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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.

Removable storage for your rodent?

This IBM/Hitachi press photo shows not a capybara-size hamster but a tiny Compact Flash-size hard-disk drive called the Microdrive.

Introduced in 2003, this miracle of miniaturisation briefly provided high storage capacity and performance for low cost - before ever-more-capacious flash media eclipsed those advantages.

The Apple iPod (2001) and other media players used similar spinning-disk devices, but device makers (and household pets) became frustrated with the Microdrive's inherent fragility, high power requirements, and limited storage capacity. The format is already flirting with obsolescence.

Photo: Hitachi

The USB connection

Since 1998 or so, PC users have been living in the USB era.

The convenience of USB plug-and-play operation makes every computer user's life easier, and that advantage extends to removable storage as well.

Small, portable USB-powered hard drives (lower left) are common today; they hold lots of data and get cheaper every year.
Even more popular is today's reigning removable-media champ: the USB thumb drive (introduced in 2000).

In coupling flash media's rapidly growing data-storage capability with conveniently small size, the USB key is the format to beat - and it might prove to be the last removable media we'll need.

Photos: Trek/M-Systems/Kingston/Buffalo

NEXT PAGE: The hive mind

  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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