48

When I look at the following picture, it seems a bit awkward to me that personal computers ever supported 8" floppies (unless the size of your computer case was as big as a fridge !):

enter image description here

Am I right or were there any personal computers that supported this size of floppies?

  • 15
    I once programmed a PC to interface with a 9-track tape drive (the type normally associated with ancient mainframes). We were doing line monitoring, and the poor thing lived a lonely existence in the basement, in a back room, where almost nobody but me visited it. Well, just me and the guy from the CIA, but I can't talk about...@(#*&$(*@#&$_) NO CARRIER – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Sep 21 '18 at 2:40
  • 5
    I can assure you that they are still in use! What would you do if a customer gives you some important file on an 8" floppy? You send the floppy to a handling service, and get it emailed back. – Volker Siegel Sep 21 '18 at 5:53
  • 1
    When I was a kid out school visited the local newspaper. They had 8" floppys for their work – Ole Albers Sep 21 '18 at 11:12
  • 11
    @JAB you are probably describing a 5.25" floppy – Darren H Sep 21 '18 at 16:39
  • 2
    In Wargames (1983), David (played by Matthew Broderick) inserts a floppy disk into his computer in his room. I'm pretty sure that's an 8-inch floppy, although I've no idea about the ...commonplaceness?... of the computer he's using. – KlaymenDK Sep 24 '18 at 14:19

20 Answers 20

58

When I look at the following picture, it seems a bit awkward to me that personal computers ever supported 8" floppies

As so often it depends on your definition of 'personal computer'

  • If it's about a personal computer, then many minis may fit, and they did often offer 8" floppies like the RX01/02 type DEC had.

  • If it's about (early) microprocessor based personal computers, like various S100 (Altair, Imsai, etc.) or Tandy Model II (or 10), then there was no other choice (if floppy based), as the 5.25 wasn't available prior to the SA400 in 1976 – and it didn't really become a thing until like two years later.

  • Now, if your question is about the IBM PC, then no, they where not delivered with 8" drives by default, but DOS did support them (as well as CP/M-86) and they could be ordered as an add on – even as late as the mid 1990s. Given a PC with a floppy controller it still does – all that's needed is a cable adapter (and maybe a stronger PS).

(unless the size of your computer case was as big as a fridge!):

Maybe not fridge-sized. It worked well with desktop units. They weren't that big when put in a sleek case (ofc, using slim line drives did help a bit :)).

  • 4
    I have used a refrigerator sized personal computer, but I don't recall it being equipped with a floppy drive. On the other hand, I have also used a much smaller personal computer that did have an 8" floppy. – user10478 Sep 20 '18 at 14:46
  • 9
    Next time you (any "you") watch War Games, pay attention to the floppy disk format used on David Lightman's IMSAI. Large, yes, but hardly huge. – a CVn Sep 20 '18 at 15:11
  • 1
    Exact first line I came here to write, so +1. Other systems I know of that used that size were a Wang (don't remember the model name) we had at my high school in the early 80's, and the Lanier word processing system (a computer that wasn't programmable, and only did word processing) that my mom got to do her PhD dissertation on at about that time. – T.E.D. Sep 21 '18 at 11:45
  • 1
    Our first 8080 system had 8-inch floppies. We referred to is at the coffin, which gives you a pretty good idea of the size and shape. IBM's precursor to the Personal Computer was the System/23, which was fitted with two 8-inch drives. Unfortunately its launch was delayed by a year, and it was very quickly superseded by the PC. – JavaLatte Sep 23 '18 at 13:55
  • 3
    Your very first sentence was my immediate reaction too. I wouldn't say a better question is were 8 inch floppies ever really used? or anything else for that matter but of course they were used; it's just a matter of what systems and whether you consider them PCs or not at least wrt the question itself. – Pryftan Sep 25 '18 at 19:58
65

The Radio Shack Model II had a built-in singled-sided Shugart 500k 8" floppy drive.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRS-80_Model_II

enter image description here

  • 1
    Never saw one of those outside of a Radio Shack store! – user10478 Sep 20 '18 at 16:45
  • 7
    My father bought one. He started with a Model I and quickly realized it was not going to meet his business needs (Motorcyle/car dealer) He said he was told he bought the first Model I in Pennsylvania. He soon bought the Model II though. I got to see it and work with it briefly after I got out of the service. He bought extra external floppies at first, then spent $5000 on a Corvus 20MB hard drive, huge and heavy, used a VCR to back it up. Told me he'd NEVER need more space than that. – Bill Hileman Sep 20 '18 at 17:07
  • 1
    The Model 12 and 16 both had dual slimline 8" floppies built in and the original Model II could be retrofitted with 2 of the half-height drives in place of the 1 full-height one, iirc. – mnem Sep 20 '18 at 17:36
  • 2
    Thanks, @mnem that must be why I distinctly remember my father's Model II having two drives side-by-side. – Bill Hileman Sep 20 '18 at 17:40
  • 4
    Thanks for the pic! I programmed FOUR of these for various small businesses that bought them; all doing various forms of accounting, before there were any accounting packages. Let's see, a business janitorial service, a residential pool service, a dentist, and a pest control guy. All had work-a-day proprietors and under ten employees, but my code did payroll, billing, some basic books and something custom about keeping track of customer schedules. All had several dozen customers to track. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Sep 21 '18 at 11:19
30

Back in the day I used to use an Intel MDS-80 which had an 8 inch floppy beside the screen.

Intel MDS-80

We often had a pair of expansion drives (also 8") in an expansion unit below the main system box.

enter image description here

One problem that reared its head with great regularity was that a full map file, required so that we could find the address of a function and set a debug break point in our code, was too big to fit on the floppy disc meaning that we had to spool it to the printer during the build resulting in a stack of fanfold paper about an inch thick.

  • I used one of those until we could port our build chain onto a PC. – Rich Sep 24 '18 at 22:35
  • We had these in my school's computer lab. The eject sprint was pretty robust, so you needed to push the eject button with your thumb, so your hand would catch the disk coming out. If you pushed eject with your index finger, there was a good chance the disk would pop out onto the floor. – Mark Harrison Jan 27 at 0:31
19

Adding another to the list, I received a free TRS-80 Model 12 from my high school in 1988, complete with internal 8" floppy drive and external 12MB hard drive.

enter image description here

At the time, I was convinced that the 12MB drive would provide all the digital storage space I would ever need for the rest of my life.

  • 4
    +1 for the for the rest of my life... :D :D :D – Fabby Sep 22 '18 at 14:52
15

The Olivetti P6060 had 8" floppy drives (two of them).

About the size of a typewriter, and ran BASIC, so IMHO it qualifies as "Personal Computer". The Wikipedia page even describes it as "portable", but that's pushing it a bit - while one person is able to carry it around, unlikely, say, a DEC PDP-11 or PDP-8, it wasn't exactly lightweight.

The Wikipedia page also says "first Personal Computer with a floppy disk" (April 1975), but I guess that depends on the definition of "Personal Computer".

  • 2
    "portable" is subjective. Went to a talk ~8 months ago, and apparently the EMIDEC (emidec.org.uk/emipicbr.pdf) was described as "portable" at the time. Which I guess it was, as long as you had a crane and a lorry ... – Algy Taylor Sep 25 '18 at 10:04
14

As previously discussed in the comments to this answer, the BBC Micro was designed to support use with 8" disks -- it was part of the design specification from the BBC, because a lot of their archives at the time used such disks. It required a simple modification to do so (changing a solder link on the main board), so it wasn't common to use them, but it was certainly part of the original design process.

12

The Altair 8800 probably qualifies as a personal computer. It could certainly be used with 8-inch floppy drives.

Imagine the size of a bog-standard desktop computer today. That's roughly the size of an Altair 8800. The floppy drive is a similar-sized unit sitting directly beneath it on the picture on the Wikipedia page.

12

The old NEC APC was equipped with two 8" floppies, with about 1.2 megabyte of storage on each. Museum system here. In the early 1980s, it was considered a fine performer, but Macintosh and Windows graphics and inexpensive hard disk drives were just around the corner.

  • Some of the early NEC PC8801s (the PC8801mkII at least) could also be optioned with a single 8" disk drive, though I've never seen a picture of one. – ravuya Sep 20 '18 at 14:25
8

The Terak corporation sold personal computers. In the early 1980's I used one with UCSD Pascal to run experiments for my undergraduate research project. The 8-inch floppy was the only disk I had available.

7

This is the stone age we're talking about! Back when I was a kid and dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, I:

  • bought a small colour TV, a keyboard, 64K of RAM, a Z80, an 6MHz crystal, a wax pen, a copper board and a second-hand 180KB single-sided 5 1/4" floppy drive and some other related chips.
  • had a friend that already had a computer download a motherboard schematic over a fast 1200 BAUD modem ¹
  • drew the lines on the copper board with the wax pen, asked the chemistry teacher for some sulphuric acid, etched the excess copper away
  • soldered everything together

and that was it!

An actual case was out of the question because that inhibited natural airflow! (this was a fanless design without heat sinks)

The motherboard just sat straight onto the desk² with a flat cable attached to the 5 1/4" floppy drive also straight on the desk and when I could lay my hands on a whopping 1.2 MByte 8" floppy drive 6 months later, that one now sat on the desk with the 5 1/4" stacked on top! ³

The colour TV sat on 2 nicely polished wooden blocks cut to exactly eye height! :-)

Note ¹: That's 1.2 Kbps. And that was considered fast and 2400 BAUD was considered too fast because you couldn't read that quickly while you were downloading text files!
Note ²: OK, it had 6 rubber feet glued to the bottom
Note ³: OK, with a rectangular piece of wood in-between them
Note ⁴: I'll ask my dad if he has any pictures of this contraption, but as pictures were a luxury item at the time, I don't think he has any...

  • Was this in the UK? If so, presumably your friend's modem was an acoustic coupler? – Martin Bonner supports Monica Sep 21 '18 at 12:17
  • Nope @MartinBonner – Fabby Sep 21 '18 at 14:49
  • Sulfuric acid is an unusual etchant... you made it work without making a mess of things? – rackandboneman Sep 25 '18 at 16:26
  • @rackandboneman I had extra-curricular chemistry labs at the time, so looked at the (expensive) acid you could buy specifically designed for etching and noted the pH and then brought 1L of water to the chemistry teacher and asked for the H2SO4 I needed. (To be honest: I forgot about the H2 so it was twice as strong as what I needed, so I had to redo the motherboard...) ;-) – Fabby Sep 26 '18 at 6:06
6

I have an ATR8000 Z80 based CP/M system with two 8" floppy drives (plus a 5.25" floppy drive). I recently took it out of storage to pull some files from a set of 8" floppy disks. This system is dual boot, as it has an 8088 "coprocessor" and 512MB ram add-on that allows me to also run MSDOS 2.11. (If running CP/M, I can use the 512MB of ram as a ram disk). I transfer files to DOS compatible 5.25" floppy disks and from there transfer the files to a PC. I don't have the space to set it up permanently, and I was planning to give it away, but a friend is going to buy it.

Decades ago, I worked with a Pertec PCC 2000 8085 based CP/M system, that included two half height 8" floppy drives and also a 6MB hard drive. It was all in one case, that included the monitor, keyboard, serial port and printer port, and port that worked with those old 14 inch single platter hard drives.

I have seen a few of the Radio Shack TRS 80 CP/M systems, Altair 8800's, and some S100 CP/M systems back in the "olden" days.

5

Even the TRS-80 Model 1 could use 8-inch floppy drives. All floppy drives for that system were external, connected by ribbon cables. Configuring a DOS to control an 8-inch drive wasn't much different from configuring it to handle a double-density, double-sided or double-track-density 5 1/4-inch drive, as I recall. (I never had an 8-inch drive myself, though.)

  • Can confirm! We interfaced an 8" floppy drive to a Model I for the BBS we ran out of a house (so, home computer). Because the directory was on track 17, and updated with many file operations, we'd check if the main database disk needed to be replaced by holding the disk up to the light - if we could see a light section in the middle it needed replacement. 8" and 5 1/4" drives used the same control signals (my memory says Shuggart?). – Dithermaster Sep 22 '18 at 20:24
  • I think you are right. They were Shuggart drives. My Model I had 8in floppies because they were considered more robust for business use back then (and I got it 2nd hand from a business.) – user12 Sep 24 '18 at 19:23
4

The original Convergent Technologies IWS supported 8" storage media, both hard disk and floppy. These were professional office systems based on the 8086, predating the IBM PC, and generally rebranded by OEMs such as Burroughs (B21), NCR (one of the WorkSaver series), Pr1me (one of the Producer series), and others.

3

Well, this answer is not exactly on point, however, I did have an IBM PC which I got and external dual-drive with it....a Bernoulli Box. An 8" 10 MB capacity HD replacement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernoulli_Box). Yes, it was a "floppy" disk in there, not a hard platter. Wow, brings back the memories!

  • While 8" and somewhat fiting (and definitly a must know), it was not a floppy, as the head was flying i.e. not touching the surface, while touching the surface is a basic principle for Floppy drive. The Bernoullies are thus related to hard disks. – Raffzahn Sep 22 '18 at 10:08
3

my dad's imsai 8080 Yes, but not too common after the "wire wrap it yourself" era. By the time computers were sold in stores it went to 5.25.

3

My Rockwell AIM 65 supported 8" Floppies, but I had to buy the disk drive from another company. I can't remember the name of the disk drive company. The expanded RAM was from a 3rd company, and the card reader was from a 4th company. The card reader was from Chatsworth Data Systems.

2

Electrically (apart from the separate power plug, with some older 8" drives even using a belt drive motor at mains power), an 8" drive corresponded to 5¼ 1.2MB HD drive so a lot of home computers with external drive connectors would be formally 8" compatible. 1.44MB 3½" HD drives were different in that they had the same data rate but would be running at 300rpm (like normal SD or DD 5¼ drives) as opposed to the 360rpm of an 8" drive.

It turns out that even for some DD drives (like 5¼" TEAC drives) you were better off switching a disk controller like the WD1797 into 8" mode for stepping, resulting in a maximum stepping speed of 3ms per track rather than the 5¼" maximum of 6ms per track since (even disregarding the significantly improved access times) stepping at the maximum rated speed of the drive was much quieter that the stop-and-go noise resulting from stepping it at half its rated maximum speed.

2

I hacked together a CPM machine using a bare surplus Xerox 820 (IIRC) Z80 circuit board, sometime in the late '70's (must have been...), and used 8" drives with it. It was not an off the shelf computer, but after hand soldering several thousand connections, it was about as personal (to me) as a computer could get.

  • Was that the Ferguson BigBoard by any chance? I have a couple of those -- one I built myself, and another that I bought at a flea market. I have the same dual 8" floppy disk drive subsystem that Aaron shows in his answer (the box below the IMSAI). – Dave Tweed Sep 26 '18 at 12:46
  • @Dave Tweed - Very closely related I believe - maybe even licensed from? IIRC the one you've got was publicized in the magazine "Micro Cornucopia" that existed for a few years? Xerox took a stab at a Z80 based PC, apparently did not do so well, and bare and populated boards were available on the surplus market for a while. I had a couple, but passed them on in the mid-'80's when I lightened up to move across the country. – mickeyf_supports_Monica Sep 26 '18 at 16:17
0

Yes they did, but not HOME personal computers. In the mid 80's I've been paid by a small company to format a lot of 8" floppies (200 units or so) on a Commodore CBM, probably a 8096. Although used for business, this computer was a true Personal Computer for one user, not a terminal connected to a distant computer. Some people had 8032s at home, although you'd probably not bring this massive computer + double drive unit at home.

[EDIT] Damn memory. I checked, and the Commodore drive unit was using 5"1/4 floppies.

  • Commodore offered four different 8" disk drive peripherals for their PET and CBM-II lines: one single-drive unit (the 8060) and three dual-drive units (8061, 8062, and half-height 8280). So while you might have used a 5¼" there were certainly 8" ones around. – Chris Charabaruk Mar 5 at 21:21
0

Well, most of the examples I was going to give (other than maybe the early models of the NEC PC-98?) have already been covered, so let's swing the other way... talking of "computers the size of fridges", here's something exotic: back in the mid noughties I was on an abortive (govt. cuts) radiology technician training scheme at a local hospital, specialising in Nuclear Medicine. Despite having newer, fancier, but smaller machines, our main gamma camera rig was still a fine old warhorse made by Toshiba probably twenty years earlier, if not thirty. An already crusty, networked Sun Sparc II workstation off to one side took care of the detailed image analysis, but it was itself connected (by means I never determined) to the camera's native control/acquisition minicomputer.

Said minicomputer probably had about all the raw horsepower of a ZX81, but it was literally the size and shape of a commercial chest freezer. As in the type you might find in a discount supermarket, or the dingier kind of student dormitory. The kind of thing that really justified the name of "console", because it also served as a major piece of furniture, with a bank of control buttons and knobs built in - but also a shelf for the clunky turn-of-the-80s style keyboard, and an eye level platform for its twin (one for text-based control, the other for rudimentary pixel graphics at something like 256x256), minuscule (9" at best) monochrome CRTs.

And hidden underneath the shelf, on the side of the beast... a pair of honest to goodness 8-inch floppy drives. I never used them in anger myself, as the actual software booted up off some well-hidden internal Winchester (probably with a 12-inch platter providing a whole ten megs, most of which would be devoted to image acquisition buffering), but I saw the service guy who came around a couple times a year to do a bit of preventative maintenance and perform a deeper level of calibration than we were able to do ourselves pull one out of his hardcase the one time. So that's an 8-inch drive seeing active use, in the mid-late 2000s...

There was also a box of blank spares, sitting up on a dusty shelf in one of the adjoining rooms. Can't remember if I purloined one for my own collection of retro junk, but if I did, I've sadly long since lost it. Though I do remember the box being a 3M one, with a remarkably modern-looking design (essentially the same as their late 90s/early noughties 3.5" and CDR branding), with the at-the-time faintly ludicrous seeming claim of a "2MB" capacity (presumably formatting down to ~1.2MB usable?).

I expect the machine itself has also gone for scrap given that the department I worked in was moved to a shiny new facility with all (well, mostly) brand spanking new up-to-date equipment more than five years ago now, and it would have been a devil of a job to relocate the entire rig when 95% of its functionality could be replicated with a smaller, lighter main unit that could be wheeled around by a single person, with a USB-connected laptop looking after the control, acquisition and processing... still, they definitely got their money's worth out of it, and the scrap value alone would probably have been pushing £1000 even if they didn't bother breaking it for parts.

Speaking of 12-inch drives, there is the point to be made that at one time 8-inchers were seen as the compact option - IBM's original floppies were themselves LP-sized, and truly suitable only for room-filling mainframe use, whereas something only slightly larger than a 45rpm single, and a little smaller than a piece of writing paper folded to make a square, is just small enough to be practical when paired with a minicomputer or even an early, still kinda bulky micro.

5.25-inch was considered small enough compared to both to be called "mini floppy", which is why the harder cased, 3.5-and-below types are "micro floppy", and both attract the alternative moniker of "diskette" (the origin of "disk"-with-a-K, as "discette" is too ambiguous) to differentiate from full-size "discs".

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