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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.

A removable mess

Following the stunning success of the Zip Drive in the mid- to late 1990s, a raft of competitors and follow-ups emerged, hoping to steal a piece of Zip's pie.

Iomega's most prominent competitor was SyQuest, which balkanised and diluted its own market with numerous drives like the SyJet, the SparQ, the EZFlyer, and the EZ135.

Another promising (but obscure) competitor was the Castlewood Orb, which stored 2.2GB on a Zip-like disk.

Finally, Iomega itself tried to supplement the Zip with other categories of removable media, from high-capacity removable hard disks (the 1GB and 2GB Jaz Drive) to the miniature 40MB Clik drive. None caught on the way the Zip did.

Photos: SyQuest/Castlewood/Iomega

Not just a flash in the pan

Toshiba invented NAND flash memory in the early 1980s, but the technology didn't gain prominence and a price plummet until the digital camera and PDA boom of the late 1990s.

Subsequently it has become available in myriad forms, from large proprietary cards (designed for use in early handheld PCs) to PC Card sizes to CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Secure Digital, Memory Stick, xD Picture Card, and more.

Flash storage is popular because it is completely solid-state with no moving parts. Flash cards require little power to operate, they are rugged, and their storage space has increased exponentially over the years while the media itself remains relatively inexpensive. The first CF cards held 2MB of data; today they can hold 128GB.

Photos: Sandisk/FujiFilm/Transcend/Sony/SimpleTech/Kingston

NEXT PAGE: Removable storage for your rodent

  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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