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The Three Basic Methods of Digital Storage

The Three Basic Methods of Digital Storage

Our business specializes in digital storage media and digital data duplication, and we’ve seen many types of storage media come and go, but at its core, there are only three basic types of digital storage: magnetic, optical, and solid state. This blog post covers each type in detail so you can better understand them, and which might be the right choice for your next project.

What is digital data storage?

Digital data storage is any method used to store data in digital form in an electronic file. To store data digitally, it is converted into the most basic unit in computing, a bit, which is a single binary value of 0 or 1. In turn, 8 bits comprise a byte.

Digital storage is simply a library of data in bits and bytes. This is true whether it is stored on a hard drive, flash drive, server, or on magnetic tape. The reason digital storage has evolved so far so quickly is just how efficient and space-saving it can be. For example, a 256GB flash drive can hold approximately 1,664,000 Word documents or PDFs, or 64,000 high resolution images – enough to fill 330 filing cabinets!

What are the three types of digital data storage?

Data can be stored digitally on three types of storage media: magnetic, optical, and solid state.


Let’s start with the oldest form of digital data storage, magnetic. Magnetic digital storage includes magnetic tape, removable floppy disks, and hard drives common to computers and servers.

The first practical demonstration that a magnetic medium could be used to record and play back information was in 1898. Fast forward to 1947 when 3M produced the first commercial oxide tape on paper backing, then in 1953, IBM shipped the first magnetic tape drive for digital data storage.

IBM invented the first hard disk drive, which was introduced in 1956. It stored 5MB of data on fifty 24” disks and weighed over a ton. IBM also created the first commercial floppy disk, an 8” removable disk, in 1971.

Magnetic data storage, specifically the hard drive, is the most common form of digital data storage and allows users to add, change, locate, and share information. Used in computers, servers, and external hard drives, hard disks are coated with magnetic particles to read and write data.


Optical digital storage usually takes the form of disks that are used to store or backup data and information. Examples include CDs, DVDs, DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, CD+Rs, and Blu-Ray disks. Optical disks are great at storing information like movies, music, images, and other data that isn’t frequently edited or changed.

IBM developed an optical storage system in 1959 which used a disk to hold 170,000 Russian words and their English translations. In the 1970s, the introduction of inexpensive laser technology helped usher in consumer products like the 1978 introduction of the LaserDisc format and the 1982 introduction of the digital audio CD.

Mass-produced optical disks record data onto the disk by stamping pits into the plastic, while home-burned disks do not. Optical disks are commonly thought of as long-term data storage, but the truth is, it isn’t clear how long they will last and maintain their data integrity.


Solid state data storage devices have been around since the 1970s but were expensive and impractical. By the early 2000s, the cost of flash memory had dropped to the point of commercial viability and solid state devices (SSDs) became a replacement for magnetic storage devices.

Examples of solid state digital storage include flash drives, memory cards, MP3 players and iPods, and internal storage in digital cameras and smartphones.

Solid state digital storage devices are an easy way to transfer and share data. They are commonly used as personal storage devices as well as promotional products that let organizations share their important files or marketing materials with their prospects, customers, and partners.

All three types of digital data storage media offer virtually unlimited options, but great care must be used to avoid damage. Here are several common causes of data storage device failure:

  • Natural and weather disasters, like floods and tornadoes
  • Electrical surges
  • Device failure
  • Outdated storage formats, like Zip disks, PCMCIA cards, Digital Audio Tape (DAT)

To avoid potential data disasters, always:

  • Keep multiple copies of your data in more than one place
  • Move older data to current storage technologies
  • Store data on more than one type of device

All digital data storage media have different applications and benefits as well as different lifespans, which we cover in our blog post on data storage lifespans. When you have any digital storage needs, contact DiskCopy because we can help!

Diskcopy is the industry’s most trusted name for exacting media duplication because every bit is important. We pioneered media and data duplication for businesses in the early 1990s and we have decades of experience and expertise with all types of media duplication.

When you need high-quality media duplication services, you need Diskcopy.

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