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After completing this chapter, you'll be able to do the following:

  • Describe how flexible (floppy) disks are constructed; how data is organized on them; how they are handled, stored, and shipped; and how they are erased.
  • Describe how fixed (hard) disks are constructed; how data is organized on them; how they are handled, stored, and shipped; and how they are erased.
  • Describe each of the following methods for recording (encoding) digital data onto magnetic disks: frequency-modulation encoding, modified frequency-modulation encoding, and run length-limited encoding.
  • Describe the characteristics of floppy disk drive transports and hard disk drive transports and describe the preventive maintenance requirements of each type.
  • Describe the following parts of the electronics component of a magnetic disk drive: control electronics, write/read electronics, and interface electronics.
  • Describe the five most common types of disk drive interface electronics.
  • Define the following magnetic disk recording specifications: seek time, latency period, access time, interleave factor, transfer rate, and recording density.


Magnetic disk recording was invented by International Business Machines

(IBM) in 1956. It was developed to allow mainframe computers to store large amounts of computer programs and data. This new technology eventually led to what's now known as the computer revolution.

This chapter introduces you to the following aspects of magnetic disk recording:

  • Disk recording mediums
  • Disk recording methods
  • Disk drive transports
  • Disk drive electronics
  • Disk recording specifications


There are two types of disk recording mediums: flexible diskettes and fixed (hard) disks.

The following paragraphs describe (1) how flexible and fixed disks are made; (2) how data is organized on them; (3) how to handle, store, and ship them; (4) and how to erase them.


Flexible diskettes, or floppy disks as they're more commonly called, are inexpensive, flexible, and portable magnetic storage mediums. They have the following characteristics.

Floppy Disk Construction

Floppy disks are made of round plastic disks coated with magnetic oxide particles. The disks are enclosed in a plastic jacket which protects the magnetic recording surface from damage.

Floppy disks come in three sizes: 8 inch, 5 1/4 inch, and 3 1/2 inch. Figure 8-1 shows each size. All disk sizes can either be single-sided or double-sided. Single-sided disks store data on only one side of the disk; double-sided disks store data on both sides.

Figure 8-1. - Floppy disk construction.

0063.GIF (6132 bytes)

When floppy disks are manufactured, the magnetic oxide coating is applied to both sides. Each disk is then checked for errors. Disks certified as single-sided, are checked on only one side; disks certified as double-sided are checked on both sides.

Floppy disks are also classified by how much data they can store.

This is called a disk's density. There are three levels of floppy disk density: single-density, double-density , and high-density.

Some of the more common types of floppy disks and their storage capacity are listed below:

5-1/4" double-sided, double-density 360,000 bytes
5-1/4" double-sided, high-density 1,200,000 bytes
3-1/2" double-sided, double-density 720,000 bytes
3-1/2" double-sided, high-density 1,400,000 bytes

Floppy Disk Data Organization

Data is stored on a floppy disk in circular tracks. Figure 8-2 shows a circular track on a floppy disk. The total number of tracks on a floppy disk is permanently set by (1) the number of steps the disk drive's magnetic head stepper motor can make, and (2) whether the disk drive has a magnetic head for one or both surfaces of the floppy disk. These two things will also determine the type of floppy disk that's needed. Each type of disk is rated with a number that represents how many tracks per inch (TPI) it can hold. Some common track capacities are 40, 48, 80, and 96 TPI.

Figure 8-2. - Tracks and sectors of a magnetic disk.

Each track of a floppy disk is broken up into arcs called sectors. A disk is sectored just as you'd slice an apple pie. Figure 8-2 shows the sectors of a floppy disk.

How many slices are made? That depends on who made the disk and in what host computer the disk is used.

There are two methods for sectoring a floppy disk:

Hard Sectoring: This method sectors the disk physically. The disk itself will have marks or sensor holes on it that the floppy disk drive hardware can detect. This method is seldom used today.

Soft sectoring: This method sectors the disk logically. The computer software determines the sector size and placement, and then slices

the disk into sectors by writing codes on the disk. This is called formatting or initializing a floppy disk. During formatting, if the computer software locates a bad spot on the disk, it locks it out to prevent the bad spot from being used. Soft sectoring is by far the most popular method of sectoring a floppy disk.

Once a floppy disk is formatted, the computer uses the disk's side number, a track number, and a sector number (together) as an address. It's this address that locates where on the disk the computer will store the data.

Floppy Disk Handling, Storage, and Shipping

Floppy disks hold a lot of data. Even disks with only a 360,000-byte storage capacity can hold 180 pages of data! That's why it's important to handle, store, and ship floppy disks properly. One hundred and eighty pages of data is a lot of data to retype just because of carelessness.

Before we get into disk handling and storage procedures, let's first learn about head-to-disk contact. Do you remember reading in chapter 2 that the quality of magnetic tape recording is seriously degraded when dust, dirt, or other contaminates get between the magnetic head and the tape? Well, the same is true for magnetic disk recording. In fact, head-to-disk contact is extremely important with floppy disks. This is because floppy disk drives, unlike magnetic tape drives, spin at very high speeds - 300 to 600 revolutions-per-minute (RPM). If anything gets between the head and the recording surface, you can lose data, or even worse, you can damage the magnetic head and the disk's recording surface. Figure 8-3 shows the size relationship between a disk drive's magnetic head, the disk recording surface, and some common contaminants.

Figure 8-3. - Size relationship of distance between head and disk to contaminants.

You must handle, store, and ship floppy disks with great care if you want them to stay in good condition. Here's some specific precautions you should take:

  • DO always store 8" and 5-1/4" floppy disks in their envelopes when not in use. Dirt, dust, etc., can get on the recording surface through the magnetic head read/write access hole if you leave it exposed for any length of time.
  • DO always write on a floppy disk label first, and then place the label on the disk. NEVER write directly on a floppy disk. If you absolutely must write on a disk, use a felt-tip marker.
  • DO hold floppy disks by their outside corners only. DO NOT bend them. And NEVER, NEVER paper clip them to anything, or anything to them.
  • DO always store floppy disks in an upright position.
  • Laying them on their side can cause them to warp.
  • DO always keep floppy disks away from food, liquids, and cigarette smoke. All of these can easily damage floppy disks.
  • DO always ship floppy disks in appropriate shipping containers.
  • When shipping only a few disks, use the specially designed cardboard shipping envelopes. If you must ship a large number of disks, make sure the box you use is sturdy enough to protect the disks from damage. A good rule of thumb is to use a shipping box that allows you to place 2 inches of packing material around the disks.
  • DO NOT touch any exposed recording surfaces. Something as simple as a fingerprint can destroy the data on a floppy disk.
  • DO NOT expose a floppy disk to magnetic fields. Telephones, magnetic copy holders, printers, and other electronic equipment generate magnetic fields that can destroy the data on a floppy disk.
  • DO NOT expose floppy disks to extreme heat or cold. Floppy disks will last longer if they're stored in an environment that stays around 70-80 degrees Farenheit and 30-60 percent relative humidity.

Floppy Disk Erasing

There are two ways to erase a floppy disk: (1) degauss it and then reformat it, or (2) just reformat it. The process for degaussing floppy disks is the same as for degaussing magnetic tape. Refer back to chapter 2 for the details on this.

If the floppy disks were used to store classified, or unclassified but sensitive information, they can't be de-classified by erasing them. This is because, with the right equipment and software, the data that was on the disk can be reconstructed. Floppy disks are cheap and easy to replace. If you can't re-use the floppy disks to store other classified data, just destroy them, using the procedures in OPNAVINST 5510.1, DON Information and Personnel Security Program Regulation.

Q.1 Floppy disks are manufactured in what three sizes? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.2 What type of floppy disk is made to store data on both sides of the disk? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.3 What are the three levels of floppy disk density? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.4 What is the storage capacity of a 5-1/4" double-sided, high-density floppy disk? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.5 The floppy disks you are using have a rating of 96 TPI. What does this mean? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.6 The process of formatting a floppy disk is called what type of sectoring? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.7 What three components determine the address that locates where on a floppy disk the computer will store the data? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.8 Why should you always store floppy disks in their envelopes? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.9 Why should you never place floppy disks near telephones or other electronic equipments that generate magnetic fields? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.10 What are the two ways to erase floppy disks?answer.gif (214 bytes)

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