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A Brief History of External Storage Devices – From the Floppy Disk to the Hard Drive
Since the very beginning of the personal computer (PC), people have needed external storage. In the following material we will discuss the beginning of external storage (floppy disks) to current technologies. In the early days of the PC, there were only 5 1/4″ wide floppy drives. The operating system and applications had to be loaded into the floppy drives just to run the computer in the early 1980s. The computer hard drive allowed applications to be loaded into the computer without the need for the floppy disk drive. During this time, users could store their information on these floppy disks and keep them offline for later reloading in the computer.
The original 5 1/4″ floppy disks held 160 KB (kilobytes) of data but quickly improved to 360 KB. To put that into perspective, 1 KB is about half a page of text. floppy disks were made from a vinyl like disc in which you had tracks where data was stored. The 5 1/4″ drive topped out at 1.2MB (megabytes) but was still contained within the fragile floppy disk that was prone to environmental contamination. The next format to come out were the 3 1/2″ floppy disks. Not only were they smaller, but they had a plastic case protecting them. hold 1.44 MB of data and were far easier to store in cases and off site. In the late 1980s, 5 1/4″ floppy disks were replaced by the 3 1/2″ format.
During the same period in the 1980s, the internal hard drive was also becoming a standard for the PC. There are distinct differences between hard disk storage (think library of information) and memory (RAM – random access memory) and the floppy disk drive (used to carry information with you). Hard drives started in the 5 1/4″ format storing 5MB (megabytes) of data growing steadily through the 1980s up to the 1.28GB Quantum drive. To put that into perspective, 1GB is approximately 250 MP3 songs. Unlike floppy disks, hard drives were installed inside the computer. Hard drives continued to progress by shrinking their form factor to 3 1/2″ in the 1990s. These drives drives were called half-height drives. In the 1990s, hard drives grew rapidly from around 40 GB (gigabytes) of total storage to today’s 3 TB (terabytes) drives.
Hard drives continue to decline with laptop models standardized on a 2 1/2″ form factor. Hard drives inside an outer enclosure, although technically present for some time, were becoming available into the consumer market in standard form factors such as USB (Universal Serial Bus), FireWire, and SATA (Serial AT Attachment) in the 2000s. These new forms allowed these enclosures to be quite portable with a standardized interface (like USB) allowing you to connect to another system painlessly. USB provides a more generic plug and play capability allowing the system to identify the drive as soon as you plug it in. Some enclosures on the market can hold multiple drives and even offer RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disk Array) capabilities.RAID offers the ability to mirror your data from one hard drive to another or span (stripe) the data s on the disks you have. What this provides is fail-safe in case you lose a hard drive due to ECU failure r won’t notice any difference in accessing your data as other hard drives take relay.
Although disk drives remained standardized by form factor (full-height or half-height), the floppy disk drive branched out into a full field of products, including today’s USB drives. In the late 1980s, a new format called CD (compact disc) offered data stored on a plastic disc with a reflective backing. These CD drives had a 5 1/4″ form factor and fitted easily into existing PC expansion bays. The CDs began to store 680MB of data containing approximately 74 minutes of music and grew to 700 MB of data.CDs became the standard format for removable storage and are still widely used today.In the early 1990s, Iomega came to market with the Iomega Zip drive.This external storage device has started at 100 MB and reached densities of 750 MB. It was cartridge-based, continuing the innovation of 3 1/2″ floppy disks. This new type of storage had different connections to the PC.
At first the connection was SCSI (Small Computer System Interface), but later changed to a USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection. In 1995, SmartMedia had arrived on the scene from Toshiba Corporation. SmartMedia was a small (45mm) plastic card with a flash memory module inside allowing 2MB of direct storage, but this soon grew to 64MB/128MB. These cards were used in digital cameras and other devices to delete the storage and read it on your PC. Today, you can find various sizes up to 32 GB on a single card. Unlike older technologies, these newer devices were much more rugged than the floppy disk drive and much more portable. During this same period, the DVD (digital video disc) came on the market to replace the CD. This format provided 4.7 GB (8.5 GB double-layer) of storage space on the same optical disc format on which CDs were based. As density increased, Blu-Ray DVDs came to provide 50 GB of storage space, with dual-layer discs being the most common. Blu-Ray provides the best high-density video format commercially available today, with 100 GB of data being the norm.
Fast forward to today as hard drives and portable external storage have evolved into Solid State Disk (SSD) technology. This transformed portable storage enabling those ubiquitous USB drives that people carry around with them. Internal hard drives based on SSD technology allow you to use SATA to connect the drive internally to your PC or laptop. SATA is the common standard for connecting hard drives. These disks are more durable and have a shorter access time. As new emerging technologies arrive, such as cloud computing, the demand for portable storage and hard drives will decrease. Cloud computing allows you to run your application on the web while your data resides elsewhere (the cloud). Make no mistake, your data is stored, but not on your hard drive or floppy disk.
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