How Floppy Disk Drives Work

By: Gary Brown

History of the Floppy Disk Drive

The floppy disk drive (FDD) was invented at IBM by Alan Shugart in 1967. The first floppy drives used an 8-inch disk (later called a "diskette" as it got smaller), which evolved into the 5.25-inch disk that was used on the first IBM Personal Computer in August 1981. The 5.25-inch disk held 360 kilobytes compared to the 1.44 megabyte capacity of today's 3.5-inch diskette.

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). But by the mid-1990s, the 5.25-inch version had fallen out of popularity, partly because the diskette's recording surface could easily become contaminated by fingerprints through the open access area.