A floppy disk is a thin, flexible magnetic storage device that is stored in a square or rectangular plastic cover. They are read and written by a floppy disk drive in the computer. There are five major parts of a floppy disk. The read/write heads are on both sides and move together. The drive motor is a small spindle motor that spins in the center, while the stepper number moves at a certain speed to read or write. The mechanical frame is a system of levers that open a protective window, along with a button to eject the disk. The circuit board contains all the electronics of the disk. It allows the entire disk to work and all the parts rely on it. To operate the floppy disk, there is a small motor in the drive that rotates the disk at a certain speed. At the same time, a second motor-operated mechanism moves the magnetic read/write head along the surface of the disk. In order to write data onto the disk, a current is sent through a coil in the head. The magnetic field of the coil magnetizes spots on the rotating disk, and the change in magnetization programs the digital data. To read data, the tiny voltages stimulated in the head coil by the magnetization on the disk are detected and sent to the floppy disk controller. It separates the data from the stream of pulses coming from the drive to decode it and make sure it is free of errors. Then, it sends the data on to the host computer system. If the floppy disk is blank, it will have a uniform featureless coating of magnetic oxide on it. Initially, a pattern of tracks that are magnetized and broken up into sectors is written on the disk so it can find data when it’s ready. The tracks are rings around the disk with empty spaces that are open for data to be written. Some of the gaps are filled with padded bytes that help with speed variation; however, when new data is introduced, the controller discards them. Each sector of data has a header that distinguishes the sector location on the disk. A cyclic check is written on the headers to check for errors when reading data. Most computer systems have programs built in that are designed to format blank disks.
The floppy disk has drastically impacted the way computers store information and has become present in most home and personal computers today. Before hard disks, floppy disks were also used to store the computer’s operating system as well as other data. As time went on, data sizes increased which meant that multiple floppy disks were needed. To help with that problem, CD-ROMs and Zip drives were introduced. However, in the case of the zip drive, they were unaffordable and did not have a standard device. Instead, drives and media were constantly changing and therefore not compatible. USB flash drives became popular as well. Presently, manufacturers and retailers have reduced the availability of floppy disk drives in computers and of the disks themselves.
The first known floppy disks were created by IBM and available in 1971. Shugart Associates introduced the first 5.25 inch floppy disk drive and media in 1976. The production of these grew quickly and then faded. However, in 1984, the 1.2 megabyte dual sided floppy disk was introduced, which influenced the development of more advanced double sided disks. Throughout the 1990s, many attempts were made to introduce newer formatted disks based on the universal 3.5 inch format. While it was thought that floppy disks would be replaced, they never were.
To use a floppy disk, it must be inserted into the disk drive with the medium opening first. The lever has to be moved down close to the drive so it can engage the motor and heads with the disk. The circular hole in the center of the disc allows room for the spindle to help the head to read and write the data. It’s spun by rotating it from the middle hole. Inside the disk are two layers of fabric designed to reduce friction between the device and its cover. Generally, floppy disks are incompatible because of their size differences. For example, 3.5 inch disks are unable to be read or written alongside an 8 inch disk. Also, the data is usually written to floppy disks in a series of sectors, angular blocks of the disk, and in tracks, concentric rings at a constant radius. To compare, 3.5 inch floppy disks use 512 bytes per sector, 18 sectors per track, 80 tracks per side and two sides, for a total of 1,474,560 bytes per disk. There are also many different formats and types of floppy disks that all work in different ways, at different speeds.
One advantage to floppy disks is that they will not destroy each other if they are stored close together because of their low magnetism. Also, they are fairly affordable. One of the biggest problems with the floppy disk is its vulnerability. Even inside a closed plastic case, the disk medium is still very sensitive to dust, condensation and extreme temperatures. As with all magnetic storage, it is also vulnerable to magnetic fields.