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Computer Storage Devices Explained

This is the fifth article in the

This is the fifth article in the series on how computers work. For this article, the different types of file storage available for use with a personal computer will be explored. There are several different types of file storage devices and each serves a specific function.

These are the basic types of file storage devices:

Floppy Disk

These were one of the first types of storage devices mass produced and available to the average computer user. The floppy came in two different sizes (5.25” and the 3.5”) and a computer was equipped with a floppy disk drive that was used to read/write data from the floppy. The floppy received its name from the 5 .25” version that was manufactured out of a thin and flexible material that was “floppy.” There were several problems with floppy disks that included limited storage, limited use and very easy to lose or damage. Today almost all floppy disks have been replaced with newer media and most computers do not come with a floppy disk drive.


Hard Drive

A hard drive is a storage device that is comprised of metal platters with magnetic surfaces that is enclosed in sealed container to prevent dust and other particles from interfering with operation of the drive. Unlike the floppy and current hard drives, the original hard drives were not removable storage devices. That is, usually once the device was installed in the computer it was not moved unless it needed to be replaced. With the introduction of hard drives, it was now possible to store more data on a device that was more reliable than a floppy drive. The first hard drives started with a storage capacity of about 10MB (10 floppy disks) and now have storage capabilities into the gigabyte and beyond range (for a fraction of cost!).

Newer hard drives can be purchased as portable drives. These types of drives usually connect into the USB port of a computer and are very useful for backing up data or transferring files.


CD-ROM (Compact Disk Read Only Memory)

A CD-ROM drive or disk combined the best features of a hard drive and a floppy – it allowed portability for a large amount of data. When CDs were first introduced, they were used for the storage and playback of music but the computer industry was quick to realize the potential of this media. The first CDs used in the computer industry were for the distribution of software that was becoming to large to store and ship on floppy disks. Eventually it became standard for every PC to come equipped with a CD-ROM drive and the technology is still widely used today.



Most people think of movies when they hear DVD but this form of storage is becoming very popular in the computer world. A DVD can hold more than a CD-ROM to it is no becoming the choice of software vendors for shipping their software. In addition, many home users find the DVD a better choice for file backup and transfer and a CD-ROM because of the amount of data it can hold.


Flash Drive

A flash drive is a small removable storage device that uses flash memory for storage instead of platters like its grandfather the hard drive. Most people are familiar with a USB flash drive that is small device that plugs into the USB port of a computer and is used for file backup or transfer. There are also small form factor flash drives that are used in notebooks and other small electronic devices in place of a traditional hard drive.

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