The Evolution of Recordable Media

Technology keeps improving with time and recordable media devices are no exception. In the last three decades we have seen the quality and the quantity of recordable media devices reach new and previously unimaginable heights. 


Starting with the floppy disk and moving on to flash drives has been an interesting journey for recordable media technology. Let’s go through this journey and see how the evolution of this technology has affected us. 




Recordable Media Timeline


Magnetic Disc Storage


For those growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, a floppy was the most impressive recordable media device. The thought of a large amount of information being stored on a thin sheet of plastic was revolutionary.  


Of course, with time everything becomes obsolete and it is the same with floppy disk. Not only is it super-hard to find (even in the e-world), modern computers are now devoid of floppy-reading drives. But the basic idea behind floppy disks remains relevant. It is a magnetic storage device. 


Magnetic storage implies using a surface that is magnetically-coated and uses varying patterns of magnetization for storing information.  


Floppy Disk

Floppy disks were the earliest form of a compact recordable media device. The users had to install a drive for floppy on their computer, and that's it! The computer now had the power to make use of this data storage device.


The origin of floppy disks dates back to the late-1960s. As has been the history of computing industry, floppy disks were rather large when first produced. It was in 1971 that IBM introduced the floppies to the market and sold it commercially, with the size of 8 inches in diameter. This was just the "first step" towards revolution in the data storage industry.


By 1976, a newer version of floppy appeared that was 5-and-1/4 inches in diameter. These floppies generally had a capacity of 360 KB. 1986 saw an increment in data storage size to 720 KB and a decrement in tangible size to just about 3-and-1/2 inches in diameter. 


Soon, the floppy experienced some structural changes, like an external casing which protected the internal floppy disk from dirt and damage. Floppies soon became widespread in the 1990s and floppy drives became an integral part of personal computers.  


However, one problem posing a challenge was the constant innovations. As the floppy manufacturers introduced changes in the floppies (with newer versions hitting the markets more than often), things became tougher for computer manufacturers. New technology could render the floppy drives in their systems useless with a newer version becoming commonplace. 


But there was danger for the very existence for floppy drives with the emergence of CD-ROM.


Optical Disc Storage


Time was ripe for the next stage in the evolution of recordable media, and this came about with the introduction of a new technology of storing information: Optical Discs. Optical discs store information in the form of deformities on the surface of a disc that is circular in shape.  

The information is extracted by lighting up this surface with laser diode and decoding the reflection.   


Compact Disc – Recordable (CD-R) 


The first Compact Discs (aka, CD's) were developed by Phillips and Sony in partnership and released in the market in 1982. Initially, the CD's were only capable of holding audio files but soon they were developed to contain all types of data.  


Various types of CD's emerged in the market after 1982. These ranged from the most basic ones to those which could have information both – stored and removed from it. The rewritable CD's made these devices highly convenient for data transfer. 


The form that the CD's eventually ended up developing was one which has a storage capacity around 700 MB. The standard size of a CD is 120 millimeters in diameter. There are also a variety of mini CD's with lesser capacity and a smaller size.


DVD – Recordable (DVD-R)


Digital Versatile Discs (aka, DVD's) emerged in 1995 and were also a result of research work done by Philips and Sony as a partnership. Similar in appearance to a CD and having the same dimensions, a recordable DVD is capable of storing much larger amount of information.  


Single layer DVD-R discs have a capacity of 4.7 GB while dual-layer ones can store up to 8.5 GB of information.  





Blu-ray Disc




After DVDs, next in line were Blu-ray discs that arrived in the market in 2006. These recordable media discs also have the same dimensions as CDs and DVDs but are capable of storing information which is many times greater than DVDs.  


Blu-ray recordable discs (BD-R) can contain as much as 25 GB of information per layer. The reason it can store such a large amount of information is because of the involvement of blu-ray in its usage. This is actually a violet laser, which the manufacturers have employed in reading the disc. It is capable of deciphering much more densely-recorded information as compared to the red laser used for DVDs and can be used in a more rigorous way.


This type of disc is most useful for storing high-definition videos and digital media companies popularly use it for storing and distributing movies. 


USB Flash Drive 


Better known as pen drives, USB Flash Drives are flash memory devices with a USB interface that allows the removal and storage of information.  


Israeli Company, M-Systems, invented the USB Flash Drives and could patent for it in the USA in 1999. It was IBM that started selling these drives in December 2000. Initially, these small and compact drives started with 8 MB. However, as is the case with storage technology, it has grown exponentially ever since. Pen drives are now available with maximum data storage capacity of up to 256 GB. 


To Conclude

Recordable media is the best example of the onward march of technology. The exponential increase in storage capacity coupled with steep decline in prices has made data storage and transfer highly convenient. Only time will tell, what is the next step in this direction.