Know Your Digital Storage Media

Introduction

This project was created to provide a reference guide to the most common types of digital storage media found in collecting institutions as reported by participants in the Society of American Archivists’ Jump In initiatives.  Using the reports and media inventories submitted in 2013 and 2014, UTSA Special Collections staff compiled a list of most common computer media types and arranged them into the following web resource--as well as a quick-reference 24 by 36 inch printable poster with streamlined info-bites--to assist cultural heritage staff in conducting inventories of computer media.

Media Types

8" Floppy Disk

Maxi diskette
8 inch floppy disk with details
Container

Flexible plastic jacket

Formats

Single or double-densities, writable sides (e.g. SS/DD)

Capacity

100 KB - 1.2 MB

Common Brands

3M, Xidex, Verbatim, IBM

Additional Details
  • These disks are 8 inches in diameter, with a flexible plastic jacket that can be easily bent, earning it the nickname “floppy disk.”
  • Floppy disks were manufactured with write protect notches built into the disk jacket.
  • These openings are located along the outer edge of the shell, and by placing adhesive tabs included in the packaging, or by affixing tape/stickers over the notch you can write protect the disk.

Iomega Storage Disks

Zip Drives
Iomega Storage Disk details
Container

Rigid plastic shell

Formats

Zip disk, Jaz disk

Capacity

100 MB, 250 MB,  750 MB (Zip), 1GB (Jaz)

Common Brands

Iomega

Additional Details

Iomega storage disks are a type of removable, rewritable floppy disk storage that were manufactured for use with both internal and external drives.

Hard Drives

Hard disk drive, HDD, portable HD
Hard Drive details
Container

External hard drive enclosures are typically plastic or metallic

Formats

Internal hard drive, External hard drive

Variations

Modern internal hard drives are mounted via SATA; external hard drives are typically mounted via USB or other data connector

Capacity

Range varies greatly, from MB to TB

Common Brands

Seagate, Toshiba, Western Digital

Additional Details
  • Hard drives utilize rotating disks coated with magnetic material to store data, which is retained even when the drive is powered off.
  • Internal hard drives are considered secondary storage devices for computers.
  • External hard drives connect via USB, and often have slower transfer rates than internally mounted drives.

5.25" Floppy Disk

Diskette
5.25 inch floppy disk with details
Container

Flexible plastic jacket

Formats

single or double sided, high density (HD)

Capacity

160 KB - 1.2 MB

Common Brands

3M, Xidex, Verbatim, IBM

Additional Details
  • The double sided variations of these disks have to be physically ejected and flipped over, unless a special two-sided driver is being utilized, earning these disks the nickname “flippy disks.”
  • Floppy disks were manufactured with write protect notches built into the disk jacket.
  • These openings are located along the outer edge of the shell, and by placing adhesive tabs included in the packaging, tape or stickers over the notch you can write protect the disk. Many commercial floppy disk copies were produced with no notch, preventing them from ever being written over.
  • The double sided variations have notches on both sides, allowing users to write protect each side.
Compact Disc

CD

CD

CD-ROM, compact disc
Compact Disc details
Container

Rigid polycarbonate-coated disc

Formats

CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, VCD, SVCD, Photo CD, PictureCD, CD-i, E-CD/CD-Extra/CD-Plus

Variations

Mini CD (a.k.a. pocket CDs), Business card CD, Gold Archival CD

Capacity

10 MB - 737 MB

Common Brands

Matsui, Kodak, Maxell, Verbatim, Memorex

Additional Details

Business Card CDs (a.k.a. “b-cards”) are data discs in which the inner CD ring is situated within a square or oblong case, designed to mimic standard business card sizes.

Magnetic Data Storage

Data Tape, Magnetic Recording
Magnetic Data Storage details
Container

Rigid plastic shells or metal reels

Variations

Cassette, Cartridge, Open reel

Capacity

range varies greatly, from MB to TB

Common Brands

Sony, Imation, Maxell, TDK

Additional Details
  • Data tapes read and write data onto magnetic tape using digital recording.
  • Magnetic data tape originally came in 10.5-inch reels of wound tape, but later different packaging options became available, such as cassettes and cartridges.
  • A cassette is a type of single tape enclosure containing two reels for data playback, while a cartridge is a single reel of tape within a plastic enclosure. An example of cassettes used in early personal computing is the Commodore Datasette, which used a special recording device to store data using audio signals saved to a cassette tape.
  • As of May 2014, Sony has developed new technology that allows individual tapes to reach 185 terabytes of storage capacity.

3.5" Floppy Drive

Micro diskette, Micro disk, or Micro floppy
3.55 inch floppy disk with details
Container

Rigid plastic shell

Formats

Single or double-densities, writable sides (e.g. 2HD)

Capacity

400 KB - 1.44 MB

Common Brands

Imation-3M, Maxell, Verbatim, Sony

Additional Details
  • Floppy disks were manufactured with write protect tabs built into the disk shell, located in the corners of the case opposite the shutter-end.
  • By moving the write-protect tab to the "open" position (you can see through the shell) you write protect the disk.
  • The High Density (2HD) and Extended Density (2ED) disks have a second, high density indicator on the opposite corner that serve to mark them as higher capacities.
Digital Versatile Disc

DVD

DVD

Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc
DVD details
Container

Rigid polycarbonate-coated disc

Formats

DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-RAM, single/double-sided, single-layer/double-layer

Variations

MiniDVD, Gold Archival DVD

Capacity based on design variations

1.4 GB  - 17.08 GB

Common Brands

Verbatim, Panasonic, Imation, Memorex

Additional Details
  • DVDs have the same physical dimensions as CDs, but with higher storage capabilities
  • DVDs are capable of storing audio, video, and data
  • A MiniDVD is only 8cm in diameter

USB flash

thumbdrives, pen drives, jump drive, key chain
drives, key drives, memory keys
USB flash
Container

Rigid plastic shell encasing a USB connector

Variations

In addition to the standard rectangle shape, available in a variety of designs

Capacity

8 MB - 1 TB

Common Brands

SanDisk, Kingston, HP

Additional Details
  • Universal serial bus (USB) flash drives plug into USB ports, making them removable and rewritable media storage devices.
  • USBs typically weigh less than 30 grams (1.1 oz) and they have developed into decorative accessory pieces, with drives available in a variety of designs such as sushi, cats, pop culture icons, light bulbs, etc.
  • As of 2014, manufacturers are working to create USB flash drives capable of storing up to 2 TB of data.

About UTSA Special Collections

Special Collections

The UTSA Libraries Special Collections bring national recognition to the university for distinctive research materials documenting the diverse histories and development of San Antonio and South Texas. Collecting priorities include the history of the African-American and LGBTQ communities in our region, the history of women and gender in Texas, Mexican-American activism and advertising, the Tex-Mex food industry, and urban planning.

UTSA Libraries

The UTSA Libraries are on the forefront of reimagining the 21st century academic library. With five locations across three campuses, the libraries are fueling UTSA’s ascent to national research university status by providing students and faculty with seamless, comprehensive access to information and learning resources as well as innovative spaces for active learning, teaching and interdisciplinary scholarship.

Acknowledgments

We wish to express our thanks to Tara Zachary-Laver, Elizabeth Wilkinson, and the SAA Manuscripts Section for their support of this project. We also thank the following people for their time and assistance with answering detailed questions and providing general advice:

  • Ricky Erway, OCLC
  • Paula Jabloner and Andrew Berger, Computer History Museum
  • Joshua Harris, University of Illinois Libraries
  • Chris Lacinak, AVPreserve

The UTSA Libraries would like to thank the following individuals who contributed to this resource:

Research and Content

  • Amy Rushing, Head of Special Collections
  • Julianna Barrera-Gomez, Digital Archivist
  • Angelique Kelley, Digital Curation Intern

Design

  • George Marez, Web Designer/Developer

Note about A/V Removable Media

This project sought to provide quick reference information for types of media used to store digital material created in computing environments.  Due to the more specialized nature of audio-visual (A/V) media, and the more complex methods required to digitize or convert digital signals into a computer-readable format, the decision was made to not include these media in this resource.  Below are links to guides developed to aid in identifying common A/V media.