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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 ROM cartridge

A ROM cartridge is a circuit board containing a read-only memory (ROM) chip and a connector encased in a rigid shell. These cartridges could be used for games or programs.

Fairchild invented the ROM software cartridge for use with its Fairchild Channel F video game system in 1976.

Soon, home computers like the Atari 800 (1979) and the TI-99/4 (1979) had adopted the ROM cartridge, using it for simple software loading and distribution. Lotus even made a cartridge-based version of Lotus 1-2-3 for the IBM PCjr (1984).

ROM cartridges were fast and easy to use, but they were also relatively expensive--a drawback that sealed their doom.

Photos: Benj Edwards/IBM/Steven Stengel

The great floppy experiments

Many companies tried their hand at alternative floppy formats in the 1980s. One such 'floppy' (top center) wasn't a floppy at all: The ZX Microdrive cartridge (sometimes called a 'stringy floppy') contained an endless loop of magnetic tape, similar to an eight-track cassette.

Other experiments include Apple's FileWare (right), included with the first Apple Lisa; the 3in Compact Floppy (bottom left); and the rare 2in LT-1 floppy (top left), used only in 1989's Zenith Minisport laptop.

Other efforts appeared in niche products, but none dominated like the 5.25in and 3.5in floppy formats.

Photos: Benj Edwards/Jamie Percival

NEXT PAGE: The optical disc

  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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