The first computer my father ever bought (a TRS-80) didn’t even have a floppy drive. Back then our programs were loaded from and saved onto cassette tapes. On a TRS-80 Model I the cassette bus operated at 250 baud, meaning it took 7 1/2 minutes to load 14k worth of data. That means the 50k picture I uploaded to go with this article would have taken 25 minutes to load … not that the TRS-80 had enough RAM to store that much data. Programs loaded slightly faster on our Model III, but not much. And the reason we didn’t own a floppy drive was purely financial. A single floppy disk drive cost $799 back then in 1980.
It would be several years and several computers later before we ever owned a hard drive. My dad sold the TRS-80 to buy an Apple II clone, the Franklin Ace 1000. Around the time dad bought a PC Jr, I got my Commodore 64. We didn’t have a hard drive for any of these machines, but we did own dual floppy drives for all of them. Dual floppies drives made copying software must faster and simpler by eliminating the need to swap disks several times while copying them. And, in the case of the Franklin and the PC where an operating system wasn’t built in to the machines, you could boot off of one drive and load your programs from the other.
The first hard drive we ever owned was for my dad’s IBM XT. It was a 5 megabyte hard drive that cost $200. With no adjustment for inflation, that means an 8 gig SD card would cost $327,680. (I just bought one for $9 at Big Lots last weekend.)
Most IBM computers only support two floppy drives (A: and B:), although those drives could be both 5 1/4″ (or 5.25″), 3 1/2″ (or 3.5″), or one of each. Before hard drives were common place most people had two drives of the same size to accommodate copying software. By the time I bought my first PC (a 386/25), hard drives were standard and I ended up with one floppy drive of each size for a few years before I totally phased out all my 5 1/4″ floppies and ended up with two 3 1/2″ floppy drives.
There were many challengers to the floppy disk throne throughout the years. After Zip Disks, the first real challengers were CD-Roms (and later, DVD-Roms), which allowed you to store much more data than a floppy disk. The final blow to floppy disks was dealt by USB memory sticks, which all but ended the need for floppy disks. In April of 2010, Sony announced that they would stop manufacturing 3.5″ floppy disks. The end of an era, indeed.
When I heard that, I stocked up on floppy drives. Why, I’m not sure. I guess whenever I hear that something’s “going away” I feel like I need to try and preserve it. I picked up several PC floppy drives, both 5.25 and 3.5 in size. I even did an entire podcast episode about floppy disks.
As for that Magic Spin floppy drive … when I mentioned on Facebook and Twitter that I was looking to collect a few spare floppy disk drives, my Uncle found that one at a garage sale, bought it, and e-mailed it to me. I consider myself very fortunate to have a family that supports my wild and wacky adventures.