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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Designing and Specifying PC Systems and Components | Detailed Considerations and Tips for Specifying Particular Components ]

Floppy Disk Drives

Description: The floppy disk drive is the oldest type of permanent storage device used in the PC world. The first PCs used floppy drives exclusively for long-term storage, before hard disks even appeared in PC systems. Over time floppies have moved from the foreground to the background to the point where they are now even starting to disappear from some systems. They still have a role to play even in modern PCs however, or at least, I believe they do.

I am only going to discuss regular 3.5" 1.44 MB floppy disks here. There are older types as well, such as the various types of 5.25" floppy drives, or the 3.5" 720 kB floppies that were used in PCs in the 1980s. For at least the last decade, however, the 3.5" 1.44 MB floppy drive has been the standard in the PC world, and that's the only type ever equipped on new systems.

There are also now enhanced "floppy-like" drives available, such as the LS120 "SuperDisk" drive. These drives are really removable media drives that compete with products such as the Iomega Zip drive. However, they retain the ability to read and write conventional floppy disk drives, making them very useful, and you may want to consider them as an alternative to a regular floppy drive. Still, they aren't conventional floppy disk drives and aren't comparable to them in terms of media, interface (they use IDE/ATAPI like optical drives, not the standard floppy interface) and certainly not cost (they are about three to four times as much money). I will not be covering them here.

Tip: For additional information on floppy disk drives, including more discussion of many of the technical details, criteria and features mentioned below, see the Reference Guide section on floppy disk drives.

Role and Subsystems: The floppy disk drive is a storage component and part of the storage subsystem. It interfaces to the motherboard through the floppy interface.

Related Components: Just the motherboard. Support for floppies is standard on all motherboards and not given much consideration today.

Key Compatibility Selection Criteria: None, really, as long as you stick to standard 3.5" 1.44 MB floppies. The only possible issue might be a case that did not have a 3.5" external drive bay, but even this is not a big problem as adapter kits are available to allow 3.5" drives to be mounted in 5.25" bays.

Performance and Capacity Selection Criteria: None, again, assuming we are sticking to standard floppy drives.

Quality Selection Criteria: Compared to most other PC components, floppy drive technology is very, very old, and the designs are standardized. Any name brand drive will do an acceptable job.

Important Features: None.

"Magic Numbers" To Watch For: None.

Performance Impact: None, assuming you are only using floppies for file transfer and small file backup. I would not recommend trying to work directly on floppies as they are incredibly slow devices compared to anything else within the PC.

Retail, OEM and Gray Market Issues: Not really relevant; floppy drives are cheap and all work pretty much the same. This is probably the only place where you really can just "get whatever is cheapest". (Of course, you can get a Sony, Teac, Mitsumi or other recognizable name brand for only a couple of dollars more than "Joe's floppy" brand, so why not?)

Importance of Manufacturer: Not. :^)

Typical Component Lifetime: Most floppy drives work reliably for years, provided that they are cleaned regularly. At one time floppies were repaired if they developed problems but with the drives now costing under $20 they are just replaced if necessary.

Warranty Issues: A thirty-day warranty is generally acceptable; failures are unusual.

Driver Support Issues: Not applicable.

Special Specification Considerations: The only really relevant specification issue for floppy disk drives is this: get one! :^) You won't use it often, and it's not really an important part of the PC, but you'll certainly appreciate having it the next time you buy a hardware device and find its drivers came on a floppy (which is still quite common). You also may need it to reinstall your operating system in the event of a hard disk crash, and so on... There are some PCs now selling without a floppy disk drive, which seems to me an unnecessary restriction not justified by the very small amount of cost this saves.

Next: Optical (CD/DVD) Drives

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