3.5" FDD (Floppy Disk Drive) is Dead! Long live the USB Drive!


Do you remember the last time you used the FDD drive of your computer, and for what? Chance is if you have used it then it would be for some emergency booting of the computer, or for recovery of your broken OS. Meaning you would have not used it for data transfer using this medium.

Currently this magnetic medium is fast getting replaced by the “flash Rom” drives that we also know by Pen Drive or USB Drive. This new medium is killing the old magnetic medium for its reliability, speed and ever growing capacity.

Historically the secondary storage is always in the realm of change. Technology and needs are always pushing the medium smaller, faster, more reliable, secure and of expanding capacity. Just like some 10 years back the 5.25” dives were replaced by this 3.5” drives for smaller size and larger capacity.


History of secondary storage is quiet interesting, as it has seen the use of papers to silicon to optical medium. With each generation it gets better, faster and smaller is size and always increasing the storage capacity.

Paper Punch Card

Paper Punch cards used initially as the first external storage device. It used paper card/roll with holes as data. Meaning a hole was zero, and no hole was one. Programmers used to punch the card for providing input. Card printers were there to punch the output for storage.

Floppy Drive (8”)

Once the magnetic media started to be used for storage, paper media was quickly made obsolete. Magnetic disks of round shape emerged as the standard for secondary storage device. It became very popular as it was more robust and handy than the paper roll, and could store more data.

Floppy Drive (5.25”)

Further advancement in the material and magnetic technology provided better density and provided much higher storage capacity in smaller area. Now the disks also started to become double sided providing even more data storage area in the same size disks.

Floppy Drive (3.5”)

This media peaked with the 3.5” FDD that was small and sturdy enough to be carred in the jeans pocket. Its case also provided cover even for the area that is used for reading, resulting in more protection from dust and humidity even when the floppy was not in any cover.

Zip Drive

This drive released in 1994 by a company called Iomega was capable of holding 100MB of data. This also uses the magnetic coating like the regular floppy disks, but of higher quality and of superior technology. Due to this it needs specialized drives for reading and writing on this media. This made it a good backup drive (like tape drives), but not good for using it on any machine. Currently generation of Zip Disks can hold upto 250MB of data.

Flash Drive (USB Drive)

Also known as Pen Drive is the next revolution in secondary portable storage device. Initially emerged with couple of MB storage capacity, it quickly gained attraction due to its solid state rugged construction and its capability of being used on any computer equipped with USB port. Initially it needed a specific driver to be installed on the earlier OS in order to be used, but later, due to its universally open standard and rise in use of the USB port, its support was provided natively in the OS. (Windows/Macintosh/Linux supports it natively out of the box).

So now virtually nothing more is needed for this drive to work if you have a computer with a standard USB port. Though the manufacturers are also providing additional features to the hardware like encryption, but these features generally requires additional software/driver to be installed in order to be used. And since there is not much standard for these features yet it is mostly device specific and is largely ignored for its lack of compatibility.

This standardization of protocol has lead to not only popularity of the USB flash drives, but has also provided a common way for other media to act as drive via this protocol. So now there are storage products making use of this standard to become USB drives (also called USB Mass Storage). Example includes:
- USB Hard Disk Drives
- Zip Drive with USB interface
- digital camera acting as an USB drive for accessing the photographs directly on any computer
- PDAs like Palm that already connect to the computer using USB acts as a USB drive for accessing the data stored in its memory and SD/MMC Card
- Mp3 players that doubles as USB drive!!

The list of applications are getting bigger and bigger, ultimately making this drive a very popular and successful.

Currently 1 GB USB flash drives are available, and bigger drives are on the horizon.

Portable USB HDD

As mentioned above this medium is also getting popular and is popular mainly for higher speed and capacity than what is currently provided by the USB flash drive. On the flip side it is still fragile (as having moving element) and bulkier than the flash drive.

Holographic Drives

Last but not the least is this future product. This is the media of the future that uses technology that is still in its infancy - holography. Though holography and holograms are not new and was discovered in the late 1940s, but its application for data storage is something very new. A company called InPhase Technologies is one of the forerunners in this field that has prototyped disks that can hold 200GB to 1.6TB of data. This technology uses lasers for reading and writing the data.

Why FDD is dying

Using this 1.44MB floppy disk drive was always bit unreliable. We can all recall the "Sector 0 Bad" error, and myriad number of utilities supporting various recovery and advanced modifications like:

- One marking sectors bad (NDD - Norton Disk Doctor and its surface scan (ultimately acquired by Symantec and is part of its Norton Utilities Toolset right now). - Another very popular utility was to create another zero sector if the actual one was gone bad. So what is remaining in the way of death of this magnetic medium? Only time! As of now few features still needs the magnetic floppy disk drive, like for booting for the first time, or for upgrading BIOS of the motherboard etc. This is due to it’s (FDDs) easy of programming at the lower level and more importantly for its inbuilt support in the BIOS program. So as soon as the modern BIOS start supporting the USB drives (motherboards have now started to come with this support) the floppy days are numbered.


Current Support of USB Devices by the Motherboard/BIOS

The current motherboards and BIOS have started the support of USB drive as boot device. Meaning you can have your whole operating system on this device, or simply use it as the bootable floppy (imaging carrying your whole work including the programs and applications on a small keychain). Depending on the mode of usage resources are available on the Internet for configuring your USB drive. Please checkout the links provided below where it provides tips and tricks of doing so.

Speaking of easy of use of using this feature, the problem lies with the (Windows) OS right now that does not support making the USB drive bootable. It does allow you to format the USB drive and choose the file system format, but Make Booteble option is not present at all. Never mind as there are lot of tools and utilities available (for all popular OS) that supports making it bootable, though you will have to struggle a bit.


As you see there is very little need of Floppy Disks for any use/operation and is getting replaced fast by the USB drives. Already major computer vendors have made FDD as optional feature. Now the time has come of the USB flash drive over the demise of the FDD.

Visit author's site for more information about the author as well as get access to more articles on various topics - akhilesh.in.





Copyright© 2006 Wilson's Electronics