Tagged: floppy

Floppy disks (or diskettes) are magnetic disk data storage formats, usually composed of a thin, flexible disk sealed in a rectangular plastic carrier. In many cases the carrier is rigid, and the word floppy refers to the disc inside.

5.25-inch ‘flippy’ disk (1976 – mid 1980s)

Flippy disk was a nickname given to single-sided floppy disks that had a second write-enabled notch cut into the sleeve so that the second side could be written to by a single-sided disk drive. Generally, these were 5.25-inch minifloppy disks, but 8-inch floppy disks could be modified in the same way, and this was possible because most of the openings on the sleeve of the disk were duplicated on both sides. It was a way of doubling the capacity of a floppy disk at a time when disks were expensive, although of course they had to be removed from the drive and turned over to access the extra capacity.

When the 5.25-inch minifloppy disk was introduced in 1976, all drives were single-sided. Double-sided drives were introduced in 1978, but suffered from early reliability problems. It wasn’t until 1982 that double-sided drives were supported by IBM PC-DOS in version 1.1. Drives such as Apple’s Disk II and the Commodore 1541 remained single-sided.

The second write-enabled notch could be made by hand, or special ‘disk doubler’ rectangular hold puncher could be bought to do the job. Flippy disks were also sold ready-made, and software was distributed on flippy disks that might have different programs on each side, or the same program but for different operating systems. Flippy disks sold for use in double-sided drives needed to have two index holes on either side of the hub hole.

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3.25-inch floppy disk (1983 – mid-1980s)

The 3.25-inch disk was a floppy disk introduced in 1983 for use in the Tabor TC 500 Drivette disk drive. It was a double-sided disk, with an unformatted capacity of 500 KB.

It was similar in design to the 5.25-inch minifloppy disk, and in fact the drive could replace the 5.25-inch disk drive in a PC using the same cable. In addition to the Tabor Drivette, there was a prototype 3.25-inch disk drive system for the Coleco Adam computer (that at that time was using High Speed Digital Data Pack tape drives) and a 3.25-inch drive was used in the rare Seequa Chameleon 325 computer.

Producers of the disks included Tabor, Dysan, and 3M. However, Dysan seems to have been the main producer of disks, which it labelled as the ‘Flex Diskette’, since like the 5.25-inch disk, the disk’s envelope was flexible.

The 3.25-inch disk came about at a time when there were a number of competing designs of microfloppy disk, such as the 3.5-inch microfloppy and the 3-inch Compact Floppy, and it doesn’t seem to have lasted very long in the marketplace.

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media stability 5obsolescence 5

2-inch floppy disk (LT-1) (1989 – early 1990s)

The 2-inch LT-1 disc was introduced in 1989 for use in the Zenith Minisport notebook computer, the only device that used it. Although very similar to the 2-inch Video Floppy, the two discs are not interchangeable.

The Zenith Minisport was a very lightweight laptop, with good battery life and DOS 3.3 built into ROM for fast booting. It came with 1 or 2 MB of RAM, and except for the HD version did not have a hard drive.

The LT-1 discs, which were made by Fujifilm, had a capacity of 793 KB, similar to the double-sided, double-density 3.5-inch microfloppy disk, but a lot less than the high-density 3.5-inch microfloppy disk that was becoming the industry standard. Because the LT-1 discs were only used in one model of computer, they were more expensive than other disc designs, and there was no way to read the discs on other devices.

To get around the problem of file transfer due to the unusual disc design, an external 3.5-inch microfloppy disk drive was available, and the Minisport could also transfer files via serial cable to another PC using a program called FastLynx.

The Minisport only seems to have been produced for a couple of years.

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Iomega Zip 250 (2001 – 2003)

Zip was a high-capacity floppy disk format originally introduced in 1995 by Iomega. Initially, it had a capacity of 100 MB, later increased to 250 MB in 2001, and again to 750 MB in 2002.

The Zip 250 drives were available in a wide variety of interfaces; parallel port, USB 2.0 and FireWire for exernal drives and IDE or SCSI for internal drives.

Although the disks looked identical to Zip 100 disks, they could not be used in the smaller capacity drive and are automatically ejected. They could however be read and written to by the later Zip 750 drives. Zip 250 drives could read and write to the older Zip 100 disks. A variant on the Zip 250, the Zip U250 was also launched in 2001; the U250 disks contained titanium particles in the media to improve the operation of the drives, and were also self-cleaning. The U250 discs were full compatible with Zip 250 drives despite their different shape.

Even before the introduction of the Zip 250, sales of Zip drives had begun falling due to the falling cost of CD-R and CD-RW disks, followed by USB memory sticks.

All Zip variants were discontinued in 2003.

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Iomega Zip 750 (2002 – 2003)

Zip was a high-capacity floppy disk format originally introduced in 1995 by Iomega. Initially, it had a capacity of 100 MB, later increased to 250 MB in 2001, and again to 750 MB in 2002.

The new Zip 750 drives were available in various interfaces; USB 2.0 and FireWire for exernal drives and IDE for internal drives.

Although the disks looked identical to Zip 100 and Zip 250 disks, they could not be used in smaller capacity drives and are automatically ejected. However, Zip 100 discs could be read in Zip 750 drives, and Zip 250 disks can be both read and written to, so users with existing Zip disks could continue to use them. The introduction of the Zip 750 meant that Zip disks had a higher capacity than the competing CD-R or CD-RW disks. However, the cost of Zip 750 disks was much higher than CD-R or CD-RW media, and by the time of its introduction, many PCs had CD burners installed.

The Zip 750 was short-lived as all Zip versions were discontinued in 2003.

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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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Iomega Zip U250 (2001 – 2003)

Zip U250 was a variant on the Iomega Zip disk, and was launched by Iomega in 2001. Like standard Zip disks, the U250 was a high-capacity floppy disk format.

The Zip U250 had a capacity of 250 MB and was fully compatible with the Zip 250 drive despite its different shape. Its launch followed the class-action lawsuit against Iomega for a type of fault in Zip drives dubbed the ‘click of death’.

The U250 disks contained titanium particles in the media to improve the operation of the drives, and were also self-cleaning. They came with a 10 year warranty, and were supplied in shatterproof cases.

Like the rest of the Zip range, sales declined due to the falling cost of CD-R and CD-RW disks, followed by USB flash drives, and the Zip range was discontinued in 2003.

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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

Olivetti minidisc (1977 – early 1980s)

The Olivetti minidisc (not to be confused with the magneto-optical Sony MiniDisc of 1992) was a magnetic floppy disc format for data storage designed by Olivetti for use in its P6040 minicomputer of 1977 which had a built-in disc drive. The P6040 used an Intel 8088 processor, and used a dialect of BASIC called Tiny BASIC that used a subset of BASIC commands. Output was displayed on a one-line red diode display, or on the built in printer. Although it was a computer, in practice it was more like a programmable calculator or a low-end ledger machine.

The disk drive used 2.5-inch mylar discs without a protective cover, capable of holding just 3 KB of data (which was ample considering the P6040 had only 1 KB of RAM for user data, though this could be expanded to 3 KB). The disk was single-sided and the non-recordable side had an identification number stamped on it, since there was no other way of identifying a disk once it was taken out of its storage envelope.

Unlike later floppy disks, data is not stored in tracks and sectors, but is stored in a single spiral track like a phonograph record. Reading or writing to the disk was done in a single operation, so writing to the disk overwrote all the existing contents. The advantage with this system was that it was cheaper to produce than a standard floppy disk drive, so whereas the larger P6060 system used a built-in 8-inch floppy disk drive, the P6040 made do with the cheaper minidisc system.

The limited capacity of the disk meant that a read or write of the entire disk could be carried out in between 6 and 11.5 seconds.

As well as the P6040, Olivetti used the minidisc in 1978 in its TES (Text Editing System) 401 word processing system, where capacity was increased to 7.5 KB, and in the Business Computer System models BCS 2020 and BCS 2030 of 1979.

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