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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.

The floppy diskette

IBM introduced the first commercial floppy drive in 1971. It worked with 8in flexible disks coated with a magnetic material and permanently encased in a plastic sheath.

Users quickly recognised that, for loading data into computers, floppy disks were faster, cheaper, and more space-efficient than stacks of punch cards.

In 1976, the floppy's co-inventor, Alan Shugart, created a new 5.25in floppy drive for personal computers. That disk size remained an industry-wide standard until the latter half of 1980s, when Sony's 3.5in floppy format (invented in 1981) achieved marketplace dominance.

By 2002, though, people had begun to ask, 'What has your floppy drive done for you lately?'

Photos: Benj Edwards

The compact cassette

Philips developed the Compact Cassette - two small reels of magnetic tape in a plastic shell - as a format for audio recordings in the 1960s.

HP briefly used that format in its HP 9830 (1972), but the compact cassette didn't gain widespread popularity for digital data until a few years later, when personal computer hackers, hungry for cheap storage, commandeered the format.

The medium remained popular in bargain computers of the late 1970s and early 1980s because both the media and the drive were so inexpensive (many computers could load and save data from a standard audiocassette player).

Photos: Benj Edwards/Commodore

NEXT PAGE: The ROM cartridge

  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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