Journey of the Evolution of Secondary Storage
From Paper Tape to Floppy
to Solid State 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. In summary,
you would have not used it as a data transfer or storage 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
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 even providing input. Printers were there
to punch the output for storage.
Floppy Drive (8")
Once the magnetic media started to be used for storage, paper
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 as was relatively sturdy.
Floppy Drive (5.25")
Further advancement in the material and magnetic domain 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
Floppy Drive (3.5")
This media peaked with the 3.5" FDD that is small and
sturdy enough to carry in the jeans pocket. This case also
provided cover even for the area that is used for reading.
This resulted in more protection from dust etc even if the
floppy is not in any cover.
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 other FDD, but of higher quality and of superior
technology that needs specialized drives for reading and writing
on this media. This made is a good backup drive (like tape
drives), but not good for using it on any machine. Currently
the Zip Disk can hold 250MB of data.
Flash Drive (USB Drive)
Also known as Pen Drive is the next revolution in secondary
portable storage device. Starting with couple of MB storage
capacity the main attraction was its solid state rugged construction
and capable of being used on any computer equipped with USB
port. Initially it needed specific driver to be installed
on the earlier OS in order to it getting recognized, but later,
due to its universally standard and open protocol and rise
in use of USB port in computers, its support was provided
along with the OS. (Windows/Macintosh/Linux also support this
natively out of the box).
So now virtually nothing more is needed for
this drive to work if you have a computer with USB port. Though
the manufacturers are also providing additional features to
the hardware drive like security to the data stored on it
using encryption, but these features generally require additional
software/driver to be installed in order to be used. And since
there is not much standard for these features 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 having a USB cable to make
it an USB drive for accessing all the photographs clicked,
even PDAs like Palm that already connect to the computer using
USB port acts as a USB drive for accessing the data in its
memory and SD/MMC Card present or the Mp3 player that doubles
as USB drive!! The list and applications are getting bigger
and bigger, ultimately making this drive a very popular and
Currently 1 GB USB flash drives are available,
and bigger drives are on the horizon. (Interestingly HDD popular
as of now is of 160GB and more).
Card Media (SD/MMC/MS)
It it that stamp sized media that became popular from portable
devices like Cameras and Phones. Media started shrinking and
its capacity always increasing. One can locate a 8 GB Micro
SD Card at a reasonable price these days. It uses the same
technology as the USB Drive internally, only the interface
is differing in order for it to be used by various devices
like Camera and Mobile Phones. Now days Card Reader for these
type of media are getting shipped as a standard accessory
from leading Computer manufacturers.
Portable USB HDD
As mentioned above this 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
Solid State Disk (SSD) having USB Interface
This is a semiconductor (like flash memory) based persistent
data storage device that is having no moving parts inside,
hence Solid State Disk. It emulates a Hard Disk Drive Interface
with added bonus being more robust, faster, quieter, less
space and power requirement, as compared to any hard disk
These devices have started to find way into high end Laptops
and Computers (like Sony Vaio TZ Series). Though costly right
now, it may become a standard secondary storage medium in
the coming years.
Last but not the least is the future. This is the media of
the future that uses technology that is still in its infancy
and is called holography. Though holography and holograms
are nothing new and was discovered in late 1940s, but its
application for data storage is 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 of data.
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, which was 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 for the motherboard etc. This is due to
it's 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
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 cab have your whole
operating system on this device, or simply use it as the bootable
floppy. Depending on the operation you perform resources are
available on the Internet. Please checkout the links provided
below where it provides tips and tricks of doing so.
Speaking of easy of use, 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 the Make Booteble
option is not present at all. Never mind as re are lot of
tools and utilities available (for all popular OS) that supports
making it bootable, though you will need to work a bit more.
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.
March 16, 2006
Last Updated: 1st April 2008