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A history of removable storage

From paper tape to USB sticks

Over the years, people have tried to transfer information from one computer to another in a dizzying number of ways. Here's a look at some of the best, along with others that time forgot.

Data on tape

The UNIVAC I (1951) started a new trend in data storage: magnetic tape.

IBM soon began using reels of magnetic tape (similar to the audio tape of the time) for computer data storage, and the rest of the industry followed suit.

Computer tape, usually stored in open reels, generally consisted of thin strips of plastic coated with a magnetically sensitive substance that computers wrote to and read from by means of electronic heads embedded in a special tape drive.

Numerous production computer models (especially mainframes and minicomputers) used open-reel tape as a mass storage medium until the 1970s and 1980s, when designers switched in increasing numbers to tape cartridges.

(Want to experience the UNIVAC for yourself? Try this simulator.)

Photo: IBM

The first removable disks

IBM introduced the first hard drive with removable disks - the IBM 1311 (shown here in the upper right image) - in 1963.

It used interchangeable disk packs, each composed of six 14-inch-diameter disks. Each disk pack stored about 2MB of data.
Many 1970s-era hard drives, such as the DEC RK05 (a similar model appears in the image to the far left), accommodated disk packs, which minicomputer companies often used for software distribution.

Photos: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Technical Information Department

NEXT PAGE: Tape cartridges

  1. From paper tape to USB sticks
  2. Data on tape
  3. Tape cartridges
  4. The floppy diskette
  5. The ROM cartridge
  6. The optical disc
  7. Iomega and the zip drive
  8. A removable mess
  9. Removable storage for your rodent
  10. The hive mind

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