What is a floppy disk? A floppy disk or floppy diskette is a removable magnetic disc storage medium. Floppies were the main storage media for personal computers until optical discs or flash media were introduced.
Floppy diskettes are composed of a polyester plastic base material. The base is fairly thin and is flexible. It is this flexibility that resulted in the term floppies for these disks.
On the other hand, hard drives contain rigid disks that do not flex and therefore these are often referred to as hard disks. The flexible plastic base on the floppy diskette is usually coated on both sides with a polymeric material referred to as the binder. The role of the binder is to hold the magnetic particles on the base of the disk and to protect the magnetic material from damage. It is the magnetic particles that store the digital information.
In order to further answer the question – what is a floppy disk, it is useful to quickly look at the various formats for these diskettes. Floppy disks are generally found in three sizes: 8 inches, 5.25 inches, and 3.5 inches. Each of the sizes may have been available in a variety of formats such as single sided or double sided, single density or double density, etc. Note that a Zip disk is also a floppy disk that is 3.5 inches in size.
What is a floppy disk’s storage capacity?
Capacities of floppy diskettes are very low compared to today’s storage media. The maximum capacities of the formats listed above are generally in the 80 KB to 1.44 MB range. The main exception is the Zip disk with capacities of 100 MB, 250 MB, and even 750 MB. In comparison to CD and DVD optical disc media, it would take about 486 of 3.5 inch floppy disks (1.44 MB capacity) to fill a CD and 3264 of 3.5 inch floppy disks to fill a single layer DVD.
What is the access speed?
The data access speed for floppies is fairly slow when compared to rigid magnetic disks or rigid optical discs. This is because there is a limit in terms of how fast the floppy disk can be spun. Spinning a floppy disk too fast will result in flexing of the disk or warping as it spins and this will result in poor magnetic head to diskette surface contact and read errors. There is also a limit for rigid systems. For example, for CDs, the limit is 52 times normal speed. Beyond this the CD will start to flex as well.
Floppy disks can be found in flexible vinyl sleeves (with an oval shaped opening so that the drive can have access to the diskette surface) that are often inserted in paper or Tyvek type storage pockets. This is the normal storage arrangement for 8 inch and 5.25 inch diskettes. The Zip and 3.5 inch diskettes are found in hard plastic shells with a sliding gate in order for the drive to have access to the disk. Zip disks are often stored in plastic cases. The 3.5 inch diskettes are found stored as is or in a storage box that can hold many disks, although plastic, paper, and Tyvek sleeves are often used as well to hold the disks.
A floppy disk is a format that is not used often nowadays. New computers do not come equipped with floppy drives and the demands of high storage capacities for files being generated nowadays make this format irrelevant. Older disks may have degraded and may not readable due to errors and drives to read the disks may no longer be available or may not be functioning. If you have a drive that can read the floppy disks in your collection, it is best to copy the information from them onto another storage medium as soon as possible. There is no point in storing the original diskettes long-term under controlled temperature and relative humidity conditions if successful copies have been made. Due to the unavailability of floppy disk drives in the near future, the disks will not be able to be read in the future.
After the copying has been performed, there is still the issue of being able to open the files since the file types or software used to open the files may not be available anymore. This is a common problem with all older file formats, especially those not widely used.