Magnetic storage devices: types and characteristics

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Do you remember diskettes? Or cassette tapes? It may not seem like it, but the same technology used in these devices is still in use today. This is because they are both magnetic storage devices, a method that makes it possible for hard disks to function, for example.

But what does this mean for the user? What types of magnetic device are there? And what are their main characteristics? In this article, we’ll explain a little more. Check it out!

What are magnetic storage devices?

Magnetic storage devices are devices that use mechanical and binary technology to record information. This is because they use a moving part to mark and read information on a magnetic surface. As you’ve seen, some examples include the diskettes, cassette tapes and hard disks of various types, including the external disk.

How does magnetic storage work?

But how do these devices work in practice? Below we will explain more and show you the difference between the old and the new. Take a look!

Audio recording

The first magnetic storage devices were developed in 1928, with the magnetic tape recorder, used for audio recordings. This technology was analog and was even used in the first computers.

However, the tapes only allowed sequential access to information. This may have been usual when listening to music, but it was impractical for computers that needed to access specific information quickly. This is why technology has moved towards digital recordings.

Digital recording

Digital magnetic storage devices have a read/write head, which moves over a magnetic surface. The head modifies the magnetization of specific parts of the material, recording data in a binary code (bits), such as zeros and ones. At the same time, in order to read the information, the head detects where the changes in the surface are and thus reproduces the marked code.

The way the read head works can vary depending on the technology used. In the case diskettes, for example, the object in our hands is the disk, where the magnetic information is recorded, and the diskettes drives in the computer have axes that read this data. The hard disk, on the other hand, is made up of two pieces joined together.

Types of magnetic storage devices

Hard disks

One of the most widely used storage devices today is the hard disk, also called a disk. This tool is common in most personal computers and was first developed at IBM in 1957. At the time, the disk could store up to 5 megabytes, which was considered very high.

But technology has come a long way since then and nowadays it’s common to find personal computers with 1 terabyte (or much more) of storage. That’s equivalent to 1 million megabytes.


Diskettes, also known as floppy disks, were launched in the 1970s and were a milestone in the technology of the time. That’s because they could be easily transported from one place to another and opened on any computer with a suitable input. Rather like the parents of USB flash drives.

These devices consisted of a thin magnetic storage disk sealed in rectangular plastic. Initially, their size was 20 centimeters, but the devices that became more common by the early 2000s were around 9 centimeters;

In the case of the latter, their storage capacity was only 1.44 megabytes. In addition, the object was fragile, had a shorter lifespan than other technologies and, if used too often, could begin to loosen components.

Jaz Drives

The Jaz Drive was a magnetic storage technology launched in 1995. This device represented a major evolution for the time, as it worked in a similar way to an external disk.

Initially, these drives had a storage capacity of up to 1 gigabyte and, in 1998, they reached 2 gigabytes. Despite this, the technology was discontinued in 2002.

DAT tapes

DAT tapes get their name from the acronym for Digital Audio Tape. They are magnetic storage devices that work in a similar way to cassette tapes, but record in digital format.

The technology was created by Sony in the 1970s, but only hit the market at the end of the 1980s. DAT tapes are mainly used by professionals to record audio masters, movie soundtracks or as a data backup. Their storage varies according to the quality of the audio: the higher the quality, the less time the tape can record.

The rise of SSD storage

Since the 2010s, a new type of storage has become increasingly common: the SSD, also known as solid state disk. This is an electronic technology, i.e. one that doesn’t rely on magnetic or mechanical parts.

SSD devices are generally more durable than disks for these reasons. They also perform better. That’s why many users have come to prefer this option, which is already used in computers, smartphones and tablets, for example.

The role of magnetic storage in archiving

Even so, hard disks continue to dominate the market. Because they cost less, magnetic storage devices are still in the majority of personal computers.

This means that having a large storage capacity in an SSD is often not financially viable for the average user. Want an example? Today it’s quite common to find disks with a capacity of over 1 TB, while the most common SSDs have around 120 to 240 GB of space.

Could emerging technologies make magnetic storage obsolete?

As you can see, many magnetic storage devices have fallen into disuse or have been discontinued. But hard disks should have a long life ahead of them.

Even if the SSD is faster and more commonly used, the disk still has a much greater capacity for backups and other functions that require a lot of space. Likewise, the lifespan of a disk is quite long if the equipment is well looked after.


However, because they are mechanical devices, hard disks can present problems due to falls, shocks, high temperatures and so on. So, whenever you need one, it’s important to rely on a specialized company to recover your data.

At Bot, we specialize in disk recovery and have extensive experience with magnetic storage devices. If yours is showing signs that it’s going to stop working or if it simply won’t connect, get in touch with us. Just fill in the form to start the recovery process!


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