Sony HiFD

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The Sony HiFD (High capacity Floppy Disk) was an attempt by Sony to replace their own aging 3.5 inch floppy disk, which had proven successful in the late-1980s war to replace the 5.25 inch floppy disk.

The first HiFD was launched in late 1998, boasting a capacity of 150MB and backwards compatibility with 3.5 inch floppy disks. It was available in Parallel port and ATA versions with a SCSI version planned, but never launched. Its immediate competitors were the popular Iomega Zip drive, which had a capacity of 100MB and Imation's Laser-Servo LS-120 SuperDisk, which had a capacity of 120MB and unlike the Zip disk was also backwards compatible with 720KB Double-Density and 1400KB High-Density 3.5 inch floppy disks (not with 2880KB Extra-Density disks, though). In spite of Iomega's healthy market lead, many observers confidently predicted that the HiFD would swiftly take over the market, and ultimately replace the floppy drive.

This did not happen, however. A few months after launch it emerged that the HiFD suffered from frequent crashes during read/write operations, and had a tendency of having its read rate drop into the low kilobyte per second range, effectively rendering it unusable. Initially it was thought that a new driver could solve these problems – instead, Sony issued a full recall at the start of the following year.

The HiFD was re-released in November 1999, now sporting a 200MB capacity and using a USB connection for the external drive. However, the older 150MB disks could not be read or written to, while 720KB (DD) and 2800KB (ED) floppies were also unusable (which wasn't realistically much of an issue, but didn't help improve market perception). The whole affair gave the HiFD a reputation for being unreliable, and by this time the Zip drive now sported a 250MB capacity and CD-RW drives were entering the mainstream. These factors doomed the second HiFD to failure.

Many people compared the HiFD to Sony's Betamax videotape format. However, while the failure of Betamax is often blamed on poor management, it is generally thought that HiFD would ultimately have failed no matter what Sony did - CD-R(W) had a built-in advantage with the large number of CD-ROM (reader) drives in computers (even taking into account the fact that not all CD drives could read CD-Rs and that most, early on, could not read CD-RWs), and its higher capacity. The fact that ultimately Superdisk (even as LS-240, which could read and write 240MB and 120MB media, supported 1.44MB HD floppies and could format them up to 30MB) did not survive either is seen as the greatest support for this theory.

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