We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message
80,259 News Articles

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

IDG UK Sites

Sky to offer mobile phone contracts with O2: Will Vodafone make a move?

IDG UK Sites

Good news for Apple, bad news for Samsung (and the rest of us)

IDG UK Sites

Do we need to fight the government again over design and art education?

IDG UK Sites

How to make money selling books on the iBookstore, publish your book in Apple's book store