Do You Need A Floppy Drive In Your PC?
The floppy drive is the oldest and most common form of removable media around today. It was invented at IBM by Alan Shugart in 1967 and has been around commercially since the early 70's. It was originally a read-only device used to hold microcode and diagnostics for large IBM mainframe computer systems. Over the years the drives and disks have become smaller and their capacity has increased, but the technology behind the floppy has remained fairly static.
So why is the floppy still around?
Even with all the better alternatives for storing data, the floppy drive manages to hang on. This is due in large part to the end users who have become comfortable with the floppy and don't want to give it up. Every PC a person has ever owned has had a floppy drive so there is the fear of the unknown. What happens if I need to use a floppy drive to read a disk and I don't have one? You could probably ask people when the last time they used their floppy drive was and 95% would say they can't remember or never have. But of those 95%, only 5% would be comfortable buying a PC without a floppy drive. Floppy drives remain popular because the diskettes are small, inexpensive, readily available, easy to store, and have a good shelf life if stored properly. On top of that, the floppy drive is installed in pretty much every PC sold since the 70's making it easy to transfer small files between computers.
Today though, the question is, do you really need a floppy drive in your computer?
Times have changed since the introduction of the floppy drive. Floppies are fragile and can be damaged fairly easily so they are not a good solution for important data storage. Applications along with their associated files have grown larger making it difficult to fit files onto floppy disks. Floppy disks can only store 1.44MB of data so what once would fit on one or two floppies can now take 5, 6 or even more disks just to store what you need. There are also much better alternatives to transferring data off of a PC. New forms of media have been introduced to the market place that have much higher capacity, longer shelf life, are more durable, and whose drives are just as common in today's PC's as the floppy drive.
Consider some of the following alternatives to the floppy drive:
- CD-RW - CD's can store the equivalent of approximately 500 floppy disks and there is a CD drive in pretty much every PC. Like any type of media, the more a disk is used the shorter its life span will be but if stored properly, data on a CD should last between 20 and 100 years. CD's aren't as prone to damage as a floppy and the cost per CD is fairly cheap.
- DVD RW - DVD's can store the equivalent of approximately 3000 floppy disks. Although the drives are not as common in PC's their popularity is growing quickly. The expected life of a DVD is similar to that of a CD, 20 to 100 years and the cost is reasonable for the amount of storage you get.
USB Memory Keys - These devices can be purchased in almost any size right up to 1GB (this number is growing all the time), which will give the storage space of about 1000 floppy disks. USB Memory Keys are an ideal alternative to floppy disks for easy, compact, fast and reliable data transfer. There are no moving parts so there is less chance of the media becoming damaged. Most PC's sold since the mid 90's have a USB port so transferring files between PC's is fairly easy as the USB Key simply plugs into one of these ports. Current USB Memory Keys are plug and play on Windows 2000 and Windows XP, there is no need to shut down your computer and no additional software is required - the device automatically becomes visible as a new drive and users can unplug it at any time. Earlier systems such as Windows 98 will require installation of driver software before the USB Key can be used on that computer.
Other media worth mentioning:
ZIP Drive - These drives gained popularity in the late 90's but have since fallen way to other more popular and cheaper forms of media. The disks can store 750MB which is about 520 floppy disks and are very durable. The downside of this technology however is that the drives are not very common on PC's so transferring data between computers needs a ZIP drive at both locations. The cost of the disks is also expensive compared to other forms of high capacity media.
External Hard Drive - An external hard drive can be an option for moving files between computers. The size of hard drives increases all the time and space for files would never be a worry, thousands upon thousands of floppies would fit on a hard drive. An external drive connects to the PC via USB or Firewire and shows up like any other drive on the PC - no additional software to install. The downside to an external hard drive is they can be fairly expensive and are not very portable - you are not going to fit a hard drive in your back pocket.
The floppy drive is an old technology that is far past its prime and with many better alternatives to floppies available it is time to retire the floppy technology. To replace your floppy drive I would recommend buying a USB Memory Key to transfer files off of your computer. They are durable, compact and for under $100 you can get a USB Memory Key with enough capacity to store all your data files.
On your next PC purchase just say no to the floppy!
About the Author: Keith Park has been in the IT industry for the last 7 years and authors the website TechCorner PC Resource Zone. Go to http://www.techcorner.ca/computers for more articles and resources. Additional resources available @ http://mgrcentral.com/computers/default.aspx?studentid=1575219