Data Formats

Data Formats

Whilst arranging my old belongings in preparation for moving home I came across an old computer cassette that I created years ago for a covertape which was to be given away with a fanzine I used to edit when I was younger. The publication focused on the retro Commodore 64 computer and every issue we would put either a 5¼" floppy disc or cassette (depending on whether or not the customer owned a floppy drive) filled with game demos on the front cover.

With this standard audio cassette filled with ancient games in my hand I glanced across at a BluRay disc on my desk and realised quite how far storage media had progressed in recent years. At the time I thought that this week it would be a nice idea to have a brief stroll down memory lane together to recap on the formats of yesteryear:

Punch Cards - Whilst they have been around for centuries (used previously in a mechanical capacity on machines such as textile looms and fairground organs), punch cards found a use in the early to mid twentieth century in data storage and entry. Information could be recorded by the presence, or indeed absence of a punched hole in a predefined position on pieces of stiff paper. Whilst physically difficult to store and cumbersome to operate, punch cards were extremely widely used in the early days of digital computing.

Tape formats ' For decades now tapes have been involved in digital computing and indeed still remain in use today in areas such as the backing up large amounts of information. I am specifically interested in the recording data onto regular audio tapes which was common in the mid 70's and even into the 80's. Mainly due to cost conscious computer users, a lot of computers came loaded with analogue to digital converters so binary commands could be altered into noise and stored on normal household audio cassettes. An old 56k computer modem works on much the same principal to transmit digital data down a phone line designed to carry sound.

8-inch Floppy Disc - These became commercially available in 1971 and originally had a capacity of just 79kb and were later superseded by the 5¼" floppy disc when the previous format was deemed too large to be practical. These formats both used discs that were genuinely floppy; their bendable nature and minimal shielding from the outside world made them a precarious format to store data onto.

3.5" Floppy Disc- Whilst several sizes were developed to replace the 5¼" drive, it was the 3.5" floppy that was widely adopted and became commercially successful. Whilst the storage medium is actually floppy it was protected by a rigid plastic outer shield. Despite being introduced back in 1984 it was remarkably still relatively popular up until a few years ago.

Floppy Replacements - The bog standard 3.5" floppy disc was limited to 1.44mb capacity and as time went on this became considered as an unmanageably small capacity. Several alternatives were subsequently invented including Flextra (1988), Floptical (1991), Zip (1994), LS-120 (19950, HiFD (1997) and UHD144 (1997) regrettably for their devopers despite the higher capacity, improved speeds and useful backwards compatibility, a series of issues resulted in these formats never truly establishing themselves as an industry 'standard'.

It wouldn't feel right not giving Refresh a little plug at this point since storage media is a huge element of our business and on items such as CD's, DVD's and Flash Drives I feel that we cannot be beaten locally on price. With regards to covering history post floppy disk, I have written several articles regarding newer optical media such as CD's and DVD's in the past which can be downloaded at

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Author: Regular Articles
Chris Holgate is a director and copyrighter of the online Ink and Toner website Refresh Cartridges He writes a weekly article of all things tech related.
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