How Removable Storage Works

By: Jeff Tyson

Magnetic Storage

The most common and enduring form of removable-storage technology is magnetic storage. For example, 1.44-MB floppy-disk drives using 3.5-inch diskettes have been around for about 15 years, and they are still found on almost every computer sold today. In most cases, removable magnetic storage uses a drive, which is a mechanical device that connects to the computer. You insert the media, which is the part that actually stores the information, into the drive.

Just like a hard drive, the media used in removable magnetic-storage devices is coated with iron oxide. This oxide is a ferromagnetic material, meaning that if you expose it to a magnetic field it is permanently magnetized. The media is typically called a disk or a cartridge. The drive uses a motor to rotate the media at a high speed, and it accesses (reads) the stored information using small devices called heads.


Each head has a tiny electromagnet, which consists of an iron core wrapped with wire. The electromagnet applies a magnetic flux to the oxide on the media, and the oxide permanently "remembers" the flux it sees. During writing, the data signal is sent through the coil of wire to create a magnetic field in the core. At the gap, the magnetic flux forms a fringe pattern. This pattern bridges the gap, and the flux magnetizes the oxide on the media. When the data is read by the drive, the read head pulls a varying magnetic field across the gap, creating a varying magnetic field in the core and therefore a signal in the coil. This signal is then sent to the computer as binary data.