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Floppy Drive

Floppy disk drives were a key computer component for 20 years. If you have spent any time at all working with a computer, then chances are good that you have used a floppy disk at some point. The floppy disk drive (FDD) was the primary means of adding data to a computer until the CD-ROM drive became popular. In fact, FDDs have been a key component of most personal computers for more than 20 years.
Basically, a floppy disk drive reads and writes data to a small, circular piece of metal-coated plastic similar to audio cassette tape.

Floppy Drive

History of the Floppy Disk Drive
The floppy disk drive (FDD) was invented at IBM by Alan Shugart in 1967. The first floppy drives used an 8-inch disk (later called a "diskette" as it got smaller), which evolved into the 5.25-inch disk that was used on the first IBM Personal Computer in August 1981. The 5.25-inch disk held 360 kilobytes compared to the 1.44 megabyte capacity of today's 3.5-inch diskette. The 5.25-inch disks were dubbed "floppy" because the diskette packaging was a very flexible plastic envelope, unlike the rigid case used to hold today's 3.5-inch diskettes.

By the mid-1980s, the improved designs of the read/write heads, along with improvements in the magnetic recording media, led to the less-flexible, 3.5-inch, 1.44-megabyte (MB) capacity FDD in use today. For a few years, computers had both FDD sizes (3.5-inch and 5.25-inch). But by the mid-1990s, the 5.25-inch version had fallen out of popularity, partly because the diskette's recording surface could easily become contaminated by fingerprints through the open access area.

Writing Data on a Floppy Disk
The following is an overview of how a floppy disk drive writes data to a floppy disk. Reading data is very similar.
The computer program passes an instruction to the computer hardware to write a data file on a floppy disk, which is very similar to a single platter in a hard disk drive except that it is spinning much slower, with far less capacity and slower access time.
The computer hardware and the floppy-disk-drive controller start the motor in the diskette drive to spin the floppy disk. The disk has many concentric tracks on each side. Each track is divided into smaller segments called sectors, like slices of a pie.

A second motor, called a stepper motor, rotates a worm-gear shaft (a miniature version of the worm gear in a bench-top vise) in minute increments that match the spacing between tracks.
The time it takes to get to the correct track is called "access time." This stepping action (partial revolutions) of the stepper motor moves the read/write heads like the jaws of a bench-top vise. The floppy-disk-drive electronics know how many steps the motor has to turn to move the read/write heads to the correct track.

The read/write heads stop at the track. The read head checks the prewritten address on the formatted diskette to be sure it is using the correct side of the diskette and is at the proper track. This operation is very similar to the way a record player automatically goes to a certain groove on a vinyl record.

Before the data from the program is written to the diskette, an erase coil (on the same read/write head assembly) is energized to "clear" a wide, "clean slate" sector prior to writing the sector data with the write head. The erased sector is wider than the written sector -- this way, no signals from sectors in adjacent tracks will interfere with the sector in the track being written.

Floppy Disk Drive Facts
Here are some interesting things to note about FDDs:
Two floppy disks do not get corrupted if they are stored together, due to the low level of magnetism in each one.

In your PC, there is a twist in the FDD data-ribbon cable -- this twist tells the computer whether the drive is an A-drive or a B-drive.

Like many household appliances, there are really no serviceable parts in today's FDDs. This is because the cost of a new drive is considerably less than the hourly rate typically charged to disassemble and repair a drive.

If you wish to redisplay the data on a diskette drive after changing a diskette, you can simply tap the F5 key (in most Windows applications).

In the corner of every 3.5-inch diskette, there is a small slider. If you uncover the hole by moving the slider, you have protected the data on the diskette from being written over or erased.