33 ancient storage formats: How many do you remember?
Every device needs some form of storage. But while most new storage is now sold state, that wasn’t always the case and, of course, the most iconic storage formats are physical media. And we’ll be showcasing some more memorable of them here – as well as some lost in history.
One of the earliest formats of data storage was punched tape, which was first used in 1725 by Basile Bouchon to control looms at his textile factory in Lyon, France.
The earliest medium for recording and reproducing sound? Wax cylinders, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877. The cylinders eventually became what we now know as records, which were originally played on a phonograph system before moving to the turntable.
Skip forward to the modern day, and we have multiple forms of analogue and digital storage, 35mm film to flash memory and solid-state storage as we mentioned.
While we’re focusing on a small selection of unsuccessful formats here, you can find a list of nearly 500 at Obsolete Media.
So join us on a journey looking back at all the formats we’ve lost. How many do you remember?
Removable Digital Media
Psion Datapak Organiser
The Psion Organiser was launched in 1984 and was known as the “the world’s first practical pocket computer”. While it boasted a 0.9MHz 8-bt Hitachi processor, 4kB of ROM and 2kB of static RAM, it didn’t have built-in storage. It had to use removable Datapaks, which used EPROM (erasable programmable read-only memory), which could continue to store data even after its power supply is switched off.
Deleting files wasn’t as simple as highlighting and pressing delete. Instead, you would have to expose it to a strong UV light. The Organiser II could use new and improved Datapaks, which had between 8kB – 256kB of storage capacity. The Psion Organiser was discontinued in 1992.
SmartMedia was a flash memory card developed by Toshiba and launched in 1995. Designed to be a successor the floppy disk, SmartMedia cards had storage capacities ranging from 2MB – 128MB. They could still be used in 3.5-inch floppy disk drives thanks to a FlashPath adapter, but they proved to be particularly popular among digital camera users, with Fujifilm and Olympus giving their support.
SmartMedia cards met their demise when Toshiba moved on to developing higher capacity SD cards, so they were discontinued in the early-2000s.
Handspring Springboard expansion module
Springboard expansion modules were developed specifically for the Handspring Visor family of PDAs, released in 1999. The module had a proprietary 68-pin connector, which was used to accept various expansion packs for the Visor PDA. These included, GPS navigation receivers, cameras and memory packs. Springboard expansion modules were discontinued in 2002 when Handspring brought out a new, smaller range of Treo PDAs.
The Memory Stick was a proprietary storage format released by Sony in 1998. The Memory Stick family comprised the Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick Duo, and Memory Stick Micro (M2). The Memory Stick family could only be used in Sony products, such as Cyber-shot cameras, the PlayStation Portable and VAIO PCs. Sony jumped aboard the SD card bandwagon in 2010, which signalled the end of the road for the Memory Stick.
The MultiMedia Card was released by SanDisk and Siemens in 1997. They were available in sizes up to 512GB and were used in the majority of electronic devices, including cameras, mobile phones and PDAs. The MMC was superseded by SD card around 2005, most MMC cards can still be used in SD card slots because of their similar size and compatible PIN connection.
xD Picture Card
The xD Picture Card was a flash memory card used specifically in FujiFilm and Olympus cameras from 2002 – 2010. Standing for eXtreme Digital, xD cards were available in storage sizes from 16MB – 2GB and for a time, competed against SD cards, Sony’s Memory Stick and Compact Flash (CF) cards. SD cards eventually won the war, because xD cards were expensive and had limited use. They met their maker in 2010.
Microdrives were a range of 1-inch hard disks, developed and launched by IBM and Hitachi in 1999. Microdrives could fit in CompactFlash Type II slots, and storage range from an initial 170MB up to an eventual 8GB. Similar drives were launched by Seagate in 2004, but they had to be called CompactFlash drives due to trademark issues. Microdrives were phased out in 2011 due to the rise of solid-state flash media, which could have a higher storage capacity, was more durable, smaller and cheaper.
The PC Card, originally known as the PCMCIA card, was a peripheral interface standard, as opposed to an actual storage medium. It was developed and introduced by the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association in 1990.
PC Cards could take on many forms, with the very first being memory expansion cards for laptops and notebooks, but eventually modems, network cards and hard disks were released.
The original Type I cards were 3.3mm thick and were used for such things as RAM, flash memory and SRAM cards. Type II cards introduced I/O support, which meant a wider range of peripherals, including those for which the host computer had no built-in support, could be attached. Type III cards were thicker than Type II, and so could support larger components such as hard disk drives.
PC Cards were eventually superseded by ExpressCards in 2003, although PC Cards could still be used in ExpressCard slots by way of an adapter.
Miniature Cards were developed by Intel and released in 1995, and saw backing from Sharp, Fujistu and Advanced Micro Devices. They were used primarily in PDAs, digital cameras and digital audior recorders, and had storage capacities up to 64MB.
Unfortunately for Miniature Cards, they competed directly with CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards, which were more successful. The Miniature Card was put out of production by the end of the 1990s.
Desktop Storage Solutions
The Bernoulli Box was a high-capacity floppy disk storage system introduced in 1982 by Iomega. It used Bernoulli’s principle to pull the disk towards the head, as long as the disk is spinning. The theory was Bernoulli’s method was more reliable than a hard disk drive because a head crash – when the read-write head comes into contact with the rotating platter – was impossible, because it kept them separated by a cushion of air.
The original Bernoulli disks came in 5, 10 and 20MB storage capacities – huge for the time – but the second generation had capacities up to 230MB.
Bernoulli disks proved to be popular since no other storage medium at the time could offer similar capacities, other than slower tape drives. However, they were eventually put out of production in 1987.
Iomega released another floppy disk storage system in 1994 in the form of the Zip drive. Zip drives launched with a 100MB storage capacity, but this increased to 250MB and eventually 750MB. While it proved popular in the late 1990s, 3.5-inch floppy disks eventually won out and Zip drives were even pushed out by rewritable CDs and DVDs that could offer higher storage capacities. After sales began to fall in 1999, the entire Zip range was discontinued in 2003.
Iomega launched yet another floppy disk storage system in 1999, this time, the PocketZip. The system used proprietary 40MB disks that were incredibly thin. The format was originally called Clik!, but following the ‘click of death’ class action lawsuit against Iomega itself, the name was changed to PocketZip.
PocketZip disks could be used with PC Cards, digital audio players and digital cameras. PocketZip cards were considered a failure and couldn’t compete against solid-state flash memory cards. They were eventually discontinued in 2000.
Iomega tried its hand at a removable hard disk storage system in 1996 by launching the Jaz.
They were formatted for use with both Mac and PCs and had an initial storage capacity of 1GB, before being increased to 2GB in 1998. Iomega’s own Zip drive system was more popular than the Jaz and so it was eventually discontinued in 2002.
Following the discontinuation of the Jaz in 2002, Iomega returned with the Rev in 2004. Like the Jaz, it was a removable hard disk storage system, but had much larger 35, 70 and 120GB capacities if uncompressed, but could store more if data was compressed.
Rev disks were available in internal or external varieties, but due to poor reliability and a high failure rate not only of the disk mechanism, but of the power supply, the system was discontinued in 2010.
Castlewood Systems, a company formed by several employees from SyQuest, released the Orb Drive in 1998. The Orb was a removable rigid-disk storage system that launched with a 2.2GB capacity, but Castlewood eventually launched a 5.7GB system that was capable of reading the 2.2GB disks.
The Orb competed directly with the Iomega Jaz, but had lower production costs due to it using a single disk, whereas the Jaz used two. Castlewood Systems ceased operations in 2004, making the Orb Drive obsolete.
EZ 135 Drive
SyQuest introduced the EZ 135 Drive in 1995 as a competitor to the Iomega Zip drive. SyQuest claimed its drive was faster and had a higher storage capacity than Iomega’s. EZ 135 drives were available as 135MB cartridges, giving them a higher storage than the Zip (until Iomega launched a 250MB disk). SyQuest released the EZ Flyer as successor to the EZ 135 in 1996, making the latter obsolete.
SyQuest launched the SparQ drive in 1997. It was a removable hard-disk drive that was available in both internal and external varieties. The SparQ had a storage capacity of 1GB and at launch, was much cheaper than the rival Iomega Zip drive. The SparQ cost $39 for a 1GB drive, by comparison a 100MB Zip drive cost $22.
SyQuest eventually went bankrupt after people complained about reliability issues, but SyQuest continued to sell the drives to businesses. The company’s website went out of action in 2008.
5.25-inch floppy disk
For people of a certain age, this size of floppy disk is iconic before it started to be phased out in the later 1980s. It was introduced in the late 1970s to replace the larger 8-inch storage format so it had a relatively short shelf life – Windows 95 was only available by mail order on this size of disk, for example, so the move to 3.5-inch floppies was relatively quick for such a ubiquitous format.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the 8-track tape. The format was active in the United States between 1960 – 1980, when it was superseded by the cassette tape. Developed by a consortium led by Bill Lear of the Lear Jet Corporation, other backers included Ford, General Motors, Motorola and RCA Victor Records.
8-track tapes improved upon the design of the preceding 4-track, as they incorporated the pinch roller into the cartridge itself, meaning players could be much simpler to produce. 8-track tapes could store 8 tracks for 4 stereo programmes, which could be switched between automatically.
The cassette tape was introduced by Philips in 1963 as a means of recording and reproducing audio. They were released either as blank tapes for people to record straight onto, or pre-loaded with audio content, although these could also be overwritten by the user. Tapes soared in popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to the boom box and products like the Sony Walkman enabling people to listen to music wherever they went.
Cassette tapes were eventually superseded by the higher quality CD, although they have seen a revival in recent times, along with vinyl records.
Digital Audio Tape (DAT)
Sony launched Digital Audio Tape sin 1987 as a digital audio magnetic tape format. Inside the cassette was 4mm tape and the tapes could be anywhere between 15 and 180 minutes in length. A 120-minute tape would require 60 metres of tape.
Consumers didn’t really take to the DAT tapes due to their cost, but they were mainly used for professional recording and data storage. DAT tapes lived a pretty lengthy life though, with Sony discontinuing the last remaining DAT recorders in 2005.
Digital Compact Cassette (DCC)
Digital Compact Cassettes were introduced in 1992 by Philips and Matsushita as a competitor to Philips’ very own cassette tapes. It was also launched to compete with the Sony MiniDisc. Unfortunately, the format never took off and Philips discontinued it in 1996 citing poor sales.
Sony’s MiniDisc format was also launched in 1992 and was also meant to be a replacement for the cassette tape. Although incredibly popular in Japan, the MiniDisc failed to make an impact elsewhere, due to lack of pre-recorded albums available.
MiniDiscs were available with a maximum capacity of 74 minutes at launch, with 80 minute versions being available at a later date. The introduction of CDs in 1995 provided stiff competition for the MiniDisc and it was eventually discontinued in 2013.
DataPlay was an optical disc format released by DataPlay Inc in 2002. DataPlay discs were small and could store 250MB of information on each side, and their most common use was pre-recorded music albums. Users could record onto them, but only once like CD-Rs. DataPlay shut down as a company in the mid-2000s due to lack of funding.
Kodak introduced the disc film format in 1982 for the consumer market. Each disc could hold fifteen 10 x 8mm photographs, and because it was so thin, it allowed cameras to be more compact. While disc film had the potential to produce sharper images compared to curved, spool-based cassette formats, when developed, images had poor definition and high levels of grain.
Kodak officially discontinued the disc film format on 31 December 1999, although compatible cameras had gone out of production well before then.
110 film was a cartridge-based film format, introduced by Kodak in 1972 as a much smaller version of the company’s previous 126 film format. Each frame measured 13 x 17mm and each cartridge contained 24 frames.
110 film cartridges were used with Kodak Pocket Instamatic cameras, but several other camera manufacturers produced cameras that could use it. Fuijifilm stopped making 110 film in 2009, but Lomography started up production again in 2011 and continues to do so today.
Kodak introduced the 126 film format in 1963, to be used with simple point-and-shoot cameras, including Kodak’s own Instamatic series. While the 126 name was intended to show images were 26mm square, they actually measured 28 x 28mm instead.
126 film was originally available in 12 and 20 image lengths, but by the time it reached the end of its life, 24 image length cartridges were available. Kodak officially discontinued 126 film on 31 December 1999.
Advanced Photo System, or APS, film was introduced in 1996 and used for still photography. Several photography companies released APS film under various brand names, including Koda, Fujifilm, Agfa and Konica. The film was 24mm wide and could be used to take photos in three different formats: Classic for 4×6″ prints; High Definition, 4×7″ prints and Panoramic 4×11″ prints.
Most APS-compatible cameras could shoot all three formats. APS film was available in 15, 25 or 40 image lengths and a surface on the film itself could record extra information such as aspect ratio, date and time. Due the falling cost of digital cameras, Kodak was forced to discontinue APS film in 2004.
We all remember VHS tapes. The popular video format was introduced by JVC, with the first players arriving in Japan in 1976 and the UK and US in 1977. VHS was involved in a format war, most famously with Betamax, VHS came out on top accounting for 60 per cent of the North American market.
VHS tapes could hold up to 430 metres of tape, for a playback of between 4 – 5 hours, depending on if it was used in an NTSC or PAL system. The last film to be produced on VHS was A History of Violence in 2006, JVC stopped making VHS-only players in 2008, but Funai Electric continued to produce players under the Sanyo brand until 2016.
Betamax tapes, introduced by Sony to the US in 1975 and the UK in 1978, were on the other side of the tape format war, against VHS. Betamax tapes used half-inch tape and could initially an hour’s worth of recording time. Until VHS came along, Betamax had 100 per cent of the market, but eventually lost out to its Japanese rival, largely due to VHS being able to record for longer periods. VHS players were a lot easier to come by as well, another factor in Betamax’s downfall.
Sony effectively threw in the towel in 1988 when it started producing VHS players of its own, although continued to make Betamax players until 1993 in the US and 2002 in Japan. Sony stopped making tapes in 2016.
Video 2000 was a video format released in 1979 by Philips and Grundig, to replace their VCR/SVR formats. Video 2000 tapes were only available in Europe, Brazil and Argentina, but could be recorded on both sides, unlike VHS and Betamax.
Unfortunately for Philips and Grundig, Video 2000 tapes were released too late to mount any real challenge to VHS and Betamax, even though they were technically superior. Production stopped in 1988.
LaserDisc lays claim to being the very first optical videodisc format. Philips and MCA demoed the very first LaserDisc in action in 1972, but wasn’t officially launched until 1978 (when it was called DiscoVision), with the first film release being Jaws. It became known as LaserDisc in 1980, even though it was actually called LaserVision until 1990.
LaserDiscs could store up to 60 minutes of film on each side of its 30cm surface. The readable track on each side of the discs is 42 miles long.
Ultimately, LaserDisc proved too costly to compete against the likes of VHS and Betamax and only 16.8 million discs were ever sold. The last film release was in 2001 in Japan, but Pioneer continued to make players until 2009.
Universal Media Disc (UMD)
Sony released the Universal Media Disk format in 2004 to be used with the PlayStation Portable (PSP). UMD discs were used for games, films and TV shows, with DVD region coding being applied to the latter two, but not for games.
Poor sales of movies on UMD resulted in studios ceasing to use the format, and the last discs were released in 2011. Games continued to be sold until 2014 when the PSP was itself discontinued.
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