Home : Hardware Terms : Drive Definition


A drive is a computer component used to store data. It may be a static storage device or may use removable media. All drives store nonvolatile data, meaning the data is not erased when the power is turned off.

Over the past several decades, drives have evolved along with other computer technologies. Below is a list of different types of computer drives.

  1. 5.25 inch floppy drive - uses flexible removable media drive, stores up to 800 KB per floppy disk, popular in the 1980s
  2. 3.5 inch floppy drive - uses more rigid removable media, stores up to 1.44 MB per disk, popular in the 1990s
  3. Optical drive - uses removable optical media such as CDs (800 MB), DVDs (4.7 - 17 GB), and Blu-ray discs (25-50 GB), available in both read-only and writable models, popular in the 2000s
  4. Flash drive - a small, highly portable storage device that uses flash memory and connects directly to a USB port
  5. HDD (hard disk drive) - the most common internal storage device used by computers over the past several decades, can store several terabytes (TB) of data
  6. SSD (solid state drive) - serves the same purpose as a hard drive but contains no moving parts; uses flash memory and provides faster performance than a hard drive

While there are many different types of drives, they are all considered secondary memory since they are not accessed directly by the CPU. Instead, when a computer reads data from a drive, the data first gets sent to the RAM so that it can be accessed more quickly. Even the fastest drives, likes SSDs, have much slower read/write speeds than RAM.

Why are computer drives called "drives?"

While an official answer remains elusive, a compelling reason is that early drives required a rotating device that would spin or "drive" the disk. While some modern drives have no moving parts, the legacy term "drive" seems to have stuck.

Updated: September 16, 2014

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This page contains a technical definition of Drive. It explains in computing terminology what Drive means and is one of many hardware terms in the TechTerms dictionary.

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