A floppy disk drive is a piece of computer equipment that reads data from a small disk drive and writes it to it. The most common type is the 3.5-inch drive, followed by the 5.25-inch drive, among other sizes.
The floppy drive has been the primary method of transferring data between computers and backing up files externally, from the late 1900s through the early 21st century. For the most part, the floppy disk drive is now completely obsolete.
What is a Floppy Disk Drive?
This old storage device has been replaced by other portable devices and embedded computer hardware, not only because they are more common and therefore compatible with other devices, but also because they are more powerful and can store much more data.
The optical disc drive used for DVDs, CDs and Blu-ray is one of the most commonly used hardware devices, replacing the floppy disk drive. Even the optical drive, though, is slowly moving toward solid state technology.
Important facts about the floppy disk drive
Although floppy drives are still an integral part of some existing computers, they are essentially obsolete and have been replaced by inexpensive flash drives and other portable storage media. Floppy disk drives are no longer standard equipment in newer computer systems.
Traditional internal-mount floppy disk drives are becoming less and less available. Generally, the best option for using one on a computer that doesn’t have one is an external one, perhaps a USB port like the one pictured above.
USB floppy drives communicate with your computer through the USB port and function just like any other removable storage device, such as external hard drives and flash drives.
Physical description of a floppy disk drive
A traditional 3.5-inch floppy disk drive is the size and weight of several decks of cards. Some external USB versions are only slightly larger than the floppy drives themselves.
The front of the drive has a slot for inserting the drive and a small button to eject it.
The traditional floppy drive has pre-drilled threaded holes on the sides for easy installation into the 3.5″ drive bay in your computer case. Mounting is also possible in a larger 5.25″ drive bay with a 5.25″ to 3.5″ bracket.
The floppy disk drive is mounted so that the end with the connections faces inside the computer and the disk slot faces outward.
The rear panel contains a port for a standard cable that connects to the motherboard. There is also a connection for power from the power supply.
The external floppy disk drive will only have the connection you need to connect it to your computer, usually a cable with a USB Type-A connector. Power for the external device comes from the USB connection.
Floppy Disks vs. New Data Storage Devices
A floppy disk contains a surprisingly small amount of data compared to newer technologies such as SD cards, flash drives, and disks.
Most floppy disks can only support 1.44 MB of data, which is less than the average picture or MP3! For reference, a small 8GB USB drive can hold 8,192MB, more than 5,600 times the capacity of a floppy disk.
What’s more, 8 GB is the lowest when it comes to portable storage. Some tiny USB drives can hold up to 512GB or even 1TB or more, which shows just how obsolete the floppy drive really is.
Even SD cards that can fit in phones, cameras and tablets are up to 512 GB or more.
Many desktops and laptops have a floppy drive for loading or writing installation software discs, DVD videos, music CDs, Blu-ray movies, etc. A CD can hold 700MB of data, a standard DVD supports 4.7GB, and a Blu-ray disc can hold up to 128GB if it’s a quadruple-layer disc. Internal drives are gradually being replaced from laptops in favor of USB-connected solutions.
While it is unfair to compare such outdated technology to modern technology, it can still be amusing to realize that some BDs can hold nearly 100,000 times more data than you can fit on a 1.44 MB floppy disk.