Relic Of A Bygone Era: Sony to Cease Producing Floppy Drives

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News Posted: Mon, Apr 26 2010 5:15 PM
Sony has announced it will cease producing 1.44" drives in March, 2011. Demand for 3.5" drives and disks is larger than you might think—some 12 million disks sold in 2009—but it's time to pull the plug on the ancient standard. Once the workhorse of the computer industry, the floppy disk evolved significantly through the 70s and 80s. When CD-ROM drives and multimedia capabilities arrived in the early 90s, however, pundits began busily predicting the imminent demise of the 3.5" standard while manufacturers poured millions into disk-based product R&D. Given the ubiquitous nature of 3.5" drives, any company that could develop and successfully market the next generation of portable disks was guaranteed a massive revenue stream.

From 8" to 5.25" down to 3.5." There were also 5.25" drives only half as thick as the IBM drive shown here.

As for the 3.5" disk drive, it told both the pundits and the techies to get bent and set about surviving for another twenty years. The humble standard has proven to be a flat, rectangular, and tiny Jason Voorhees. Competing technologies included Floptical drives, Zip disks, LS-120, the Sony HiFD, and the UHD144. In every case, these devices offered vastly more storage capacity and far better performance. They all failed. Thumb drives and CD-ROMs took ten and nearly twenty years respectfully to push the floppy disk down the shaft. Microsoft probably could've helped this along a bit by developing an installer for Windows XP that allowed you to load storage controller drivers off something other than a 3.5" disk, but even in the early 2000s there were motherboard manuals that preferred BIOS updates via floppy over bootable CDs.

Having already defied the laws of physics and economics, we can only assume that the floppy disk has finally gotten bored and gave Sony permission to stop manufacturing it.

There is one serious point we want to touch on. Floppy disks may be thoroughly decrepit, but there's undoubtedly an enormous amount of archived data tucked away and forgotten in corporate storerooms, basements, attics, and libraries. Once Sony stops manufacturing floppy drives it will eventually become all but impossible to locate functional drives that are even potentially capable of reading the old disks. If that scenario seems far-fetched, have a read about the lost, high-quality, Apollo 11 moonwalk tapes. While the tapes were unfortunately never recovered, the team searching for them first had to build a machine that could actually read them. From the article:
the 14-inch reels were an archaic format, almost completely forgotten even at the space agency. After some sleuthing, Mackellar and his comrades discovered the one guy inside NASA who had the know-how – and the interest – to help them: *** Nafzger. He was the last of the old Apollo video engineers still employed at the space agency.

Nafzger tracked down a buddy at the Data Evaluation Lab at Goddard Space Flight Center...The central treasure there was the analog recorder – a 7-foot-high gray machine with big black knobs and huge reel-to-reel spools. It looked like a prop from the '60s TV show Lost in Space, but the hulking gizmo was the only known piece of equipment that could read data from the ancient tapes.
The reason no one cared about preserving the machines that could read the old tape is because once upon a time they were readily available. For awhile after that, NASA probably kept a few in storage. Sooner or later, someone decided it was stupid to keep the old things around, and as a result, there was just one machine left in the entire country that could read the old format—and only one guy at NASA who knew where to find it.

Might want to tuck a floppy drive into your sock drawer. Just in case.
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Zestia replied on Mon, Apr 26 2010 5:55 PM

I'll miss the old floppy but there's no denying that it's time.

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la_guy_10 replied on Mon, Apr 26 2010 6:34 PM

I equate this to going from the 8 track going to cassette then we went from cassette to CD.

This is just another evolution in tech.

SSD's will replace hardrives this way as well.

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Joel H replied on Mon, Apr 26 2010 11:34 PM

Heh. La guy, the fact that the floppy survived so long argues against the HDD being supplanted anytime soon. SSD's are unquestionably going to take over the high-end storage market and the enthusiast/performance storage segment, but when it comes to cheap storage, hard drives have fallen below 2 cents a GB. SSDs have come down a long way, but they're still 200x more expensive.

If you're saying that SSDs are going to become more popular and show up more places, you're absolutely right--but HDDs aren't going anywhere. SSDs would have to both close the cost-per-GB and the storage density issue--as things stand, given current flash RAM densities, you can't *put* 2TB of flash in a 3.5" enclosure.

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I hated those floppy's, I say it's about time

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MOM! News is padding it's post count again.


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digitaldd replied on Tue, Apr 27 2010 8:50 AM

I'll just keep a USB floppy drive handy for the time being. You never know. Hopefully USB won't go away anytime soon.

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realneil replied on Tue, Apr 27 2010 9:54 AM

Good to see them go. They were unreliable at times and those stupid metal doors broke too often leaving stuff in the drive. So they can go the way of the Zip Drive.

Dogs are great judges of character, and if your dog doesn't like somebody being around, you shouldn't trust them.

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I'm with you Neil. If that metal door was not perfect, it would be impossible to get out of the drive, I remember coming up with different ways to get a stuck floppy out of the drive.

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gibbersome replied on Tue, Apr 27 2010 11:47 AM

I'm a little upset actually.

My "I have a 3.5 inch floppy in my pants" jokes won't be relevant anymore. Sad

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When were the Floppy in my pants jokes ever relevant? I am sure Bob Dole used that all the time :)

I remember them coming out with all the "Wanna see my Hard Drive jokes"? But after Viagra, those were pretty much redundant.

Those drives do bring back memories, and how long it took them to develop and reach the consumers. Although I am sure there is not anything as historical as the Moonwalk saved on a 3.5!

Oh now I remember the joke! "She is unhappy because she got a Floppy drive last night!"

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