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I remember in the early 2000s right before the flash drive became a thing there was a type of new floppy drive. It had bigger disk space than the conventional 1.4 megabyte floppy. It was only around for a year or two before it got obsoleted by the flash drives pretty hard.

Does anyone remember that new type of floppy that was around for a short while right before flash memory became a thing?

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    "An attempt to enhance the existing 3½-inch designs was the SuperDisk in the late 1990s, using very narrow data tracks and a high precision head guidance mechanism with a capacity of 120 MB and backward-compatibility with standard 3½-inch floppies; a format war briefly occurred between SuperDisk and other high-density floppy-disk products" (wiki)
    – Tomas By
    Apr 13 at 11:18
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    Between floppies and flash drives there was a pretty extensive period in which CD's (CD-R, CD-RW, CD+RW) were the main form of external/removable disks, later followed by DVD.
    – MSalters
    Apr 15 at 8:54

5 Answers 5

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There were many.

After 1.44 MB HD floppies, the same form factor was extended to 2.88 MB ED in 1988. Knighted by IBM using it with the 1991 PS/2 Model 57. ED became quite popular in Japan.

There were also Iomega's ZIP drives.

And LS-120 drives, also called SuperDisk drives, were compatible with the 1.44MB floppies, but expanded to 120 MB and later to LS-240 for 240 MB. These could also use the standard 1.44 MB floppy as a 32MB floppy.

There were also Sony HiFD drives.

And Caleb UHD144 drives.

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    The ZIP drives were the one I was remembering
    – Neil Meyer
    Apr 13 at 11:29
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    Rather interestingly Sony also made high speed versions (up to 8x) of the standard 3.5" floppy drives as well. I think they were initially developed for use in their floppy based digital cameras but stand alone external USB variants were available as well.
    – mnem
    Apr 13 at 11:58
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    Iomega also offered the Jaz drive which stored 1GB. I still have some ZIP disks as they were popular in the Apple Mac scene prior to recordable CDs making them redundant. From memory, ZIP disks could be a bit "iffy" sometimes and prone to corruption. Apr 13 at 12:05
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    @NoelWhitemore I omitted Jaz and Rev drives because they are considered as removable hard drives.
    – Justme
    Apr 13 at 12:24
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    Would have been my answer. Added some links. Might be also interesting to add the XDF Formating, as it increased HD by 30% with just Software while staying (somewhat) compatible. Also, loved he LS120 - had them i all my machines until the mid naughties when USB finally took over.
    – Raffzahn
    Apr 13 at 12:47
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I remember using Iomega Zip drives for the worst.

Those came in 100 MB which was huge. I had Syquest cartridges, but the reader was not external so you could not carry it somewhere else.

On my amiga, I had bought a SCSI version of the Zip drive which I could plug to my workplace Silicon Graphics IRIX workstation to copy downloaded stuff (56K modem was not very fast & was expensive). It worked well for a few months.

The big issue with them (and their drives) was the fact that they were expensive but also very fragile. If you made the drive fall off, it wouldn't work and damage the expensive disks you inserted afterwards. And if a disk was damaged it could damage another drive (see Click_of_death)

There were even internal Zip drives in some PCs.

Despite the multiple drives & disks lost, the format persisted, and I remember buying a 250 MB USB Zip drive for my Pentium laptop. That one failed miserably quickly after too. Some people never learn :)

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    Yeah, I once opened up a Zip drive and was disappointed to see how many of the interior components were plastic rather than metal. Very surprising, giving the level of precision required.
    – Dave Tweed
    Apr 13 at 15:00
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    Yep, zip drives sucked. And even though I love backwards compatibility, I wasn't going to buy a new thing that fits my old thing (SuperDisk) while having a capacity still smaller than just yanking the hard drive out and taking it somewhere. Too little, too late. A gig, instead of 100MB, would've been something. Which is why we all bought CD drives no matter what they cost when they came out. - If you were serious about back-ups, you used tape, and still do.
    – Mazura
    Apr 13 at 22:05
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    iomega went 1gb on their disks! they were afraid of nothing! I remember clearly NOT buyng that crap and used CD-R to back up my stuff. The CDs never failed! Apr 13 at 22:11
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    Never failed... provided they were successful in the first place. Note, we're coming up on the 20y due date for the expected longevity of optical storage. And the drives are prob about to become expensive again.
    – Mazura
    Apr 13 at 23:03
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    @DaveTweed The concept behind all of these formats was a magnetic (Zip) or optical (LS-120) servo track was created at the factory, like modern hard drives. Thus, high precision could be achieved not with precision components, but with closed-loop feedback. With removable media, there's significant runout due to the centering of the disk on the spindle, so active tracking only way to do it. Same with modern tape drives.
    – user71659
    Apr 14 at 3:44
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Insite also made the 20MB "floptical" drive - the disks had the same form factor as 3.5" floppies, but were made of a slightly different material. A laser was used to heat a spot on the disk to make it susceptible to magnetization, allowing for higher write density.

I had the SCSI version on my Amiga. Bonus: it read/writes regular 1.44MB floppies as well, which the Amiga could not.

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  • I had an external HD amiga floppy drive for a while, though. Could read amiga disks and HD disks (so IBM formatted ones, as using HD amiga formatting is either not possible or pointless) Apr 15 at 10:39
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IMO the things that best fit your description would be.

  • The iomega zip drive was released in 1994 with a capacity of 100MB, the disks were slightly bigger than a 3.5 inch floppy, but the internal drives still fitted in a standard 3.5 inch bay. The capacity was increased to 250MB in 1998 and 750MB in 2002.
  • The imation LS-120 was released in 1997 and it's successor the LS-240 was released in 2001, the numbers representing the size in megabytes of the disk Unlike with the zip drive, ls-120 disks were the same physical size as 3.5 inch floppies and the drives were backwards comaptible with floppy disks.

There were other super-floppy formats too, but afaict these were the two most successful.

However, my experience is that, despite developing new iterations of their formats, by 2000 both of these products were being pushed out by the falling price of CD burners. CD burners had the massive advantage that while you needed a special drive to burn them, you could read them in virtually any PC. They did have some downsides though, mainly that software support for "packet writing" was a mess.

And as you say, in the mid 2000s, USB sticks became a thing. They were first introduced around 2001, but it took some time for them to become common and even longer for their capacities to catch up with CDs/DVDs.

There were also removable media formats based on hard drive technology, these offered larger capacity but were substantially more expensive and the disks were larger. The best known of these probably being the Jazz drive from IOMEGA.

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There were magneto-optical discs. They were similar to the CDs, but the information was read and recorded by a combination of magnetical and optical means.

  • Read happened by that magnetic field splits the laser spectrum. If there was an 1-bit (or 0-bit), the focused laser beam got back in a different spectrum to the light sensitive diode.
  • Writing happened by using the laser beam to make the medium hot, and using magnetic field to set up its magneticity.

There was 120MB on a disk. It was not so costly, but still too much for home electronics. CD has killed it, by becoming quickly buyable for poor people around the world. (And, by being readonly, was also not easily duplicable.)

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  • I actually remember early CD writers to be pretty expensive.
    – Neil Meyer
    Apr 16 at 19:03

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