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What is a Floppy Disk Drive?
Who created the Floppy Disk Drive?
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Mar 27th, 2009 09:04
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Basically, a floppy disk drive reads and writes data to a small, 
circular piece of metal-coated plastic similar to audio cassette tape. 
In this article, you will learn more about what is inside a floppy 
disk drive and how it works. You will also find out some cool facts 
about FDDs. 
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. 
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). 
Parts of a Floppy Disk Drive 
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 a side of a disk. 
Sector - A subset of a track, similar to wedge or a slice of pie. 
The Disk
A floppy disk is a lot like a cassette tape: 
Both use a thin plastic base material coated with iron oxide. This 
oxide is a ferromagnetic material, meaning that if you expose it to a 
magnetic field it is permanently magnetized by the field. 
Both can record information instantly. 
Both can be erased and reused many times. 
Both are very inexpensive and easy to use. 
If you have ever used an audio cassette, you know that it has one big 
disadvantage -- it is a sequential device. The tape has a beginning 
and an end, and to move the tape to another song later in the sequence 
of songs on the tape you have to use the fast forward and rewind 
buttons to find the start of the song, since the tape heads are 
stationary. For a long audio cassette tape it can take a minute or two 
to rewind the whole tape, making it hard to find a song in the middle 
of the tape. A floppy disk, like a cassette tape, is made from a thin 
piece of plastic coated with a magnetic material on both sides. 
However, it is shaped like a disk rather than a long thin ribbon. The 
tracks are arranged in concentric rings so that the software can jump 
from "file 1" to "file 19" without having to fast forward through 
files 2-18. The diskette spins like a record and the heads move to the 
correct track, providing what is known as direct access storage. 
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 
The read/write heads do not touch the diskette media when the heads 
are traveling between tracks. Electronic optics check for the presence 
of an opening in the lower corner of a 3.5-inch diskette (or a notch 
in the side of a 5.25-inch diskette) to see if the user wants to 
prevent data from being written on it. 
Writing Data on a Floppy Disk
The following is an overview of how a floppy disk drive writes data to 
a floppy disk. Reading data is very similar. Here's what happens: 
The computer program passes an instruction to the computer hardware to 
write a data file on a floppy disk, which is very similar to a single 
platter in a hard disk drive except that it is spinning much slower, 
with far less capacity and slower access time. 
The computer hardware and the floppy-disk-drive controller start the 
motor in the diskette drive to spin the floppy disk. The disk has many 
concentric tracks on each side. Each track is divided into smaller 
segments called sectors, like slices of a pie. 
A second motor, called a stepper motor, rotates a worm-gear shaft (a 
miniature version of the worm gear in a bench-top vise) in minute 
increments that match the spacing between tracks. The time it takes to 
get to the correct track is called "access time." This stepping action 
(partial revolutions) of the stepper motor moves the read/write heads 
like the jaws of a bench-top vise. The floppy-disk-drive electronics 
know how many steps the motor has to turn to move the read/write heads 
to the correct track. 
The read/write heads stop at the track. The read head checks the 
prewritten address on the formatted diskette to be sure it is using 
the correct side of the diskette and is at the proper track. This 
operation is very similar to the way a record player automatically 
goes to a certain groove on a vinyl record. 
Before the data from the program is written to the diskette, an erase 
coil (on the same read/write head assembly) is energized to "clear" a 
wide, "clean slate" sector prior to writing the sector data with the 
write head. The erased sector is wider than the written sector -- this 
way, no signals from sectors in adjacent tracks will interfere with 
the sector in the track being written. 
The energized write head puts data on the diskette by magnetizing 
minute, iron, bar-magnet particles embedded in the diskette surface, 
very similar to the technology used in the mag stripe on the back of a 
credit card. The magnetized particles have their north and south poles 
oriented in such a way that their pattern may be detected and read on 
a subsequent read operation. 
The diskette stops spinning. The floppy disk drive waits for the next 
command. On a typical floppy disk drive, the small indicator light 
stays on during all of the above operations. 
Floppy Disk Drive Facts
Here are some interesting things to note about FDDs: 
Two floppy disks do not get corrupted if they are stored together, due 
to the low level of magnetism in each one. 
In your PC, there is a twist in the FDD data-ribbon cable -- this 
twist tells the computer whether the drive is an A-drive or a B-drive. 
Like many household appliances, there are really no serviceable parts 
in today's FDDs. This is because the cost of a new drive is 
considerably less than the hourly rate typically charged to 
disassemble and repair a drive. 
If you wish to redisplay the data on a diskette drive after changing a 
diskette, you can simply tap the F5 key (in most Windows 
In the corner of every 3.5-inch diskette, there is a small slider. If 
you uncover the hole by moving the slider, you have protected the data 
on the diskette from being written over or erased. 
Floppy disks, while rarely used to distribute software (as in the 
past), are still used in these applications: 
in some Sony digital cameras for software recovery after a system 
crash or a virus attack when data from one computer is needed on a 
second computer and the two computers are not networked in bootable 
diskettes used for updating the BIOS on a personal computer in high-
density form, used in the popular Zip drive 
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