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Is the Floppy Disk Officially Dead?


I bought a Toshiba laptop in 2003 and I think it was their last model to come with an internal floppy disk drive.
I've also noticed, that over the last 5 years, the quality of floppy disks themselves has worsened and now, in a box of 10 disks, you can expect to find several duds.
So as a portable storage medium the floppy disk is well and truly dead and its successor is the USB Flash Drive, invented by IBM in 1998.
Let's be consistent with the terminology: not a thumb drive or pen drive and definitely not a memory stick.

A floppy disk can only hold 1.44mb of data.
During its lifetime there were several attempts to increase this capacity but none caught on.
It's now hard to buy a flash drive with less than 256mb of storage and you can get one with a capacity of 4gb for under £10 - that's as much data as a DVD can hold.
Capacity-wise and cost-per-megabyte the flash drive is streets ahead of the floppy disk.
Flash drives are physically robust with no moving parts and should survive a cycle in a washing machine.
They require no special device on a PC to read them as they plug into the ubiquitous USB socket and can transfer data at up to 400mbps.
Flash drives should therefore work in the vast majority of PCs going back as far as
Windows 98, as well as Linux computers and any Mac with a USB socket.
They match and extend the role of the floppy disk and so there's no reason to persist with floppies.
I admonish people I see still using floppy disks and point them in the direction of flash drives.

A flash drive should not, of course, be the only place where important files are stored, but this warning applies equally to all forms of data storage so far invented.
There's some debate as to whether the data on a flash drive can be corrupted by airport
X-ray machines and flash memory, which is at the heart of flash drives and all other memory cards, does have a couple of Achilles Heels that you should be aware of:-


1 -

Under ideal conditions the data stored on a flash drive will still be readable after 10 years before all the electrical charge, that represents '1's and '0', leaks away so it should not be considered as a long-term storage device.

2 -

A higher voltage is required to write flash memory than to read from it and each write operation slightly damages the flash memory cell.
Each cell can only survive a finite number of erase/write cycles before failing.
In early models this was 10,000 but modern flash drives quote several million erase/write operations although the time required for each cycle gradually increases.
The true safe limit is thought to be around 100,000.
The number of read operations is unlimited.
If an "instant on" PC was made using flash for its main memory it would start to fail within a day or 2.
If you used flash memory for a shared network drive it might work OK for up to a year but it's too risky to consider.
For "floppy replacement" use it's hard to get anywhere close to 100,000 erase/write cycles.
Maybe it's a good idea to retire all flash memory devices, used in cameras, mobile phones and mp3 players after 5 years use.


Floppy disks have another role besides portable storage and this is to boot computers which are having a problem booting normally or to initiate a Windows installation onto a blank hard drive.
Sure, you can boot a computer from a CD or a flash drive but bootable CDs are technically challenging to make and only the most modern computers have a BIOS that supports booting from a flash drive.
I therefore recommend that, for the foreseeable future, you still include a floppy drive in servers. You can get a floppy drive that also has slots for all the common flash memory cards which can be useful.

My next laptop won't have a floppy drive so I've bought myself a USB floppy drive and a few packs of quality brand floppy disks while these are still available.
In my line of work I keep coming across technology I thought was dead, such as Windows 98 PCs, so I'm sure to have the need to make bootable floppies for many years to come.
For normal users I recommend abandoning floppy disks without delay and copying any data you may have stored on old floppies to a CD.
For disaster recovery purposes, don't worry that you can no longer buy a PC with a floppy drive but instead get yourself one of the many free or commercial rescue CDs that can boot your PC independently of the hard drive to allow you to fix problems with the Windows system or just copy important data from the hard drive to safety, usually onto a flash drive.

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