Farewell to the Floppy

If you’re a geek of a certain age, the chances are you’ve at some point sniggered at the mention of a 3.5″ floppy. Those days are over with Sony effectively announcing the death of the floppy disk drive.

Created in the early 1980s as a smaller, higher-capacity successor to larger formats, the 3.5″ initially had a capacity of around 280 kilobytes. With models available in both single and double-sided versions, along with three different densities, the format could eventually hold 1.44MB. To put that into context, it’s about enough to store a minute or so of audio.

Aside from size and capacity, the major difference between the 3.5″ and its 5.25″ predecessor was that despite the name (which referred to the disk itself), the 3.5″ disk came in a solid plastic casing. This made it both less susceptible to accidental damage, and much more a challenge to deliberately destroy.

The physical design of the 3.5″ disk created a couple of other unofficial characteristics. One was that it was just about the right weight to make it a particular pleasure to use the spring-loaded eject button on the drive: I pity anyone who worked in an office of any kind in the early 90s and didn’t take part in a contest to shoot the disk as far as possible.

The disk casing could also be cracked open when attempting to destroy it for security reasons, with the disk itself then cut to shreds with scissors. This may be a personal quirk, but the metal-on-metal cutting always made me feel downright queasy.

The format is believed to have overtaken its 5.25″ predecessor in 1988 and was the main recordable media format through much of the 1990s. Eventually, though, it was superseded by recordable CDs, which had a drastically higher capacity.

Sony, which was the last major 3.5″ disk manufacturer and had wound up with a dominant market share, has now announced it limited supply to only cover a few markets in March and will cease production in Japan early next year.

PCWorld notes that while 12 million 3.5″ disks were sold in Japan by Sony last year, the total data which could be stored on them wouldn’t fill one side of a Blu-ray disc.

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13 Responses to Farewell to the Floppy

  1. PCWorld's maths is not quite right. 12 million * 1.44MB is about 17TB (17,280 GB) and not 17GB as they suggested.

    A Blu-Ray is 25GB per side so the floppies would hold the equivalent of about 350 Blu-rays (or more if single sided).

    That's still impressive but a lot bigger than half a blu-ray.

  2. PCWorld’s maths is not quite right. 12 million * 1.44MB is about 17TB (17,280 GB) and not 17GB as they suggested.

    A Blu-Ray is 25GB per side so the floppies would hold the equivalent of about 350 Blu-rays (or more if single sided).

    That’s still impressive but a lot bigger than half a blu-ray.

  3. I miss the floppy-throwing competition we use to do in our neighborhood park :)

    We even had some of those huge 8-inch floppies to throw. it was awesome.

  4. I miss the floppy-throwing competition we use to do in our neighborhood park :)

    We even had some of those huge 8-inch floppies to throw. it was awesome.

  5. One correction, the 3.5" format did top out at 2.88 Meg. Granted, it was something that IBM only had with the PS/2 series of machines, and it was a commercial failure, but they did exist.

  6. One correction, the 3.5″ format did top out at 2.88 Meg. Granted, it was something that IBM only had with the PS/2 series of machines, and it was a commercial failure, but they did exist.

  7. It's quite sad, though is not used from a lot of time (at least in my case).

    I remember very clear this big rumour coming from my first 5 1/4 unit: TIC-TIC-VRRRR-TIC-TIC… :-)

    And how fast it seemed to me to have a game loaded comparing to the cassette noisy and slow charging…

    The floppy is dead, long live the floppy disk.

  8. It’s quite sad, though is not used from a lot of time (at least in my case).

    I remember very clear this big rumour coming from my first 5 1/4 unit: TIC-TIC-VRRRR-TIC-TIC… :-)

    And how fast it seemed to me to have a game loaded comparing to the cassette noisy and slow charging…

    The floppy is dead, long live the floppy disk.

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