Fri, Feb 07, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Drives for floppy disks not needed by most PC users

ACCESSORIES With few consumers requiring a drive unit for what now seems to be an ancient technology, PC makers like Dell Computer are no longer putting them on their high-end products

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

Floppy-disk drives may have moved one step closer to extinction after Dell Computer Corp announced Wednesday that it will stop installing them in its high-end computers beginning next month.

"It is a definite trend that the floppy disk is disappearing," Kevin Huang (黃逸暉), a researcher at TechInsight Inc (國際愛迪西), said yesterday in Taipei.

Cheaper, portable hard-disk drives and other storage methods are replacing floppy-disk drives, and so is the Internet, he said.

"People are using the Internet to transfer software, which used to be the main use for floppy disks," Huang said.

"The capacity of floppy disks is just too small," said Eve Jung (戎宜蘋), an analyst at ABN-AMRO in Taipei.

Floppies can store up to 1.44MB of data, or over 700 pages of plain text. However newer computer files, such as pictures and music, need larger capacities. "One MP3 music file needs around 3MB, and this exceeds the limit of a floppy disk," Jung said.

Floppies are disks of magnetic tape that can store data which can be read and retrieved by a computer's floppy-disk drive. The disks are encased in plastic for protection and are pliable, hence the name "floppy."

Local computer makers are likely to welcome the move.

"Manufacturers will be happy to get rid of the floppy disk as the technology is too old," Huang said. "For developed countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, it's almost useless."

There may be resistance to the trend in an industry, however, where profit margins are very thin.

"The price of floppy drives is very low, so vendors might be reluctant to get rid of them, but if Dell sets the pace, other vendors will follow," Huang said.

Computer users are now turning to portable hard disks to move files from one computer to another. One example is the flash disk. The size of a cigarette lighter, these devices can store up to 512MB of data. And they don't need a special drive -- when plugged into a USB port they work like a built-in drive.

"More and more companies in Taiwan are making flash drives, so prices are falling quickly," Jung said. Each megabyte currently costs around NT$15 in Taiwan, so a 64MB flash disk costs around NT$900.

An alternative method for transporting files is portable hard disks which also plug into the computer's USB port. A few thousand New Taiwan dollars can buy a hard disk of the same capacity as that in a standard desktop or laptop computer. Files can also be saved onto rewritable CDs, which cost a few New Taiwan dollars each. Rewritable computer drives retail for as little as NT$3,000.

Computer retailers have already adjusted to the trend.

"We only carry a small selection of floppy disks as customers are mostly buying the new flash drives," said Lin Yung-chao (林永超), a sales assistant at Tsann Kuen 3C (燦坤) in Taipei.

This is not the first time pundits have predicted the end of the floppy.

Apple Computer Inc abandoned the floppy disk five years ago, and many expected the mainstream industry to follow. Apple continues to lead the industry by dumping obsolescent technology. CEO Steve Jobs announced last summer that Apple would only offer flat-screen displays with its iMac computers, even though sales of flat screens are not expected to overtake traditional cathode-ray computer displays until next year, US-based research firm DisplaySearch reported.

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