corner to the write-protect notch and a HD logo. Their capacity was 1.44 MB in both PCs and Macintosh machines.

By 1988, the 3.5-inch disk (all types) were outselling the 5.25-inch minifloppy.

An even higher-capacity Extended Density (ED) microfloppy was introduced in 1991, with a capacity of 2.88 MB, but this variation was not widely used. Throughout the 1990s, various attempts were made to introduce higher capacity 3.5-inch floppy disk replacement, such as the Floptical disk, SuperDisk and HiFD.

Macintosh computers were the first to stop using floppy disks (on the iMac) in 1998, and during the 2000s, PC manufacturers began to remove drives from new PCs.

Preservation / Migration

Castlewood Orb (1998 – 2004)

The Castlewood Orb was a removable rigid-disk drive introduced by Castlewood Systems in 1998.

The first version had a capacity of 2.2 GB, but in 2001 a version with 5.7 GB was released (the 5.7 GB drive could read the older 2.2 GB disks). Disks came formatted for either Macintosh or IBM compatibles, and drives were available in external and internal versions.

Castlewood Systems was formed by several former employees of SyQuest Technologies. Shortly after the Orb was released, SyQuest brought a lawsuit against Castlewood for misappropriation of trade secrets and Iomega later brought another lawsuit against Castlewood for patent infringement.

The Orb disk competed with the Iomega Jaz, but internally the two products differed. The Jaz cartridge used two internal disks, while the Orb used a single disk, allowing for lower costs.

Castlewood Systems ceased operations around 2004.

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3.5-inch magneto-optical disc (1991 – 2000s)

Magneto-optical (MO) discs were a form of optical disc used for data storage, released commercially in 1985 in a 5.25-inch format, with a 3.5-inch version becoming available in 1991.

The disc consists of a ferromagnetic material sealed beneath a plastic coating. The only physical contact is during recording when a magnetic head is brought into contact with the side of the disc opposite to the laser. By default, MO drives verify information after writing it to the disc, and are able to immediately report any problems to the operating system. This means writing can actually take three times longer than reading, but it makes the media extremely reliable. MO discs are housed in a caddy for protection from dust.

The 5.25-inch discs were available in capacities from 256 MB to 9.2 GB, split over two sides. The drives used the SCSI interface, and mainly saw use in corporate storage and retrieval, such as legal document storage and medical imaging where high reliability, long life, and (at the time) high storage capacity were required. Optical libraries were available to automate loading and storing of the disks.

Their first major use was in the NeXT Computer in 1987, which initially offered a 256 MB 5.25-inch MO drive.

The 3.5-inch discs were single-sided, with capacities ranging from 128 MB to 1.3 GB. They were available with different interfaces such as SCSI, IDE and USB and were more popular with consumers.

As with all removable storage media, the advent of cheap CD/DVD drives and flash memory has made them largely redundant. Magneto-optical disks in particular were expensive when new, and while highly reliable, the slow writing time also was a

As of 2010, MO drives were no longer being manufactured.

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3.5-inch microfloppy (Extended Density) (1991 – mid 1990s)

The Extended Density (ED) 3.5-inch Microfloppy was an advance on the High Density version (HD), with improved oxide coatings that offered 2.88 MB of storage.

It was introduced on the NeXTcube, NeXTstation and IBM PS/2 model 57 in 1991, but by the time it was available, it was already too small in capacity to be a useful advance over the HD format and never became widely used, while the HD format continued to be used until the late 2000s.

Like the HD microfloppy, the ED disk had an identification notch on the right-hand side, with this being slightly higher than the HD one.

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SyQuest 3.5-inch (105/270MB) (1993 – 1998)

The SyQuest 105MB cartridge (SQ310) was introduced in Spring 1993, and was a removable rigid-disc data storage format with a 3.5-inch form factor. Later in the year, a 270 MB version (SQ270) was introduced.

Neither were compatible with previous SyQuest disc formats, nor with the 3.5-inch EZ135 and EZFlyer that followed them. The 270 MB drives can read and write to the 105 MB cartridges.

SyQuest disc were popular in the graphics arts and printing industries with more than a million units sold by 1994, but because of the huge installed base of the SyQuest 5.25-inch drives, the 3.5-inch cartridge formats were not as successful.

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HiFD (1998 – early 2000s)

The HiFD (High capacity Floppy Disk) was an attempt by Sony to replace their own 3.5-inch floppy disk.

It was initially launched in 1998 with a capacity of 150 MB, and whilst the drive was backwards compatible with 3.5-inch floppy disks by using dual heads, HiFD disks were shaped so that they could not be inserted by mistake into a standard 3.5-inch floppy disk drive. The separate HiFD read/write head worked more like a hard disk head, gliding over the surface of the disk without touching it, alllowing the HiFD disk to rotate at 3,600rpm.

It competed with the Zip drive, which had a capacity of 100 MB, and the SuperDisk, which then had a capacity of 120 MB. It was predicted that HiFD would be a success and replace the 3.5-inch floppy disk, but read/write head misalignment problems meant a full recall in 1999.

It was relaunched in November 1999, with 200 MB capacity, but could not read or write to the previous version’s 150 MB disks.

By this time the Zip drive now sported a 250MB capacity and CD-RW drives were entering the mainstream. These factors doomed HiFD to failure.

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