VCF West: All The Floptical Disks

Nowadays, if you want to transfer a file from one computer to another, you’d just send it over the network. In those rare occasions where that won’t work, a USB thumb drive will do. It wasn’t always this way, and it was much more confusing; back in the day when we had floppy drives. We had floptical drives. A single unlabeled 3.5″ floppy disk could be formatted as 360, 720, or 1440k IBM drive, a 400, 800, or 1440k Macintosh drive, an Apple II volume, or an Amiga, or an Acorn, or a host of other logical formats. That’s just one physical format of a floppy disk, and there are dozens more.

For this year’s VCF West, [Foone], hardware necromancer and collector of rare and esoteric removable storage formats, brought out the goods. He has what is probably the most complete collection of different floppy drive formats on the planet, and they were all out on display this weekend.

The Nintendo Floppies

A Famicom Disk Card. Note the indentations/molding of the ‘I’ and ‘N’ in Nintendo
A 64DD game pack

Yes, different Nintendo consoles had floppy drives. The most famous, but still extremely rare in the US, was the 64DD drive, an add-on for the Nintendo 64. The drive was a commercial failure, and is best remembered for the reason we didn’t get Mother 3.

The other Nintendo floppy disk on display was the Famicom Disk Card. This Japan-only media was meant for the Famicom, and included a unique trademark protection scheme. At the time, Taiwanese copies of Nintendo games were rampant, for the simple reason that Taiwan didn’t acknowledge Japanese copyrights, but they did respect Japanese trademarks. The solution to this problem was to make the ‘Nintendo’ logo in each Famicom disk card a physical key. The ‘I’ and second ‘N’ in each Disk Card was embossed much deeper than the rest of the logo, forming a basic trademark-based anti-copying scheme.

The Floptical

In the early ’80s, you could easily fit an entire operating system on a single 3.5″ floppy. By the mid ’90s, file sizes grew and it started to get to the point where you couldn’t fit a single Photoshop file on a floppy. Solutions came in the form of Zip disks, but there was another option: floptical drives. These disks looked just like a standard 3.5″ disk, but used LEDs or lasers to precisely align the magnetic head of the drive to the track. The result is more tracks per inch, and vastly more storage space. The Imation SuperDisk, for example, could hold 120 Megabytes in an era when hard drive sizes were still under a Gigabyte.

The dumbest audio CD ever

99% of audio CDs you’ll find are circular, and for good reason: they spin, very fast. Rarely, you’ll find some odd-shaped CDs, and in the early 2000s you could find ‘business card’ CD-ROMs that were lozenge-shaped. All of these could be put in a CD drive without, you know, exploding. Of course, not all audio CDs followed this obvious standard. I present to you the dumbest audio CD you’ll ever see:

The ‘vinyl’ CD. It’s a standard CD single, but phonograph tracks are also carved into the black part of the disk.

It’s a Shania Twain single, and [Foone] says that it will indeed play in a standard Diskman. No one would recommend putting this disk into a 52x speed drive. It would most likely disintegrate.

Manufacturing is an art form, and sometimes you’ll hit upon something that’s a marginally good idea while still being cool as hell. The VinylDisk, a half-CD, half-record invention from Optimal Media Production is one of those inventions. Released in 2007, the VinylDisk is a 3-minute long phonograph record on one side, and a 70-minute long CD on the other. There’s only one factory that makes these things, so if you want a bizarre bridge between technologies, there you go.

This was a tremendous exhibit put together by [Foone] and would look right at home in one of the display cases of the Computer History Museum, the venue for this year’s VCF West.

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