Floppy Disk

A floppy disk was a removable data storage disk commonly used in the 1980s and 1990s. They were available in multiple sizes and capacities, including 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch versions. Floppy disks contained a thin, flexible disk coated with iron oxide that stored data magnetically like a hard disk. Computers of the time usually included at least one floppy disk drive (FDD) to read and write data from floppy disks.

The first floppy disks were 8 inches in diameter, read-only, and held 80 KB of data; they primarily replaced punch cards for shipping data updates to mainframes. Smaller, consumer-friendly 5.25-inch floppy disks were the first that became popular among home computer users. Early versions could store 360 KB, while later revisions could store 1.2 MB.

3.5-inch floppy disk
3.5-inch floppy disk

Smaller 3.5-inch floppy disks eventually became more popular than the larger diskettes. 3.5-inch disks used a hard plastic case instead of a flexible one, making them more durable. The original Apple Macintosh included a built-in, 3.5-inch 400 KB floppy drive and helped popularize the format. A high-density version, released in 1987, could store 1.44 MB of data and became the standard for the next decade.

Decline of Floppy Disks

Floppy disks were the standard method for distributing software until the mid-1990s when CD-ROM drives became common. Windows 95, for example, was available in two editions — a single CD-ROM or a set of 13 floppy disks. Recordable CD-R drives allowed people to back up their data to CD instead of using a stack of unreliable floppy disks. The rise of the Internet also made it possible to transfer files online instead of delivering files on a floppy disk.

The original Apple iMac, released in 1998, was the first mainstream computer to not include a floppy disk drive; within a few years, most computer manufacturers followed their lead. Dropping costs for flash memory and the increasing adoption of USB ports led to the introduction of the USB flash drive, signaling the end of the floppy disk as the most-accessible portable storage medium.

NOTE: Even though the floppy disk is now obsolete, its likeness lives on as an icon representing the Save command.

Updated March 10, 2023 by Brian P.

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