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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.

Iomega and the zip drive

Iomega entered the removable storage business in the 1980s with the Bernoulli Box, which could store 10MB or 20MB of data on large magnetic-disk cartridges.

Later revisions of this technology yielded the Zip drive (1994), which could store 100MB of data on an inexpensive 3.5in disk.

People liked the format because it was inexpensive and capacious, and Zip drives enjoyed strong sales throughout the remaining years of the 1990s. But CD-Rs could store even more data (650MB) and when the price of CD-R discs dropped to cents apiece, Zip drive sales plummeted.

Iomega tried to keep up with improved drives of 250MB and then 750MB capacity, but the CD-R had already won. Zip faded into history.

Photos: Iomega

The floptical disk

Insight Peripherals introduced the first 'floptical' drive in 1992. It stored 21MB of data on a special 3.5in magnetic floppy disk (upper left).

Unlike some alternative forms of storage, this promising format was backward-compatible with traditional 3.5in floppies.

The key to the floptical drive's high capacity was its hybrid 'floppy-optical' system, which combined traditional magnetic media with laser-based head tracking for more-precise writes, resulting in more tracks (and more storage) per disk.

In the late 1990s, two new backward-compatible floptical formats -the Imation LS-120 SuperDisk (120MB, lower right) and the Sony HiFD (150MB, upper right) - debuted and were primed to compete with the Iomega Zip drive. In the end, though, all of them lost out to CD-R.

Photos: Yesterday's Technology/Benj Edwards/Sony/Imation

NEXT PAGE: A removable mess

  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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