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Dell Dropping The Floppy

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the drop-away dept.

Hardware 1515

adambwells writes "Dell wants to stop including floppy drives as standard hardware on its Dimension line of desktops, and will start this practice later this quarter, as reported in this Yahoo article. Says Dell's product marketing: We would like to see customers migrate away from floppies as quickly as possible, because there are better alternative technologies out there ... it's an antique technology. At some point, you've got to draw the line. You wouldn't think of using a processor from 15 years ago." They plan to educate their customers about recordable CDs and USB pen drives as replacements."

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About Time. (1)

vf123 (244292) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233445)

It's about time. I haven't had a floppy drive in years (except in server machines).

Good job dell.

Re:About Time. (1)

govtcheez (524087) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233464)

Do you use an Imac?

Re:About Time. (1)

vf123 (244292) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233509)

No, I'm a PC person. I just build my own without floppy drives. I've got a CDR and secondary harddrive nowadays for backup.

Re:About Time. (4, Insightful)

Ninja Master Gara (602359) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233501)

I've had my drives in every system, but they all go bad from dust exposure in a few months from lack of use. Not that I can find a 3 1/2" disk that works without buying a new box, anyway.

Re:About Time. (5, Funny)

jo.cool (581963) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233578)

Actually I made it my business to get a 5 1/4" installed in my Athlon, just in case, you know, I want to run WordStar.

Re:About Time. (5, Interesting)

cesman (74566) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233580)

You're not kidding... I seems the quality of drives and media has gone down. I remember being in high school ('86-'90), I'd carry about floppies with me all year around (blistering heat of summer and bone chilling cold of winter in Chicago). I'd never have a problem with them, I'd hope from one computer to another with the media. Try that now days... The floppy will work in one drive but not the next... WTF?!

Blasphemy! (5, Insightful)

Captain Tenille (250795) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233448)

I mean, floppies aren't useful for much, but when you need one, you really need one.

Next thing you know, they're going to take away our serial ports and PS/2 ports. Bastards.

Re:Blasphemy! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233528)

Actually serial ports are already extinct. I have seen Toshiba notebooks without an on board serial port. A USB-Serial port converter (about $30 retail) is required to get a 9 pin serial port.

Re:Blasphemy! (1)

excesspwr (218183) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233541)

Next thing you know, they're going to take away our serial ports and PS/2 ports

I got an extra iMac I can sell you.

Re:Blasphemy! (5, Interesting)

CaptainBaz (621098) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233546)

This has already happened. The other day, a vendor tried to sell me a motherboard with no FDD controller, no serial/parallel ports, and no PS/2 ports. Needless to say, I went elsewhere.

Yes, these features are old technology. But they're also mature technology - they work fine, now leave them alone!

Re:Blasphemy! (1)

mandreko (66835) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233576)

i would personally like to see PS/2 gone. Why does anyone still need it. It's holding us back from developing new hardware. You could use USB, Firewire, or even some new technology we haven't made yet.

There's a reason they call the PS/2 ports, Parallel, and serial ports "legacy" ports.

Re:Blasphemy! (4, Interesting)

chris09876 (643289) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233584)

I haven't had a floppy for the last two years, and I've been able to work without any problems. There *have* been some occasions where I needed to get some information off of a floppy disk. When a situation like this arises, I do need to borrow someone elses computer. Originally I just uploaded the files to my server, but more recently I've been using my USB keychain. I can't see Serial ports or PS/2 disappearing as quickly. Serial is still used for some things (like configuring network switches, etc). Granted it's not a common use at all, but it's harder to find a solution to those issues than it is to just put files on a USB keychain :) PS/2 is still fairly common..., but I could see that disappearing eventually.

Woo - Hoo (3, Insightful)

dhovis (303725) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233451)

Dell is finally catching up to changes Apple made 5 years ago!

I say good riddance to the floppy. I've had more of them go bad on me than I care to count.

Re:Woo - Hoo (5, Funny)

alaric187 (633477) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233499)

Hopefully they get rid of all of the "extra" stupid buttons on the mouse too...

Re:Woo - Hoo (4, Insightful)

BWJones (18351) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233536)

Dell is finally catching up to changes Apple made 5 years ago!

Most of the personal computer industry is catching up to the changes Apple made 5 years ago, and they have been since the Apple ][.

Re:Woo - Hoo (2, Interesting)

NivenHuH (579871) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233592)

I'd like to see SuperDrives as standard equipment on PC's.. either that or find some way to incorporate MiniDisc technology... (Hey.. maybe Sony will replace floppies w/ MD on the Vaio line..)

not really a dupe (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233456)

but this is old news. no floppy has been the default for some time now.

could just be the hied site i use tho

Well that takes me back (5, Funny)

TerryAtWork (598364) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233460)

I remember when they ADDED the new-fangled 3 1/4 inch floppy drive to machines.

Back before there was dirt, and a computer weighed 6,000 tons!

And we programmed with ones and with zeros - and sometimes we ran out of ones!

Re:Well that takes me back (2, Insightful)

leviramsey (248057) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233489)

I remember when they ADDED the new-fangled 3 1/4 inch floppy drive to machines.

Must not have lasted long... I remember 5.25" and 3.5" floppies (and I've heard about the 8" drives of yore), but I've never heard of a 3.25" floppy. ;o)

Re:Well that takes me back (1)

TerryAtWork (598364) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233521)

Opps.. by the way, when are you getting rid of your week 13 NFl picks?

Re:Well that takes me back (1)

leviramsey (248057) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233567)

when are you getting rid of your week 13 NFl picks?

Once I come up with a suitable replacement .sig... I'm thinking of quoting the BBC show Coupling....

-1; Redundant (4, Funny)

M.C. Hampster (541262) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233495)

The "back in the day" jokes are older than an 8088.

Innovation (0, Flamebait)

soundofthemoon (623369) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233461)

Glad to see Dell finally catching up to where the Macintosh has been for years!

'bout time. (5, Funny)

p_rotator (617988) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233462)

GOOD! I hate the floppy. I can't even use it when I have a drink in the Sony cup-holder below it.

Good Riddance! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233466)

Does ANYONE use them anymore??

I don't know how they've lasted THIS long (1)

rot26 (240034) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233467)

I got a removable (drive bay) floppy with my Inspiron when I bought it two years ago, and I can't think of more than four or five times I've needed it since. I hated floppies even when they were NECESSARY.... good riddance.

First Post? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233468)


Can't drop the floppy! (1)

Vietomatic (520138) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233469)

Anyone remember the movie S1m0ne? Where a virus ("plague") was uploaded into the computer via a 5.25 floppy disk? And by merely removing the disk, the computer was "healthy" again? This was truly the highpoint (or lowpoint) of the film, especially for geeks.

How can movie goers understand this when floppies no longer exist?

Re:Can't drop the floppy! (1)

DavidLeblond (267211) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233574)

Yeah that was kinda bizarre... a newfangled computer like that having a 5.25" drive smack dab in the middle of it.

I don't think the director was tech "un-savvy" though, I think he put the ancient hardware in there to make a statement. What that statement is, my shallow mind will never figure out.

It's about time! (0)

j-turkey (187775) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233470)

Wow -- about time! I've been trying to warn people off of floppies for the past 5 years. Just say no to removable magnetic media. You will lose your data.


OK with me (5, Insightful)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233472)

As long as they *provide* the pen drive or similar device, *and* place an easily accessible USB or FireWire port on the front of the chassis. If they're going to remove the floppy and force me to reach around the damn box then it probably won't work.

And I really don't think a CDR/CDRW is yet the answer to storage, unless UDF is standardized enough (as in supported at the OS level).

Re:OK with me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233585)

And I really don't think a CDR/CDRW is yet the answer to storage, unless UDF is standardized enough (as in supported at the OS level).

Which it is, by OS X, XP, and the free 'niXes. I'd be interested to know which OS you want it for.

The floppy is not completely useless. (1)

Slashdot Insider (623670) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233474)

I just used one to do a Mandrake network install the other day.

Re:The floppy is not completely useless. (1)

knobmaker (523595) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233587)

And what will become of distributed-on-floppy routers like Coyote when all the old machines don't have floppies anymore?

good riddence (1)

DCZX (640106) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233475)


Compact Flash (1)

Dick Click (166230) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233476)

I would be happy to see a Compact Flash reader included in all Dell boxes.

fuck it (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233477)

fuck it

How? (1)

Bendebecker (633126) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233478)

How will I ever install "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego" now?

Re:How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233553)

Download it from alt.binaries.games.warez... ;-P

I wonder (0)

Mourgos (621534) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233480)

why the floppy that could fit about 175MB didn't become popular. I've never seen rawrite work for a CDRW. I believe there are still things out there that you absolutely need a floppy to do. Burn a CD to flash your BIOS?

Re:I wonder (1)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233571)

It wasn't 175, it was 120MB. Digital Research LS120 drive thingy [electronicsquare.com] .

I think it didn't catch because (IIRC) the media was a tad expensive at the time. And of course, no major vendor jumped on it. I think Zeos (anyone remember Zeos? Yay!) was the only one that offered it as an option on some of their high-end 486 mofo towers.

Gah, I'm having PC Magazine flashbacks now.

Someone has to be first (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233481)

With any "new" technology ( new = something nobody is doing atm, not necessarily a new invention ), someone has to be first. Something like this only works if its ubiquitous, leading to a Catch-22. USB pendrives may be the next floppy - they're the most useful, user-friendly replacement I've seen.

While they are at it... (-1, Troll)

Znonymous Coward (615009) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233484)

Since they are getting rid of old crappy technology... Why not drop Windows from their products as well. Or at least make it optional (so I don't have to pay M$ tax).

Just a thought.

Re:While they are at it... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233538)

Oh, I get it! A dollar sign ($) instead of an S!!! Is that because Microsoft makes a lot of money??? Your so clever!!!!!!!!!

LS-120/240 (1)

Stonent1 (594886) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233487)

Why oh why didn't ye catch on? :(

Two words (1, Insightful)

JustAnotherReader (470464) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233488)

Boot Disk?

Re:Two words (1)

djbesser (318214) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233555)

You can make a bootable floppy image on a cdrom, they work really well, yes maybe a waste of space but with 100 spindle of cd's costing pennies a cd, might as well do it up.

Two letters (1)

jjsoh (466262) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233562)


Re:Two words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233581)

Bootable CD?

they may be old... (3, Insightful)

ubugly2 (454850) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233491)

but they're handy when needed,why waste a cd for a file smaller than 1.44 megs?

5.25" (1)

MidoriKid (473433) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233492)

I've got a real disk drive in mine. "Floppy" is the way I likes it!

Drive firmly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233494)


S. Jobs

Well Pick it up stupid! (1, Funny)

avandesande (143899) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233497)

sorry, mod me down

USB pen drives (3, Interesting)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233498)

I love the idea of these things, but I wonder - can you boot off a USB device yet?

What would be neat is booting off a bootable CD-R/W, and being able to use it in R/W mode. *That's* a floppy replacement.

Now if you could just put it in a square black plastic sleeve, you could boot it "old school"! :)

Re:USB pen drives (1)

stevel (64802) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233579)

My Asus P4S8X motherboard claims it can boot off a USB mass storage devicem, and it lists my USB CF-reader as a possible boot device, so I think the answer is, theoretically, yes. It would be an interesting experiment to try.

Re:USB pen drives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233595)

Everything I've seen for making bootable cd's requires you to have a bootable floppy around with drivers for the cd rom drive on the floppy.

*IF* we could just sys a cd, that would be great. Last time I checked you couldn't do that though.

Something Apple did nearly five years ago (0, Redundant)

iJed (594606) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233507)

Its interesting to not that Apple got a lot of complaints when they scrapped the floppy from the iMac back in 1998. However, after a couple of months, nobody who actually used the iMac seemed to complain anymore. I think its about time that the rest of the computer industry scrapped this "stoneage" technology.

No More Floppies???? (1)

piecewise (169377) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233512)

It took a story about Dell dropping the floppy to remind me I haven't used one in about HALF A DECADE!

Everyone bitched when Apple pushed Mac users off the floppy (*PC* uses made fun of Apple for doing it -- as if it affected them)... and after all the fuss, I'd have to say the floppy drive was a terrible device. I find it amazing PCs still use them! It just seems so old and useless. Glad to see Dell doing something... even if it still isn't very innovative.

Sure, noone uses them... (2, Insightful)

levik (52444) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233514)

... but in a pinch, a floppy is pretty much the only assured way you have of easily bringing small files across machines.

Unless one of them is a Mac.

Not everyone has a CDRW, and not everyone has USB key-drives. But ALL PCs have floppies.

Floppies may be old, but they are stilll useful (0)

soorma_bhopali (643472) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233515)

First of all, floppy drives are very cheap. If I have to share some data (small size) ofline with another person, floppy makes perfect sense. CD-R, usb pens are cool and better storage devices, but dont dump floppies just because they are 15 years old. If they are useful, there is no point discontinuing them

GOOD! If.... (1)

403Forbidden (610018) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233517)

They make a stand-alone machine to transfer files from a floppy (mac or PC) to a pen drive or some future format. That way you wouldn't need to keep an old comp around for legacy reasons.

floppy (2, Insightful)

chunkwhite86 (593696) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233518)

My first reaction was "Yay Dell!". Then I thought what if I need to update the BIOS of my motherboard.

Does the average Joe User know how to make a bootable CD? Most PC BIOS are unable to boot from USB or Firewire yet, so it seems like creating a bootable CD to do firmware upgrades is the only option.

Floppy disk drives are still useful for most users (1)

vwpau227 (462957) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233520)

Floppy drives are still useful for most users. I know for myself, there's nothing simpler than copying files to a floppy and bringing them over to another computer. There's no messing around with CD burners, and no problems with not being able to install drivers for USB devices on older computers.

As a medium for customizable boot disks and as a medium for other emergency recovery tasks, I have found there is no better method than the floppy.

I had a customer that just bought a new notebook with no included floppy (it was from HP). This customer purchased an external USB floppy disk drive for it within a week.

I guess as long as other computer manufacturers and "white box" computer makers keep including floppy drives in their computers, Dell will be at a disadvantage in the marketplace.

repeat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233524)

hasn't this been covered here before? Guess its a slow newsday.

old story [slashdot.org]

Funny: The Optiplex still won't boot from USB (0)

Lester67 (218549) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233525)

And the only thing Dell says about this is: "soon".

AMEN dell (1)

Presence2 (240785) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233527)

Wanna know how to bring a 8 processor 40 GBram server to it's knees in 2 seconds? Shove in a floppy and hit FORMAT.

Cd's are now cheaper then floppies in some cases. Someone just needs to make a better rewritable format that will still read in every old cdrom too.

no floppies? sweet... (1)

mandreko (66835) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233529)

The only purpose i see floppies as being would be bootdisks (be it windows/linux/whatever).

I can't move files from one to another unless they're tiny. even my school says Zip or CD for turning in things.

I'm glad to see a PC manufacturer doing this. (yea ,i know mac already did... but i said PC)

Who Needs a Floppy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233530)

...when it's so trivial to interface a paper tape reader through the serial port?

Will others follow suit? (1)

HalimCMe (528821) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233531)

The rest of the industry didn't seem to care or follow suit when Apple made this move, but will we see other PC vendors start dropping the floppy drive now that Dell has dropped the ball?

Does anyone expect to see Dell or other PC vendors moving towards a completely legacy-free PC, as Apple has already done? Most systems I've seen still ship with PS/2 keyboards and mice, although I'm sure there are some smaller PC vendors that have taken Apple's initiative and thrown out legacy technology.

dropping? (4, Funny)

Lxy (80823) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233533)

usually dropping floppies isn't something that's desired. I remember the days before CDs, carrying all 27 floppies needed to install WIndows 95, you drop the stack, and, well, you'll never install off that set again.

Oh, you mean... I see.

You can have my floppy drive (1)

ReidMaynard (161608) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233534)

when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

Ancient Technology (1)

grimsweep (578372) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233537)

I don't even bother to use the floppy drive anymore. Why? 1) The files I tend to transfer are well over 1.44mb 2) Buying CD-Rs in bulk is cheaper than buying half the number of floppies (esp. on a sales day), and although you cannot reuse them like their CD-RW counterparts, multi-session burning can insure space isn't wasted 3) CD-ROMs these days transfer faster AND don't have the tendency to halt older OSs 4) I've already replaced one too many That's not to say there's some merit to owning a floppy drive, but let's be frank: there are more practical alternatives.

Re:Ancient Technology (1)

grimsweep (578372) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233586)

Note to self: remember to preview before posting. >:(

Floppy uses (5, Insightful)

Wattsman (75726) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233539)

Can I boot from a USB drive? And what about all of those install disks I still get? Hard Drive manufacturers still have their disk setup programs based on a floppy disk install.
Also, I can't use USB drives at the machines at work (due to security risks of removing sensitive data). Sure, you can remove data on a floppy, but try doing that with a 50+ MB compressed file.

pros and cons... (2, Insightful)

wwest4 (183559) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233540)

pc floppies have one key quality - they are almost universally supported.

sure, they are old and a bit slow, but they are useful because of their omnipresence. for moving snippets of data from here to there under any condition, it is still hard to beat floppies.

usb key drives are nice - i have one - but they need to get a bit cheaper. then they would be a nice replacement for the "quick snippet" niche.

oh yeah... (1)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233543)

>They plan to educate their customers

Oh yeah, that's brilliant. Can't see any problems with that approach, nossir.

So THAT's what this thing is?? (1)

tezzery (549213) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233544)

I always wondered what this slot in front of my Dell computer was.. I've never used it. I thought it was a slot to hold your letters.

makes sense, but give us bootable USB (1)

g4dget (579145) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233547)

CD-R(W) really is a pretty good replacement now: a CD-R is nearly as cheap as a floppy, it can be written fast, and just about any machine can reliably boot from it.

What is really missing now is a universal ability to boot from USB drives, including pen drives. And, frankly, Linux installers should be able to work from USB drives, which many of them currently don't.

How can they be proud? (2, Funny)

GQuon (643387) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233548)

Where I'm from "dropping the floppy" in public will get you fined. Possibly chased away by a mob. Dell should not be allowed to do this just because he is a celebrity.

I see why this has been posted under the "nuts" topic...

At Langley (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233549)

They have computers that do not have any floppy drives or any form of external copying devices (CDR). But!!! They still have a USB port, and you can still copy stuff using a USB keychain drive :) . Also, it takes just 3 lines of code to hack their nice system and gain "ROOT" access. And they have made a virus that can infect any, and I MEAN ANY, electronic device. It spreads through the world though the powersupply, internet, and anything... oh my god..

For the clueless, this is from a movie currently in theaters.

Bootable win98 cd for MS installs (1)

Bonker (243350) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233551)

It's been a long, long time since I've used a floppy for anything. I'm not sure if mine works. I keep it powered up and attached to the motherboard to keep the bios from complaining.

In the rare, rare instance when I need to use a DOS prompt for anything (such as fdisking a family's pc harddrive when they've made a bad mistake), I made a bootable CD with EZCD Creator. I used an image like the ones here:

http://www.powerload.fsnet.co.uk/bootdisk.htm [fsnet.co.uk]

The disk boots just like the Windows 98 EBD floppy and goes so far as to install a second CDRom driver. (CDROM Reads as 'A:' in this case)

"You wouldn't think of using a processor..." (4, Insightful)

NineNine (235196) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233552)

"You wouldn't think of using a processor from 15 years ago."

And why not? If it does the job, why should I care when the processor was made? Dell's trying hard to sell new products, and that's understandable, but it's ridiculous to think that everybody buys stuff just because it's "new". Heck, I'm still using hardware from the early 90's (10 years old), and it works fine. I'm not gonna blow money on something just because it's "new".

And as far as alternative technologies, they're still not good enough. I've never heard of a "USB Pen", and I'm sure as hell not going to waste money on some cutting edge technology that nobody's using yet. CD-R's are either very slow, one time burns, or very slow, very incompatible CD-RW's. Neither is good if I need to sneakernet a bit of data.

But then again, I'm not a Dell customer. I use a computer until it literally falls apart, and then I buy a closeout or used computer at great prices when I need a "new" one. No point in spending top dollar for a computer these days unless you're into games, or you have some big server needs.

i'm in! (1)

Oo.et.oO (6530) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233554)

as soon as usb pen drives cost $10 and the media is FREE.

floppies are just near irreplaceable

Not a totally good idea.... (1)

Marqui (512962) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233556)

Unless the bootable NIC cards become standard in their machines. Otherwise many of us will still need a boot disk to image/ghost machines. I actually prefer floppies to bootable CD's for this purpose. CD-burners would also have to become standard for laptop users, no more saving to floppy! The cost is minimal and a floppy can take much more abuse than a CD can!

http://www.howstuffworks.com/floppy-disk-drive.htm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233557)

How Floppy Disk Drives Work
by Gary Brown

If you have spent any time at all working with a computer, then chances are good that you have used a floppy disk at some point. The floppy disk drive (FDD) was the primary means of adding data to a computer until the CD-ROM drive became popular. In fact, FDDs have been an key component of most personal computers for more than 20 years.

Basically, a floppy disk drive reads and writes data to a small, circular piece of metal-coated plastic similar to audio cassette tape. In this edition of How Stuff Works, you will learn more about what is inside a floppy disk drive and how it works. You will also find out some cool facts about FDDs.

History of the Floppy Disk Drive
The floppy disk drive (FDD) was invented at IBM by Alan Shugart in 1967. The first floppy drives used an 8-inch disk (later called a "diskette" as it got smaller), which evolved into the 5.25-inch disk that was used on the first IBM Personal Computer in August 1981. The 5.25-inch disk held 360 kilobytes compared to the 1.44 megabyte capacity of today's 3.5-inch diskette.

The 5.25-inch disks were dubbed "floppy" because the diskette packaging was a very flexible plastic envelope, unlike the rigid case used to hold today's 3.5-inch diskettes.

By the mid-1980s, the improved designs of the read/write heads, along with improvements in the magnetic recording media, led to the less-flexible, 3.5-inch, 1.44-megabyte (MB) capacity FDD in use today. For a few years, computers had both FDD sizes (3.5-inch and 5.25-inch). But by the mid-1990s, the 5.25-inch version had fallen out of popularity, partly because the diskette's recording surface could easily become contaminated by fingerprints through the open access area.

Parts of a Floppy Disk Drive

Floppy Disk Drive Terminology

* Floppy disk - Also called diskette. The common size is 3.5 inches.
* Floppy disk drive - The electromechanical device that reads and writes floppy disks.
* Track - Concentric ring of data on a side of a disk.
* Sector - A subset of a track, similar to wedge or a slice of pie.

The Disk
A floppy disk is a lot like a cassette tape:

* Both use a thin plastic base material coated with iron oxide. This oxide is a ferromagnetic material, meaning that if you expose it to a magnetic field it is permanently magnetized by the field.
* Both can record information instantly.
* Both can be erased and reused many times.
* Both are very inexpensive and easy to use.

If you have ever used an audio cassette, you know that it has one big disadvantage -- it is a sequential device. The tape has a beginning and an end, and to move the tape to another song later in the sequence of songs on the tape you have to use the fast forward and rewind buttons to find the start of the song, since the tape heads are stationary. For a long audio cassette tape it can take a minute or two to rewind the whole tape, making it hard to find a song in the middle of the tape.

A floppy disk, like a cassette tape, is made from a thin piece of plastic coated with a magnetic material on both sides. However, it is shaped like a disk rather than a long thin ribbon. The tracks are arranged in concentric rings so that the software can jump from "file 1" to "file 19" without having to fast forward through files 2-18. The diskette spins like a record and the heads move to the correct track, providing what is known as direct access storage.

In the illustration above, you can see how the disk is divided into tracks (brown) and sectors (yellow).

The Drive
The major parts of a FDD include:

* Read/Write Heads: Located on both sides of a diskette, they move together on the same assembly. The heads are not directly opposite each other in an effort to prevent interaction between write operations on each of the two media surfaces. The same head is used for reading and writing, while a second, wider head is used for erasing a track just prior to it being written. This allows the data to be written on a wider "clean slate," without interfering with the analog data on an adjacent track.

* Drive Motor: A very small spindle motor engages the metal hub at the center of the diskette, spinning it at either 300 or 360 rotations per minute (RPM).

* Stepper Motor: This motor makes a precise number of stepped revolutions to move the read/write head assembly to the proper track position. The read/write head assembly is fastened to the stepper motor shaft.

* Mechanical Frame: A system of levers that opens the little protective window on the diskette to allow the read/write heads to touch the dual-sided diskette media. An external button allows the diskette to be ejected, at which point the spring-loaded protective window on the diskette closes.

* Circuit Board: Contains all of the electronics to handle the data read from or written to the diskette. It also controls the stepper-motor control circuits used to move the read/write heads to each track, as well as the movement of the read/write heads toward the diskette surface.

The read/write heads do not touch the diskette media when the heads are traveling between tracks. Electronic optics check for the presence of an opening in the lower corner of a 3.5-inch diskette (or a notch in the side of a 5.25-inch diskette) to see if the user wants to prevent data from being written on it.

Click on the picture to see a brief video of a diskette being inserted. Look for the silver, sliding door opening up and the read/write heads being lowered to the diskette surface.

Read/write heads for each side of the diskette

Writing Data on a Floppy Disk
The following is an overview of how a floppy disk drive writes data to a floppy disk. Reading data is very similar. Here's what happens:

1. The computer program passes an instruction to the computer hardware to write a data file on a floppy disk, which is very similar to a single platter in a hard disk drive except that it is spinning much slower, with far less capacity and slower access time.

2. The computer hardware and the floppy-disk-drive controller start the motor in the diskette drive to spin the floppy disk.

The disk has many concentric tracks on each side. Each track is divided into smaller segments called sectors, like slices of a pie.

3. A second motor, called a stepper motor, rotates a worm-gear shaft (a miniature version of the worm gear in a bench-top vise) in minute increments that match the spacing between tracks.

The time it takes to get to the correct track is called "access time." This stepping action (partial revolutions) of the stepper motor moves the read/write heads like the jaws of a bench-top vise. The floppy-disk-drive electronics know how may steps the motor has to turn to move the read/write heads to the correct track.

4. The read/write heads stop at the track. The read head checks the prewritten address on the formatted diskette to be sure it is using the correct side of the diskette and is at the proper track. This operation is very similar to the way a record player automatically goes to a certain groove on a vinyl record.

5. Before the data from the program is written to the diskette, an erase coil (on the same read/write head assembly) is energized to "clear" a wide, "clean slate" sector prior to writing the sector data with the write head. The erased sector is wider than the written sector -- this way, no signals from sectors in adjacent tracks will interfere with the sector in the track being written.

6. The energized write head puts data on the diskette by magnetizing minute, iron, bar-magnet particles embedded in the diskette surface, very similar to the technology used in the mag stripe on the back of a credit card. The magnetized particles have their north and south poles oriented in such a way that their pattern may be detected and read on a subsequent read operation.

7. The diskette stops spinning. The floppy disk drive waits for the next command.

On a typical floppy disk drive, the small indicator light stays on during all of the above operations.

Floppy Disk Drive Facts
Here are some interesting things to note about FDDs:

* Two floppy disks do not get corrupted if they are stored together, due to the low level of magnetism in each one.

* In your PC, there is a twist in the FDD data-ribbon cable -- this twist tells the computer whether the drive is an A-drive or a B-drive.

* Like many household appliances, there are really no serviceable parts in today's FDDs. This is because the cost of a new drive is considerably less than the hourly rate typically charged to disassemble and repair a drive.

* If you wish to redisplay the data on a diskette drive after changing a diskette, you can simply tap the F5 key (in most Windows applications).

* In the corner of every 3.5-inch diskette, there is a small slider. If you uncover the hole by moving the slider, you have protected the data on the diskette from being written over or erased.

* Floppy disks, while rarely used to distribute software (as in the past), are still used in these applications:
o in some Sony digital cameras
o for software recovery after a system crash or a virus attack
o when data from one computer is needed on a second computer and the two computers are not networked
o in bootable diskettes used for updating the BIOS on a personal computer
o in high-density form, used in the popular Zip drive

Lots More Information!

Related HSW Articles

* How Hard Disks Work
* How Analog and Digital Recording Works
* How Tape Recorders Work

Where to Buy

* Compare prices of floppy disk drives
* Super Deals

Other Great Links

* PC Guide Reference Guide: Floppy Disk Drive
* PC Mechanic's Floppy Drives
* Troubleshooting Floppy Disk Drives

Nnnooooooooo (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233560)

They're like phone booths: I never use them but I still want to have them around!

I want my floppy (2, Insightful)

jackb_guppy (204733) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233561)

I just got a new thinkpad and my IT department thinks no one needs a floppy. Now I can not support current customers: that will not allow me to connect ot their network, and do not have cd-rom on thier machines, network loaded. And do not have USB turned on. But they do have floppies drives.

I have to customer software from time to time that the master key comes encrypted on a floppy. Realy great the most servers that I get to work on do not now have floppies.

Can some one tell DELL and hardware houses, that the customer right? We need equipment to meet customer needs not some point head pencil pusher.

6 months from now.. (1, Funny)

bravehamster (44836) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233563)

Dell wants to stop including double-button mice as standard hardware on its Dimension line of desktops, and will start this practice later this quarter, as reported on Yahoo. Says Dell's product marketing: "We would like to see customers migrate away from double-button mice as quickly as possible, because there are better alternative technologies out there ... like alt-clicking, or holding down the single button. At some point, you've got to face the facts. Our customers just can't handle the complexity of two buttons, and neither can our interns. What's that? Copying Apple? A damnable lie sir, a slander!" They plan to educate their customers about more effectively using the single button god gave them, and to quit asking so many questions.

But without floppies... (1)

indros13 (531405) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233566)

...I won't be able to angrily hurl a 3.5" plastic piece after my boot disk has become corrupted again?

Or what about my nerd-style sexual innuendo? I suppose we still have hard disks :-)

As a joke... (2, Funny)

drxenos (573895) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233568)

I just built a new machine. 3.06Ghz Intel, Radeon 9700 Pro, the works. As a joke, I put a dual 3 1/2 and 5 1/4 drive in it that I got off ebay. None of my friends "got it." They aren't geeks. Sigh.

So I guess CDRW drives are going to be standard ? (2, Insightful)

www.2cups.com (642654) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233569)

I hope that they will make CDRW drives standard at this point. Colin

Cheap Media (1)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233575)

Yes, the new technologies work great, but the cost of media is ALOT cheaper with floppies.

USB Key Drives? (2, Insightful)

szquirrel (140575) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233582)

I dunno, the USB key/pen/stick/whatever drives aren't anywhere near as convenient as floppies yet. There are still lots of old PCs out there that don't have USB. Lots more do have it, but the ports are in back and a pain to get to.

CDRs on the other hand have been around a lot longer and work on more platforms. Now that new CD burners don't make coasters nearly as often, just give us small cheap 80mm CDRs with thin jewelboxes to carry them in and you have a great floppy replacement.

:D (0)

snatcheroo (576329) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233588)

It is excellent to see that a 'big' contender in the prefab PC market is adopting this stand point. Although they're not the first to do it, I think that this move will encourage other companies to follow suit. And needless to say it is about time. Good stuff Dell!

Old news (1)

Oriumpor (446718) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233589)

Blah blah, compaq did this a while ago as well as making XP the ONLY MS os they would install dropping 2k and ME

That's understandable. (1)

Dan Aloni (584167) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233593)

The 1.44mb diskettes technology is really below the standards of today's computing.
Not even that you can't put a single average MP3 on it, there's a huge chance it would get corrupted with bad sectors.
Nothing justifies the existence of that technology in new computers. Almost everybody have E-Mail addresses today, so sending something as small as 1.44MB to someone is really quick and doesn't require a diskette.

Slightly Off Topic (1)

LordYUK (552359) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233594)

When I was little (like, 4), we had a Commodore 64. All the software was on 5 inch floppy disks. So I thought they were floppy disks because they "flopped" if you shook them around. Later on we got an Amiga which used 3 inch floppies. Took me years to figure out that when people were saying "hard disks" they werent talking about them. (before you flame me for being an idiot, years was about when we got a 386 which actually HAD a hard disk drive, and I couldnt have been more than 10.)

By god, in those days we had BBS's on 2400 baud modems and we liked it! My mom and her friend actually had one of the top 100 in the country, per some magazine... sandcastle anyone? I think it still exists.

Floppy, we shall miss thee.

Boot? (1)

cybaea (79975) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233598)

You can't boot from a USB device, can you? Can the BIOS keep up with all these new devices? About the only time I use the floppy is to boot a reduced Linux system to try an recover a (usually Windows) machine that has goot itself in a twist. Very handy. I guess I could make a bootable CD. And a bootable USB device. And hope that the BIOS allows me to boot from either. I guess it had to go, but I'd like to see a universally available replacement first, supported by every (new, I guess) BIOS. Maybe it is all a plot to make sure we only boot pre-installed operating systems? :-)

good riddance! (1)

Lxy (80823) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233603)

Floppies are legacy devices. New PCs, with their CDROM bootable BIOS and stuff pretty much eliminated the need for floppies. Good move for Dell, it's time for new faster/bigger/more reliable options (like CDRW) to replace it.

Keep that floppy drive around though, there's WAY too many PCs out there without CDROMs (let alone bootable BIOSes) and you'll still need floppies for quite awhile.
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