Oddball Computer Storage: The Exatron Stringy Floppy
By James Grahame
Let's rewind to the very early 1980s. Most home computers used cassette tape for program storage. Five and a quarter inch floppy disks were expensive, and hard disks were unheard of. Snail-paced cassette storage was acceptable when you only had 4K of data to load, but prices soon dropped to the point that people could afford far more. A computer with 64K (that's 65,536 characters for those who don't live and breath binary addressing) would take over 36 minutes to load using a 300 bps cassette interface. Yawn.
Exatron thought they'd found the perfect answer with their "stringy floppy" tape system. It was about forty times faster than boring old cassettes. Their drives used a special 1/16-inch endless ribbon of mag tape. The tape functioned like an 8-track, which meant the system couldn't reverse -- you had to play until you found the file you needed.
These little drives were popular among Radio Shack TRS-80 users, but the sexy little Exatron wafer tapes proved to be error prone and the high-speed mechanism occasionally ate one with disastrous results -- leaving a ball of magnetic spaghetti that required careful extraction with tweezers. The drives were advertised for a mere $99.50, but they were quickly surpassed by more reliable floppies that offered the unbeatable advantages of low cost and random data access.
Bill Fletcher's very dusty Exatron drive (pictured above)