Floppy Disks

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 KB
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.

Floppy Disks

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 finger prints through the open access area.

When you look at a floppy disk, you’ll see a plastic case that measures 3 1/2 by 5 inches. Inside that case is a very thin piece of plastic that is coated with microscopic iron particles. This disk is much like the tape inside a video or audio cassette. Basically, a floppy disk drive reads and writes data to a small, circular piece of metal-coated plastic similar to audio cassette tape.

At one end of it is a small metal cover with a rectangular hole in it. That cover can be moved aside to show the flexible disk inside. But never touch the inner disk – you could damage the data that is stored on it. On one side of the floppy disk is a place for a label. On the other side is a silver circle with two holes in it.

When the disk is inserted into the disk drive, the drive hooks into those holes to spin the circle. This causes the disk inside to spin at about 300 rpm! At the same time, the silver metal cover on the end is pushed aside so that the head in the disk drive can read and write to the disk.

Floppy disks are the smallest type of storage, holding only 1.44MB.

Floppy Disk Drive Terminology

  • Floppy disk – Also called diskette. The common size is 3.5 inches.
  • Floppy disk drive – The electromechanical device that reads and writes floppy disks.
  • Track – Concentric ring of data on aside of a disk.
  • Sector – A subset of a track, similar to wedge or a slice of pie.

It consists of a read/write head and a motor rotating the disk at a high speed of about 300 rotations per minute. It can be fitted inside the cabinet of the computer and from outside, the slit where the disk is to be inserted, is visible. When the disk drive is closed after inserting the floppy inside, the monitor catches the disk through the Central of Disk hub, and then it starts rotating.

There are two read/write heads depending upon the floppy being one sided or two sided. The head consists of a read/write coil wound on a ring of magnetic material. During write operation, when the current passes in one direction, through the coil, the disk surface touching the head is magnetized in one direction.

For reading the data, the procedure is reverse. I.e. the magnetized spots on the disk touching the read/write head induce the electronic pulses, which are sent to CPU.

The Major Parts of a FDD include:

Read/Write Heads: Located on both sides of a diskette, they move together on the same assembly. The heads are not directly opposite each other in an effort to prevent interaction between write operations on each of the two media surfaces. The same head is used for reading and writing, while a second, wider head is used for erasing a track just prior to it being written.
This allows the data to be written on a wider “clean slate,” without interfering with the analog data on an adjacent track.

Drive Motor: A very small spindle motor engages the metal hub at the center of the diskette, spinning it at either 300 or 360 rotations per minute (RPM).

Stepper Motor: This motor makes a precise number of stepped revolutions to move the read/write head assembly to the proper track position. The read/write head assembly is fastened to the stepper motor shaft.

Mechanical Frame: A system of levers that opens the little protective window on the diskette to allow the read/write heads to touch the dual-sided diskette media. An external button allows the diskette to be ejected, at which point the spring-loaded protective window on the diskette closes

Circuit Board: Contains all of the electronics to handle the data read from or written to the diskette. It also controls the stepper-motor control circuits used to move the read/write heads to each track, as well as the movement of the read/write heads toward the diskette surface.

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