A floppy disk drive is a computer component that was designed to read and write to floppy disks that were used for removable storage. The most popular type of floppy disk drive is the 3 ½-inch drive, which is still in limited use today. The floppy disk drive has been replaced by other types of drives such as CD drives, DVD drives as well as USB flash drives. There are many different types of floppy disk drives that have come and gone over the years.
5 ¼ -Inch Drive
A 5 ¼-inch floppy disk drive was common on personal computers that were produced during the 1980's and were still included on computers in the early 1990's. A 5 ¼ -inch floppy disk could store between 360 kilobytes and 1.2 megabytes of data. Some 5 ½-floppy disks could be modified and used to write data to both sides of the disk. This led to manufacturers producing double-sided drives that could read both sides of the disk.
3 ½ -Inch Drive
A 3 ½-inch floppy drive is considered a floppy drive because the diskette uses a magnetic floppy disk that is encased in plastic. A 3 ½-inch floppy disk is capable of storing 730 kilobytes on a double density disk and 1.44 megabytes on a high density disk. On older computers the only way to load programs such as Windows 3.0 was to use multiple disks to install the program.
Zip drives were introduced by the Iomega corporation in the mid 1990s. A zip disk was capable of storing 100 megabytes, 250 megabytes and even 750 megabytes on a single disk. Zip drives were mainly available as a peripheral that could be added to an existing system. A zip drive carried a high price tag which limited its use and eventually led to its decline as a popular storage medium.
Each type of floppy disk needed to be formatted in order to store data on the disk. Formatting a diskette uses a process called a low-level format. This will write sectors to the disk that are a specific byte size which is normally 512 bytes per sector. This process in done by the hardware that is contained in the floppy disk drive which allows the operating system to read and write to the formatted disk.
The 5 ¼-inch and 3 ½-inch floppy disk drives are nearly obsolete as a storage medium. A floppy disk drive can still be used to boot to a command prompt in the event of a system problem. Floppy disks are still sometimes used for computer BIOS upgrades, but even that use is being phased out. Manufacturers of computers today are no longer installing a floppy drive in new machines.